14 Sep 2023

Strath Taieri community board chairperson refuses to resign after racist insult

4:52 pm on 14 September 2023
Strath-Taieri board chair Barry Williams

Strath Taieri community board chairperson Barry Williams. Photo: Supplied

An under-fire community board chairperson in Otago has refused to stand down following revelations he made a racist outburst at a local pub worker.

Strath Taieri community board chairperson Barry Williams told his colleagues he would not resign and hoped "everyone could move on" at Thursday's community board meeting in Hyde.

This is despite some members of the public among the 30 who gathered at the meeting calling for his departure.

Williams twice referred to a server with a racial slur after mistakes were made to his food order when dining at a local pub earlier this year.

A code of conduct complaint was later made against Williams, prompting an independent investigation.

Investigator Steph Dyhrberg concluded that a material breach had happened.

The fallout from the incident led to Dunedin's deputy mayor, Sophie Barker, resigning from her role after saying she could no longer work with mayor Jules Radich after the mayor downplayed Williams' actions.

Dunedin city councillor and former deputy mayor Sophie Barker.

Former Dunedin deputy mayor Sophie Barker. Photo: Supplied / Otago Daily Times

Councillor Cherry Lucas was appointed as Barker's replacement.

At Thursday's community board meeting, two members of the public said Williams' behaviour had brought shame to the community, and called for him to step down.

Their comments were greeted by applause, though some of the people gathered at the meeting were supportive of the chairperson.

Williams issued a personal statement about the code of conduct investigation at the meeting.

He said he had apologised to the victim of his verbal attack and to his colleagues on the board, but he would not be stepping down from the board or his role as chairperson.

"I've thought about my future on the board and after discussing with my family and friends I will not be resigning from the board, or as chair of the board.

"I hope we can all move on from now and the board can get back on in working for the community."

Radich initially wrote to Williams asking him to consider stepping down, describing his behaviour as "appalling".

But he later told RNZ the incident was minor and expressed his continued confidence in Williams.

Williams also apologised to Middlemarch residents at Thursday's meeting.

"I am deeply sorry for what I said and I'm sorry that my actions have caused embarrassment to the community.

"I acknowledge that this is not the sort of publicity that Middlemarch deserves."

He said other community board members had faced harassment and abuse because of the incident.

Community board deputy chairperson Anna Wilson said the board was disappointed in Williams' remarks.

"We strongly believe that there is no place for racism or sexism in our community or anywhere else for that matter."

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