What’s eating Nobby Clark?

Deputy Mayor of Invercargill Nobby Clark. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO
Deputy Mayor of Invercargill Nobby Clark. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO
Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt’s deputy is vocal both at the council table and in the media. But he’s gone to ground amid an expensive email saga that’s costing Invercargill City Council thousands. Why has Nobby Clark gone quiet?

“It’s time for our council to be brave and upfront,” Nobby Clark says, hunched over his notes.

“This long term plan will not be worth the paper it’s written on, unless we ensure deliverability.”

There’s applause, but none of the other councillors are clapping.

It’s the last day of June, and the deputy mayor is addressing a full council chamber gathered en masse to vote on the city’s long term plan.

Once again, Clark is the odd one out. The stirrer. The one who's not afraid to put his neck out for what he believes. He's also the most accessible of Invercargill's city councillors; a familiar face in the news.

But fast forward two months, and Clark has gone to ground amid an email saga that's costing council thousands. The deputy mayor, who is normally the loudest voice at the table, is silent.

Multiple attempts to reach him for this story were unsuccessful.

THE BUILD-UP

While the majority of elected members took the opportunity to pat themselves on the back at that June meeting, Clark was at his critical best, more focused on what the organisation hadn’t achieved.

Of the six projects from the last long term plan, only one had been delivered — a new hydro slide at the local swimming pool.

The plan went to the vote, and there was one against — Councillor Clark.

It’s not an uncommon scene at the Invercargill City Council. Clark is in his first term, and didn’t join the ranks to make friends.

Sir Tim is in his ninth term as mayor of Invercargill. Photo: Stepjhen Jaquiery
Sir Tim is in his ninth term as mayor of Invercargill. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
He’s already ruled out the possibility of standing for re-election, repeating a line of “no mayoral aspirations” with such regularity, it has a threatened Sir Tim wondering if maybe he does want the top job (all signs suggest he doesn’t).

When he arrived in 2019, he did so with a groundswell of support, clocking up the most votes out of any candidate in the process.

He represented the blue collar worker, selling himself as someone who genuinely gave a damn about the hard-earned, easily-spent ratepayer dollar.

But as has happened so often in Clark’s career, trouble wasn’t far off.

Before joining the ranks of those he’d previously criticised, 69-year-old Clark held positions at Oranga Tamariki, Stopping Violence Southland, and IHC.

"It's fair to say I've rocked the boat in many of those caring areas. I've been dismissed twice out of senior jobs. I've challenged those dismissals, once through the Employment Court,” he said in a June interview.

"Both occasions I won, and both occasions I lost a lot of money."

In October 2020, Clark was handed the position of deputy by Sir Tim, just one year into his first term.

The unlikely duo of the fast-talking, hyperactive ex-mailman (Clark) and ever-slowing kiwi icon (Shadbolt), were determined to make it work.

The differences were vast, and obvious.

Last year, Clark was described in an independent review of council as an “abrasive” character. He’s openly said he doesn’t care if councillors like him or not.

Sir Tim on the other hand, has built an empire based almost entirely on charisma and a friendly public image.

Clare Hadley. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Clare Hadley. PHOTO: ODT FILES
At a time when the mayor seemed increasingly suspicious of his constituents’ mayoral aspirations, perhaps it was Clark’s willingness to rule out any possibility of running that shortlisted him for the job.

It hasn’t taken long for the relationship to fray at its visible edges.

In May, Clark challenged the mayor to publicly address the circumstances that led to a drivers license suspension.

Sir Tim hit back via Facebook (an increasingly common occurrence), labelling his deputy “Brutus”.

The following month, it was revealed Sir Tim's nickname for his deputy — Monty — was a reference to the mayor's dead cat.

But the real crunch came around the time of the driver’s license suspension, when Clark told media the duo hadn’t talked for weeks.

The public split didn’t appear to be for a lack of trying on Clark’s behalf.

In March, he volunteered his time to help the mayor get on top of his personal hoarding in council-owned buildings, even going so far as to hire a skip and personally assist with the de-cluttering mission.

Later, Sir Tim told Clark he felt like he’d been forced to throw his life away.

The difference in personality was also reflecting in how the pair were dealing with the media.

After revealing he’d been diagnosed with a condition called muscle tension dysphonia, Sir Tim shut up shop for almost two months and was virtually uncontactable.

Clark on the other hand, was just warming up.

After a profile for Local Democracy Reporting, he took to the media again with the main thorn in his side, a delayed museum.

It was as if Clark couldn’t stop talking, even when he didn’t really want to.

In July, he was vocal about the introduction of mana whenua seats at council, before putting his name to a story about the mayor’s hoarding the following month.

It was that story which would ultimately turn the tables.

THE MELTDOWN

On Tuesday August 10, following radio silence from the mayor’s office, Sir Tim hit back at council in a response to media about his hoarding, labelling the place a “regime”.

Within an hour of sending the email to a sole recipient - Local Democracy Reporting - the message was intercepted by council staff, and used against him at a closed meeting.

It couldn’t have been worse timing for Shadbolt, who had a TVNZ film crew following his every move for an episode of Sunday.

The mayor left the meeting convinced a vote of no confidence had been launched against him, contacted media, and then gave a shaky performance as chair at the council meeting that followed two hours after.

The silence had been broken. Sir Tim was ready to talk again.

But the opposite could be said of his deputy.

After it was revealed Shadbolt’s email had been intercepted by council staff, Clark flipped questions about a potential leak back on media before going to ground.

As it turned out, council chief executive Clare Hadley was the person who raised the intercepted email at the meeting. Her actions have sparked a $10,000 independent review of electronic policies and procedures.

But before that was revealed, the timelines weren’t adding up. How could the council know the contents of an emailed statement when the mayor’s comments hadn’t been published yet? Could there be a leak?

Contacting Clark was a logical step considering he’d previously dedicated hours of his own time to help the self-confessed technologically challenged mayor with IT support.

In short, if any councillor were to know about an arrangement where the mayor’s emails were monitored, it would be Clark.

Asked if he knew of any such arrangement, Clark played dumb, choosing not to out the chief executive he’d previously criticised in public.

“Why do you need to know that? Why are you asking me? If he sent you an email and only you an email, you’ve got a leak somewhere,” he replied.

When it was suggested staff could have access to the mayor's emails, Clark waived the idea off as absurd.

“Hang on, before you start throwing mud our way, you’ve got to believe there are people within your network, who have access to your emails.”

Was he suggesting the media had leaked the information to the chief executive?

“There could be a leak at your end, that’s what I’m suggesting.

“It’s no good asking me where the leak came from, you’ve got to ask yourself. It either came out of your end or Tim’s end.”

The conversation spiralled, with Clark suggesting he even had intel on the media. His point: leaks are everywhere.

After asking Local Democracy Reporting if they had contacted their editor last Thursday, (which was confirmed, daily calls are the norm), he continued on the counter-attack.

“How come I know about that?” How do I know it was Thursday mate?

“Reporters who intentionally report lies leave themselves open to a press council complaint.”

Clark hasn’t spoken to Local Democracy Reporting since that phone call.

What did he hope would come of the email fracas? That there would be an appropriate investigation into the matter of the email, he said.

On Monday, Clark took to media again, expressing frustration at the mayor and his partner over bullying allegations. He also addressed the issue of Three Waters reform.

But the email leak, and the events that surrounded it, remain sacred ground.

Clark was contacted multiple times for this story, but did not respond.

“No comment on email issue or Thompson [sic] report,” he text last week, in his last piece of correspondence.

- by Matthew Rosenberg, local democracy reporter

Comments

Theres a fine line between “abrasive” and toxic and history to boot.....

 

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