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Council leaders call out hostile behaviour

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] leaders have called out some locals’ harassment of council staff, and even councillors themselves.

Concern about negative messaging by residents in comments on social media, on the telephone, and via email were expressed at Wednesday’s SWDC finance meeting, with attendees saying such interactions are distressing to staff.

Both interim chief executive Paul Gardner and councillor Colin Olds spoke at the meeting against a recent uptick in such forms of hostility.

After the meeting, Gardner told the Times-Age that personal attacks on staff members will not be tolerated.

“Our local community is passionate about their district and quite vocal on some matters. They speak out when they feel they are not getting fair value for money or perceive that council is not doing its job,” he said.

“This messaging is often amplified through social media, which provides a safe platform for the sharing of misinformation and making personalised attacks.

“Increasing numbers have taken on a tone that is often directed at council staff and can be threatening in nature. Clearly, this is not acceptable and isn’t tolerated.”

Olds, who is chair of the Finance Committee, described the problem in more detail.

“In today’s world, there is very little one can do to protect against verbal abuse through social media or via the internet. Council staff confront these issues on a daily basis,” he said.
He said such attacks have a real effect on victims.

“It has been more notable with councillors, in this triennium, suffering similar attacks.

“My concerns relate to the impact this has on people’s lives. Abuse from any source can happen and, either be brushed off, or dealt with in another way. However, the impact on the receiver can often have a long-term effect on those individuals’ wellbeing. This has an impact on staff performance along with a feeling of being undervalued.”

He added there was no place in today’s society for abuse, no matter what the circumstances.

“Constructive feedback is always welcome. We are keen to hear of areas that we could improve on, but working in the public service isn’t a license to be abused.”

Olds and Gardner said that while they understand the frustrations of the community, they hope such feelings will lessen over time.

“We recognise that building and maintaining trust in council can take time to be realised as it is achieved through consistent delivery, meeting expectations, and resolving issues over time,” they said.

Councillors have had some difficult decisions to make, but council staff are the ones tasked with putting those plans into action, they noted.

“Times are tough for every one of us. We urge our community to try and understand council’s priorities, engage constructively in the democratic process, and speak with their elected members.”

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


  1. If you cannot stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.This is the result of under performance by all.

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