Board member won't back toppling Williams over racism

Barry Williams
Barry Williams. Photo: supplied
A member of the Strath Taieri Community Board has described its chairman’s racist comments as "less than desired", but does not think he needs to resign.

In an email leaked to the Otago Daily Times, board member Terina Geddes clarified her stance to a Middlemarch resident on chairman Barry Williams using a racial slur against a pub worker.

This comes after no members of the board respond to calls or messages about the issue when contacted by the ODT yesterday.

In the email, Ms Geddes said the victim on the receiving end of Mr Williams’ comments had left town due to the ‘‘cessation of their employment’’.

She also said  Mr Williams had apologised to the victim but had not yet apologised to the rest of the board for his behaviour.

‘‘While the chairperson has made some less than desired comments, and I do not tolerate racism, nor do I tolerate endless harassment of any individual.’’

However, she said it was out of the board’s jurisdiction to punish Mr Williams’ for his comments.  

‘‘I personally will not be calling for the chairperson’s resignation, while the behaviour is unbecoming of a person of this standing.

‘‘The chairperson was not on official board duties, at the time of the incident. Therefore, it is outside the board’s jurisdiction to enforce any such punishment such as asking for a resignation,’’ Ms Geddes said.

The Strath Taieri Community Board is set to meet next Thursday.

Ms Geddes said she did not believe that the chairman’s behaviour would be addressed in any public forum at this meeting.

‘‘The board’s stance had been governed by the DCC and they believe the matter has been dealt with.’’

CEO to fly south for Williams meeting

The embattled chairman of the Strath Taieri Community Board is in trouble with his employer after the racial slur he used against a pub worker was made public.

Stuff reported yesterday Strath Taieri Community Board chairman Barry Williams called a Strath Taieri Hotel worker a "stupid black b ... ." after they mixed up a food order.

The information came from a leaked letter sent to the Dunedin City Council, which also said he used the slur more than once.

Mr Williams, who is also a sales representative at Power Farming Otago, may face disciplinary actions for his comments.

One of Mr Williams’ colleagues at the company’s Allanton branch told the ODT: "You bastards leave him alone," and that Mr Williams had been "thrown under the bus".

But Power Farming chief executive Tom Ruddenklau did not share this sentiment.

"I’m really disappointed to have heard these comments and that a member of our team has been involved in this, and I’m really upset around the impact that may have caused on who received those comments," Mr Ruddenklau said.

He was coming to Dunedin later in the week to talk to Mr Williams and would go through a process with him.

"Once I’ve had that conversation we’ll see where we get to, but I think it’s important to reiterate that we don’t condone these comments and I’m pretty disappointed by it."

Dunedin Multicultural Council president Lux Selvanesan said Mr Williams’ comments were unacceptable.

Dr Selvanesan said the council had received several concerns from members of the public about the incident, which perpetuated stereotypes and fostered discrimination.

"Regardless of the circumstances, such language is never justified.

"With privilege and position of power comes a responsibility to be constantly mindful of one’s actions."

No members of the community board responded to questions when contacted by the ODT, but board council representative Bill Acklin said the board would clarify its stance at its meeting next Thursday.

"The individual members of the board cannot make a public view that is coming from the board.

"They can only speak as individuals.

"I think you’ll find the meeting next Thursday will clarify a lot of that, in the sense the board will be meeting and whatever is discussed at the board meeting can then be construed as being the board view."

Cr David Benson-Pope said now Mr Williams’ comments had been made public, he would be surprised if he did not step down from his role as chairman.

The incident was embarrassing not only for Middlemarch but also Dunedin, he said.

"I think it’s embarrassing for the whole city, as has been the confused response to it," Cr Benson-Pope said.

"One of the most difficult things to understand was the fact that the mayor knew exactly what had been said and despite that, attempted to trivialise or justify."

Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich could not be reached for comment yesterday.

University of Otago politics professor Janine Hayward said the issue needed to be taken seriously.

"It is absolutely unacceptable for a community board chair, or any board member, to make racist comments," Prof Hayward said.

"In this case, the chair must be held accountable and the board must condemn this behaviour."