Shadbolt's showdown

Tim Shadbolt has had, by any measure, an extraordinary career in local politics, and an equally notable reign as mayor of Invercargill.

Few would dispute the influence and mana with which he has steered this southernmost city back on to the map - when it seemed about to fall off the edge - before commandeering it, with idiosyncratic Shadboltian aplomb, through the dairy boom years to achieve a return to prosperity and prominence.

Invercargill may have once been the butt of jokes, but under Mr Shadbolt's leadership it has attained respect and respectability, the latter ironic, given his status as something of a rebellious national jester.

While part of the renewed status is of the kind that clings to affluence and economic growth, Invercargill during the Shadbolt years has also acquired a "can-do" attitude, and a noticeable public spirit which spills over into, among other things, the support for and success of its sports teams.

The mayor cannot take direct credit for all of this, but there is little doubt his larger-than-life personality and presence have been a catalyst for it.

There are signs, however, that Mr Shadbolt's golden touch may finally have deserted him.

This is one impression to be gleaned from reports of the showdown in the Invercargill City Council chambers on Monday.

Before the special council meeting, the mayor had promised there would be blood on the floor by the end of it.

There was indeed.

Only, as has been observed, the blood was his own.

More to the point, it seems the wounds were self-inflicted, and it is this as much as anything that raises questions as to Mr Shadbolt's judgement and the possibility that his future tenure of the mayoral chair may be limited.

He has proved time and again, however, to have concealed beneath his beaming grin and drawling delivery the wit of a fox and the instincts of a street-fighter.

The meeting was called because Mr Shadbolt said he had lost confidence in his deputy mayor of 11 years, Neil Boniface.

More specifically, the mayor seemed aggrieved because the city council chief executive, Richard King, had been involved in a drink-driving incident and His Worship had not been informed by Cr Boniface for three days.

Never mind that Mr Shadbolt was, at the time, somewhere in deepest Mongolia.

The view of the majority of the council appeared to be that Mr Shadbolt had allowed this Mongolian molehill to grow into a mountain of recrimination, fertilised by a childish sense of misplaced grievance and, it has been suggested in some quarters, angst at Cr Boniface's continuing popularity.

For his part, Cr Boniface said that he had done nothing differently in the last few months than he had done during his previous 11 years as deputy mayor.

"Let's move on for the sake of the city; this is so petty," he said, which summed up the mood of most of the councillors present, who voted 8 to 3 against the motion to remove Cr Boniface from his office.

The two men shook hands at the end of the meeting and pledged to work together on behalf of the city and the mayor declared he was prepared to communicate with his deputy daily, even if only to discuss the weather.

Nevertheless, Mr Shadbolt's apparently overweening actions may yet come back to haunt him.

As one councillor said following the meeting: "You can get rid of the boil but the pus remains."

There is bad blood in the council's veins and it will take more than a handshake and a leech or two to cleanse it.

As Cr Graham Sycamore put it directly to the mayor: "In the last year or so I sense your heart's not in it. You aren't leading us like you used to . . . I wish we could have the old Tim back, and I hope we can. The way this meeting's going today, I don't know that we will."

At times the confrontation gave the appearance of being, if not a game of blind man's bluff, then much ado about nothing.

But given his many achievements for Invercargill, it would be not so much a comedy, rather a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions were Mr Shadbolt to succumb to petty jealousies and imagined plots - and stagger Lear-like off the local stage.

 

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