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Dunedin city councillor Hilary Calvert has accused Mayor Dave Cull of talking down the city by criticising students' behaviour on Hyde St.
Cr Calvert contacted the Otago Daily Times this week to take issue with Mr Cull's ''negative'' comments, which she claimed wasted the city's investment in marketing and economic development.
Mr Cull had been asked to comment after scenes of the city's glass-strewn Hyde St grabbed national media attention.
He said the image was ''not a good look'' for the city, and suggested it could prompt parents to think twice about sending their children to the University of Otago.
''We've always been known as a social campus, but if I were a parent in other parts of the country, I would be weighing up that kind of irresponsible mob behaviour and trashing, against what I thought were the advantages of sending someone here,'' he said.
Cr Calvert took exception, saying Mr Cull should ''accentuate the positive'' rather than talking the city down.
''We spend millions of dollars each year of ratepayers funds on economic development, all of which is wasted if we are advising parents publicly to weigh up the good stuff against named and criticised bad behaviour.
''I think we need our leaders to reinforce the positive aspects and, in particular, the student behaviour in cleaning up after a party is standout good behaviour.
''Does anyone really think town and gown being outraged about bad behaviour will do our image any good?''
Mr Cull rejected that yesterday, saying Hyde St's problems were part of the broader issue of alcohol-related harm, and he would not ignore problems for fear of ''negative press''.
''She's entitled to her views on this, but I think we have, as a city, a responsibility to lead and to endeavour to shape our city and the behaviour in it in the ways that reflect the best of our city.''
The city and university had a duty of care to students coming to the city from other parts of the country, he said.
''It's about our obligation, as much as anything, to provide a safe environment for our incoming students.''
He was also ''the first to recognise'' the good work of the university, students and student organisations, but problems caused by a minority still needed to be addressed.
''Even if it is a minority, it's getting undue attention.
''I know that parents in Auckland and Wellington and other places like that do take these things into account.''