Digital compromise after council clash over Christmas cards

One of Sir Tim's Christmas cards from years gone by, featuring his son Declan. Photo: Supplied/LDR
One of Sir Tim's Christmas cards from years gone by, featuring his son Declan. Photo: Supplied/LDR
Embattled Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt has again found himself at odds with his council — this time over Christmas cards.

While he has been mayor, Sir Tim has sent out Christmas cards on the ratepayer dollar.

Recipients normally included members of Parliament, justices of the peace, council stakeholders and people who had sent him cards, he said.

However, this year’s request to get the annual drop organised received pushback from the council.

A compromise has been reached, but it marks the end of a tradition that dates back to the 1980s.

Last Thursday, Sir Tim emailed council chief executive Clare Hadley to make sure the "usual staff" were available to produce the cards.

"I have had other distractions, recently, but need to proceed with these asap in order to post early December," he said.

The response was not quite what he was hoping for.

Hadley responded to the email that evening asking for clarification about the meaning of "your" Christmas cards, and expressing concern the expenditure would not meet the auditor-general’s guidelines.

"I have seen some that have a photograph of you, and it would not be appropriate for the ratepayers to fund a card promoting an individual, rather than the City," Hadley said.

Sir Tim called the question "existential" in a follow up email, and said proofs for the last 15 or so cards would be on file at council.

Following a chairs meeting on Tuesday, it was decided the cards should come from both the mayor and chief executive on behalf of the organisation.

The card would also be produced as an e-card for the first time instead of a hardcopy, with the savings going towards the mayor’s Christmas dinner.

In response to Hadley’s email before the meeting was held, Sir Tim argued the cards had so far managed to escape direct complaints from the auditor, and suggested the mayor and chief executive don Santa and elf costumes as a show of unity.

"They became a bit of a collectors item. And boy did I get into trouble if I didn’t send a card, or the person that I was sending it to had died," he told Local Democracy Reporting.

"It would probably be close to 100 [cards] I’d say. Part of the philosophy of bringing happiness and joy to Christmas time."

Speaking after the meeting, Sir Tim said the card dilemma had not created as much of a stir as he expected it would, and sounded philosophical about the change of medium.

The card debate is the latest hurdle for Sir Tim, who claims his power has been stripped since reassuming office in October 2019.

Last month, the council did not pay his way to the Local Government New Zealand South Island conference in Christchurch, fearful he would not be able to represent it on issues such as Three Waters.

On Monday, he said a mayoral budget which allowed him to spend up to $40,000 a year on promotional projects had "vanished".

Sir Tim (74) is in his ninth term as mayor of Invercargill and was previously mayor of Waitemata in Auckland.

- by Matthew Rosenberg, local democracy reporter

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