Concern over time taken to probe complaints about a councillor

12:25 pm on 21 September 2019

The Christchurch City Council is being accused of dragging its heels in dealing with a complaint of inappropriate behaviour over a three-year period by one of its councillors.

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Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

RNZ has been told by a source that Mayor Lianne Dalziel was made aware of a complaint against the councillor in May of this year involving a young teenager.

It involved a late night message on Facebook to the teen referring to their physical attractiveness.

RNZ understands the complaint was taken to the police this month but that they decided it did not reach the legal limit for a prosecution to proceed.

When further claims were brought to the mayor's attention in June, including those involving two more young people, she passed the matter on to council acting chief executive Mary Richardson to deal with.

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel speaks to reporters at the Christchurch City Council offices.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has asked the city council's acting chief executive to investigate the complaints of three young people over the behaviour of a city councillor. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

All of the claims were laid out in a written complaint addressed to the mayor and Ms Richardson.

They said while one person referred to a single event, two talked about multiple interactions with the councillor over a three-year period.

All three were aged between 13 and 21 at the time.

They claim the councillor engaged in late night messaging on social media on numerous occasions that was "grossly inappropriate".

It included references to the physical attractiveness of one of the young people, statements such as "I miss you" and "I want a hug" and emojis with love heart eyes.

There was also a sexually explicit meme.

It was claimed the interactions with the young people were not just on social media and involved the councillor insisting on hugs in the place of handshakes offered by the young people.

It was said the councillor had a nickname for one of the young people that made them feel uncomfortable.

RNZ's source said the additional claims were made verbally to the mayor in June and were put in writing on 4 September.

The written complaint said these concerns were raised with the mayor and the acting chief executive in person with limited success.

It said the young people were worried about the impact their speaking out might have on the various groups they belonged to that relied on the council for funding.

Among the things they asked for were training for elected members and staff on ethics and boundaries when working with young people, pointing out the power imbalance that existed between them and the young people they were engaging with.

They also asked for a review of the code of conduct and complaints process to ensure elected members were held accountable for "unsafe practice" with young people.

It said there was a concern the current system forced young people to tell their story publicly in order for the councillor to be held accountable for their actions, leading to "revictimisation".

The complaint expressed worries that other councillors were witnessing inappropriate behaviour and doing nothing to ensure the safety of young people.

There was a call for the cost of any therapy or counselling required to deal with the "emotional harm" caused as a result of the incidents, to be covered by the council.

Finally it sought an urgent review into the claims and asked that the young people were told what consequences the elected member would face for their behaviour.

In a statement, Ms Richardson said the council had appointed an independent person to decide whether a full investigation was warranted.

She said the allegations against the councillor, who was not named, were first discussed with her on 31 July and that at this stage there were no details or evidence provided.

Meeting held with complainants

Ms Richardson said she immediately asked for a meeting to be set up with the complainants so she could "fully understand the nature of their complaints".

"I also implemented a number of actions which were discussed with the complainants' representatives who endorsed these," she said.

Ms Richardson did not say whether these meetings took place but then went on to say that on 4 September she received a written complaint, which she responded to seven days later.

"On both occasions I reiterated the need for a meeting to be set up with the complainants and said I would make myself available at any time and at any place," she said.

A meeting was finally arranged between her and the complainants last Tuesday, after which she decided to appoint somebody to decide whether a full investigation was warranted.

She said the councillor concerned had been informed of the actions she was taking and she would not be making any further comment.

* Lianne Dalziel issued a statement on Sunday afternoon outlining the steps the council has taken following the complaint against the councillor.