Councillor unwise to use 'bias'

By John Maslin

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Philippa Baker-Hogan
Philippa Baker-Hogan

A Whanganui district councillor has been cleared of breaching the council's code of conduct, but her colleagues have been told to lift their game when it comes to debate.

Councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan was accused of the breach by councillor Ray Stevens for a comment at a December 15 meeting when she used the words "biased view" after comments by infrastructure manager Mark Hughes. Council was discussing flooding issues around Airport Rd.

The alleged breach was reviewed by Whanganui lawyer Harry Mallalieu, who told yesterday's council meeting that, while the word "bias" was unwise, he did not consider Mrs Baker-Hogan had breached the code.

It was an opinion supported by the majority of councillors, who voted that way - but not before some debate.

Sue Westwood, Helen Craig, Martin Visser, Charlie Anderson, Jack Bullock, Rangi Wills, Hamish McDouall and Mayor Annette Main agreed no breach occurred, while Jenny Duncan and Jason Granville were the dissenting voices.

Mr Mallalieu said if Mrs Baker-Hogan had withdrawn her comment and apologised at the time it would have made a difference but would not have altered his ultimate opinion.

Mr McDouall said he was satisfied with the review but said all councillors should reflect on their behaviour.

"This is a place for a contest of ideas and an examination of policies, and we should be able to speak robustly but courteously. There is no place for invective or the basest parts of the language. Our duty to the citizenry needs to be at a higher level than that."

Mrs Duncan said the code of conduct was about the standards council was prepared to accept "by our fellow governors" and said standards fell when nothing was done.

She said staff were entitled to express an honest view, but "I'm not prepared to see staff cowed into presenting only what those around this table want to hear".

"Councillor Philippa meant to say what she said. Since then she withdrew the statement but that was all.

"She believes she is the victim in all of this. It's what you say, councillor, and the way you say it that hurts people," Mrs Duncan said.

Mrs Baker-Hogan said when she used the word bias "there wasn't a huge outcry".

"I was clear the words didn't breach the code of conduct. Why do you need to apologise when you haven't abused someone?"

She said words used by Mr Stevens in that meeting - it was "bull***" - went unchallenged.

She said she didn't back down when the code of conduct complaint was lodged because "Cr Ray has threatened to use the code before, and that's bullying".

"I don't expect people to like me or agree with me, but I will have my say."

Ms Main said the code of conduct was every councillor's right to use but she was disappointed it was necessary "when an apology could have made it go away".

But in a clear reference to the mayoral style of Michael Laws, she said "vestiges of behaviour from the previous administration" lingered in the council chamber.

"We should forget the past and choose our words carefully in future. There needs to be an understanding by all of us of those boundaries," she said.

Councillors were told the estimated cost of the code of conduct review was $7500.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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