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Beijen holds firm and asks Bleakley to resign

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen says Bleakley’s behaviour as an elected member was “reprehensible”. PHOTOS/FILE

TOM TAYLOR
[email protected]

The Mayor of South Wairarapa is standing by his call for a community board member to resign after she participated in an anti-mandate “action” at a library.

Featherston Community Board member Claire Bleakley at a rates meeting last year.

Featherston Community Board [FCB] deputy chairwoman Claire Bleakley walked into the Featherston Library last Friday with three others who protested the library’s enforcement of the vaccine pass mandate.

Video footage captured by Bleakley showed the group walking past a sign that read, “Kia ora – vaccine pass required for entry”.

Inside the library, a librarian asked the group for their vaccine passes.

One member of the group said that he did not have a pass.

“I would like to browse the library,” he said.

Another librarian told the group that they needed vaccine passes to be served inside the library.

The librarian explained that the group could still apply for library cards and receive books outside the library.

“You can order books online, you can search our catalogue, you can use what we call ‘click and collect’, so our people that are not vaccinated are still being serviced by the library,” she said.

“We’ve got some very happy customers who come to the door, we’ve got books there for them, and we give them their books to read.”

The librarian clarified that the group could not sit inside the library without vaccine passes.

“That’s our mandate from the council.”

Another member of the group said that the library was discriminating against them.

“You’re just doing your job, following orders,” she said.

She made a reference to the Nuremberg Code, a set of ethical principles that came out of the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II.

The librarian asked if she was being compared with a Nazi prison guard.

The member of the group said she was not comparing her with a Nazi but to “people that turned a blind eye” in Germany.

Bleakley said that the group had asked her to take the video.

“I was at the library as a member of the Featherston ratepayers, not as a community board member,” she said. “The response by the council and comments by the mayor were extreme and sensational.”

Bleakley described the incident as an “action” rather than a “protest”.

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen said that Bleakley was trying to distance herself from her actions.

“However, she has acknowledged herself as a participant in this bullying and unacceptable behaviour and cannot back out of responsibility,” Beijen said.

A group without vaccine passes walks into Featherston Library. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“Not only did she breach very clear legal restrictions regarding vaccine pass access, the filming of staff in the library without authorisation is an illegal act that she has also admitted to.”

Beijen said that Bleakley had previously attempted to use her position on the FCB to reverse the council’s decision requiring vaccine passes on council premises.

“When asked for evidence that she was acting on the request of the public – as she should be at all times in her position on the community board, as opposed to her own self-interested opinions – she was unable to provide any evidence that she was acting on the will of the community.”

Beijen said he stood by his initial response to the incident.

“Her behaviour as an elected official is reprehensible and something the community and council staff should never have to put up with. To see anyone condoning or excusing this behaviour is equally poor behaviour. She is an elected official, representing the community of Featherston Ward. This is not a hat she can take off when it suits her …

“Next steps will be considered, but I cannot see how she could continue as an elected official.”

Public Libraries of New Zealand executive director Hilary Beaton said that most staff took an educational approach when requiring a vaccine pass.

A police spokesperson said that no further action would be taken in regard to the incident.

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