Opinion: Mayor’s reputation brought low

 Jules Radich
Jules Radich. Photo: ODT files
If Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich can emerge from this week with a reputation for being merely gaffe-prone, he can take that as a win.

As blunders go, utterly misrepresenting Dunedin City Council sentiment by playing down the significance of a racial slur is towards the scarcely believable end of ineptitude.

It is worse than that, because Mr Radich unwittingly contributed to a culture of excuse-making and equivocation about racial abuse.

An issue for the mayor is his latest blunder comes after others, such as misreading what needed to be done when news came to him of design cuts to the city’s planned new hospital.

The blunder concerning the racial slur is enough on its own to raise serious questions about Mr Radich’s judgement.

Many people will be minded to take a more charitable view. He did, after all, backtrack and apologise.

It is also unfortunate the mayor directed focus away from the perpetrator of the racist comment, Strath Taieri Community Board chairman Barry Williams.

The council’s position had been unambiguous.

"Council is appalled by your behaviour, which is a clear breach of the code of conduct and a serious failure to uphold the standard of behaviour expected of an elected community representative."

Mr Radich signed his name to this statement sent to Mr Williams and there was no need for him to depart from this position.

The mayor’s comment to RNZ the slur was "just a relatively minor thing" nowhere nearly reflected the council’s stance.

He put his colleagues in an invidious position.

Mr Radich is often congenial and his leadership style so far has included appearing to have a preference for consensus and trying to be helpful for media.

Such instincts are useful in some scenarios. But when a community board chairman has made a clearly racist comment, the situation does not call for a mayor to play diplomat.

The council’s media release on Tuesday had ended with: "The investigator’s report and any further details will not be made public in order to protect the privacy of the individual involved in the incident. We will not be making any further comment on the matter."

Then the mayor publicly disclosed the incident occurred at a pub.

As of yesterday afternoon, no complaint had been filed about the possibility the mayor breached the code of conduct.

Even so, Mr Radich ought to reflect on at least three clauses.

Clause 5.3 of the code says members are required to "act in a way that upholds the reputation of the local authority".

Clause 6.2 says "media comments which are contrary to a council decision or policy must clearly state that they do not represent the views of the majority of members".

Clause 7.1 says "members agree not to use or disclose confidential information for any purpose other than the purpose for which the information was supplied to the member".

The council has invited Mr Williams to resign as board chairman and it appears he is not minded to do so.

As for Mr Radich, he says he has learned his lesson about the power of words.

The viability of his mayoralty depends upon it.