Gisborne councillor apologises over comments aimed at mayor

5:04 pm on 28 July 2022

Gisborne district councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown has apologised for comments aimed at the mayor over her suitability for the role, but was noticeably absent at a council meeting where an in-person apology was expected.

Gisborne councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown was found to be in breach of the council's code of conduct for comments aimed at Mayor Rehette Stoltz.

Gisborne councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown was found to be in breach of the council's code of conduct for comments aimed at Mayor Rehette Stoltz. Photo: Liam Clayton/Gisborne Herald

In June, Akuhata-Brown took aim at mayor Rehette Stoltz, saying the mayoralty had been "handed to her" and calling into question her ability to lead the region forward considering her background.

A main concern raised by Akuhata-Brown was that, in her view, South African-born Mayor Stoltz struggled to understand the key issues affecting those doing it tough in Tairāwhiti.

Following the publication of her comments, councillors Larry Foster and Debbie Gregory lodged a code of conduct complaint with the council, the outcome of which was discussed at a meeting yesterday.

The council's conduct review committee, chaired by deputy mayor Josh Wharehinga, found Akuhata-Brown to be in breach of its policy. It highlighted issues of integrity, respect, aggression and maintaining public confidence.

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Akuhata-Brown emailed an apology to the council on Friday but didn't show for a recommended in-person apology at yesterday's extraordinary council meeting, despite being present via Zoom for the civil defence emergency meeting immediately prior.

In her written apology, Akuhata-Brown said she had spoken out of "frustration and hurt", and that her intention was to challenge a preconceived idea that you had to "do your time" on the council before being given opportunities.

Akuhata-Brown previously told Local Democracy Reporting she was frustrated that the mayor hadn't given her more responsibility considering she was a third-term councillor, alleging responsibility was often given to those who sided with mayor Stoltz.

Her four-paragraph apology indicated she was regretful for how the situation had panned out.

"Rudeness and unprofessional conduct have never been my MO (modus operandi). The cap fits, I'll wear it. I should not have shared my frustration in such a public way," Akuhata-Brown wrote in her apology.

The committee's report said Akuhata-Brown was shocked at the impact her comments had on those closest to her.

It stated she could not remember exactly what she said but that she did not dispute the accuracy of the comments.

Foster said he had lodged the complaint after identifying "obvious" breaches, and was backed up by Gregory, who did not wish to comment.

Neither Akuhata-Brown or mayor Stoltz could be reached for comment.

Rehette Stolz

Rehette Stoltz moved to Gisborne from South Africa, and has held a place at the council table since 2010. She has been Gisborne's mayor since 2019. Photo: LDR / Gisborne Herald / Rebecca Grunwell

At the time of Akuhata-Brown's comments, mayor Stoltz responded, saying she had made a concerted effort to understand the needs of the region's multi-cultural community.

Akuhata-Brown's breach of the code did not have a penalty associated and Wharehinga reminded councillors the council did not "compel or force" people to follow the committee's recommendations.

Wharehinga thanked those who had taken part in the proceedings.

"The whole purpose of us being here is that we all agreed on this code of conduct process. That doesn't just go for the comments we make to media; that also goes for how we treat each other inside this room.

"We agreed to be respectful and we agreed to be kind."

In addition to the recommended in-person apology, the committee felt Akuhata-Brown should also pen a written apology in The Gisborne Herald where her comments were first published.

The committee consists of councillors Wharehinga, Terry Sheldrake and Sandra Faulkner.

Sheldrake was recused due to a perceived conflict of interest because his wife - former councillor Kathy Sheldrake - was mentioned in the original article as someone who had encouraged mayor Stoltz to stand.

This is the second time Akuhata-Brown has been involved in a code of conduct procedure.

In 2018, she lodged a successful complaint against former councillor Malcolm MacLean alleging she overheard him say "not enough (Māori) were killed" during the first encounters with Europeans.

MacLean's name was originally withheld from the public while the council decided how to move forward, until councillor Bill Burdett inadvertently said it during a council meeting.

MacLean was found to be in breach of the code, and failed to gain re-election in 2019.

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