Call to keep mayor accountable

Andy Asquith. Photo: supplied
Andy Asquith. Photo: supplied
Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich, who was this week found to have brought the city council into disrepute, should be kept accountable, a local government scholar says.

Mr Radich held a public post, but he initially refused to provide comment to news media after the Dunedin City Council accepted he had materially breached its code of conduct, University of Technology Sydney local government academic Andy Asquith noted.

"The mayor holds a privileged position," Dr Asquith said.

He was not entitled to pick and choose what he fronted up about.

After a forthright exchange of emails with the Otago Daily Times, Mr Radich issued a short statement yesterday afternoon.

An investigator’s report into his conduct and council minutes told the story, he said.

"I have absolutely no comment beyond what is in those written documents and I accept the findings of the report and the judgement of council."

Dr Asquith was not impressed.

"Why did it take so long? Why did he go to ground?"

The mayor’s breach of the code of conduct related to an RNZ interview in which he discussed a council censure of Strath Taieri Community Board chairman Barry Williams for making racist remarks.

Mr Radich breached meeting confidentiality and undermined the council’s stance about the incident, labelling it "a relatively minor thing".

The council this week accepted investigator Jordan Boyle’s findings about the mayor’s mishandling of the radio interview and noted he had apologised.

The council, which had issued a censure to Mr Williams in August, did not formally censure Mr Radich.

Dr Asquith said the mayor seemed to have got away "scot-free".

"He was in the dock for doing something completely abhorrent," Dr Asquith said.

"He was found to be in the wrong — surely the council should have imposed some sort of sanction.

"We have the right to expect that we get a certain modicum of behaviour from the mayor and if they don’t meet those standards they should explain themselves.

"He needs to be accountable for his actions."

Cr Carmen Houlahan was also found to have breached the code of conduct, after a texting tirade to deputy mayor at the time Sophie Barker.

The council asked Cr Houlahan to write an "appropriate" letter of apology.

The ODT asked councillors if they had gone soft on Mr Radich and Cr Houlahan, and whether Cr Houlahan should still chair the council’s customer and regulatory committee.

None broke ranks to unequivocally condemn what might be viewed as lack of robust consequences for the pair.

Cr Steve Walker had raised immediate questions with the mayor after the radio interview, noting Mr Radich had on the one hand declared he was appalled by Mr Williams’ behaviour and on the other described it as relatively minor — "how can you be appalled by a ‘relatively minor’ thing?".

Cr Walker said this week the findings of both code of conduct matters were clear and unambiguous.

"After reading Mr Boyle's report and hearing the apology I'm prepared to give Mayor Radich the benefit of the doubt this time," Cr Walker said.

He had clashed with the mayor at the start of the term, when both he and Cr David Benson-Pope did not end up chairing committees and were also at the centre of a pay row, which was subsequently resolved.

"Let’s be frank here — if anyone has a reason to stab our mayor in the back, it would be myself and Cr Benson-Pope as we were treated ... in a disgustingly punitive way for the crime of being too closely associated with previous mayor [Aaron] Hawkins," Cr Walker said.

"One of the penalties and actions open to us in the case of a material breach is to ask for an apology from both Mayor Radich and Cr Houlahan, and they have both been provided.

"I’m a great believer in a mistake not being a mistake until it’s repeated, so in terms of Cr Houlahan still chairing the customer and regulatory committee, I’m sure she’s smart enough to realise that any further breaches would likely put this position in jeopardy."

Cr Andrew Whiley said appropriate outcomes were reached on the code breaches.

"It has been a stressful process for everyone involved but the review has been fair and impartial.

"Overall, I have confidence in the mayor and the councillors and believe we have a very good council to take on the challenges facing our city."

The two investigations collectively cost $18,797, excluding GST.