Ahhh Councils… they really know how to put the “settler” in settler colonialism. Maybe it’s the dominance of older white farmers. Maybe it’s the tantalising opportunity to directly manipulate land and resources within a region. Maybe it’s the finger sandwiches and savouries. Whatever the cause – Councils around the country can’t seem to help but fall prey to their own settler colonial mentalities, downplaying the issues that disadvantage Māori, like Institutional racism, Treaty responsibilities, and fair representation, to focus on “more pressing matters”.
There have been some very asute observations by the public around the way in which the recent issue of racism within local government in Gisborne have been handled, with recommendations that the Council requires basic governance training more than Treaty or race relations training. I can completely see where that line of reasoning comes from.
One thing I’ve noticed though, is how easily councils relax the rules for themselves, and how swiftly they buckle their process boots for others.
Case in point: When accompanying Meredith to her interview with the Code of Conduct board, I was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (I didn’t). The reason given? “It’s just process”.
Was there to be a transcript taken so that any breach of the NDA could be proven? No.
The Chair Rehette Stoltz (who bears an extraordinary conflict of interest here by virtue of sitting on the trust that will oversee the Cook celebrations) offered to record the meeting. I accepted that offer. It didn’t get recorded.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, although the Code of Conduct Committee is supposed to be there to investigate breaches of the COC, it was stated repeatedly by Pare Keiha that the most important issue on the council was public confidence in Council. They should probably rename it the Damage Control Committee or something then.
While in the meeting it was suggested to Councillor Akuhata-Brown that “sometimes these affairs work out better if one or both sides simply apologise… you don’t have to say what you’re apologising for, but it can help smooth things over, would you consider that?”
So let’s pause to consider that statement for a moment. A committee put together ostensibly to examine a breach of the Code of Conduct, with a Chair who holds a distinct conflict of interest, redefined its own purpose in that meeting, and then suggested that the subject of the enquiry offer a non-apology.
Small coincidence then that the Councillor in question, Malcolm Maclean, met with the same committee, and then afterwards offered Meredith a non-apology for what she “thought” she heard. She accepted it at the time and then changed her mind, and while that has been again duly criticized, let’s have a look again at the council behaviour around that context.
The meeting, and a subsequent one where she was invited, where council called upon Meredith to meet with local media, was one where she was refused the right to a support person. She was effectively isolated in the face of her bullies, which is unacceptable and a form of coercion. Any acceptance offered by Meredith of what was offered in those meetings needs to be understood within that context.
Next case in point: The subsequent extraordinary GDC meetings.
So because Meredith, away from the isolated and intimidating context of GDC, rethought her acceptance of the apology, and again spoke to the media, an “extraordinary” meeting was then held by GDC.
And extraordinary it was.
Now, the role of ANY chair in a meeting is to provide fair and impartial guidance to a meeting, ensuring meeting rules are upheld, in a manner that is neutral to the issues discussed.
Rehette at first outlines the format of the meeting, where she, as the Chair of the Code of Conduct Committee, as well as the spokesperson for the Council in Meng’s absence, will give the Council background information in order to bring everyone up to speed, followed by a roundtable discussion and recommendations.
Except that’s not what happened at all. The “update” was loaded with judgemental language, addressed Meredith directly in a reprimanding tone, drawing clear lines of blame between the impacts, and Meredith’s acts, NOT the racist or offensive comment that was stated in the first place, and certainly fails any reasonable standards of neutrality.
My jaw was on the ground watching this. It is COMPLETELY inappropriate for a Chair to take this tone and make such statements. She continues on to call upon Meredith to explain “what it was you were hoping to achieve by playing this out through the media”.
It is a Clearly. Hostile. Meeting.
Throughout Rehette’s statement, people are paying attention.
Now watch as Meredith speaks after her. Both Rehette and the CEO are on their phones. Are shuffling papers. Are whispering to each other. Rehette’s tone and body language is cold and closed towards Meredith, with no real recognition for Meredith’s position offered. Compare it to her tone and body language to others.
The microaggressions abound.
So too the breaches of standing orders.
As does the denial.
And so does the self-centeredness.
Again and again we hear from Council how sad this is FOR THEM. How difficult this is FOR THEM. I responded because I just couldn’t, any more, with the “what about me”isms from our largely white/white passing councillors.
Institutional racism kills. If we are real about wanting to deal to it we must tackle it head on, in the open, in the light. There is NOTHING to fear from talking about racism.
Admitting to institutional racism does NOT detract from the great work carried out with Iwi Māori. In fact, it augments it and takes your relationship with Iwi to a new level because guess what…
We (Māori) ALREADY know GDC is institutionally racist! We’re just waiting to celebrate the day you finally admit it, so we can have honest discussions about how to deal with it.
So here we have the meeting the following day. More microaggressions. Note the big sigh Rehette offers when allowing Meredith to speak (17.34). Note how at 19.04 she actually gets up to walk across the room while Meredith is giving her statement. Note how Rehette allows Councillor Cranston to completely interject and breach standing orders to be rude to Councillor Akuhata-Brown, with no response from Chair whatsoever.
In this next meeting we hear from Councillor Maclean, who we now know is the Councillor in question. Again, note the body language carefully. Councillor Maclean has, by this point (some weeks later), constructed an alternative offering of what was said.
To be fair, the week of the Code of Conduct hearing, over two weeks after the incident, and two weeks before this meeting, Councillor Maclean had already inferred he did not say anything wrong though the non-apology for “what you thought you heard”.
We still have not heard why Councillor Maclean did not simply come out in the first instance with a clear denial.
And what about when it all first happened? Well, in spite of some councillors saying that they want to firmly put this behind us, shut the door, and “move on” (see the 2nd GDC meeting at 10.05 where Cllr Burdett asks for it to be shut down, and Cllr Rehette Stoltz states “It stops here”) – YOUR VOTING PUBLIC WANT TO KNOW. So much so, that we requested all councillor emails relating to the issue through the Official Information Act.
Councillor Maclean’s initial response to Meredith’s article, just 2 days after it was published, is below:
Now keep in mind:
The context of the statement was made very clear. There was no confusion as to WHO Meredith was referring to. There was no other councillor on hand, in the original incident, that spoke just after Mayor Meng Foon mentioned Cook’s murder of local Māori saying anything remotely similar to this. So it was only Malcolm that Meredith could have been referring to and he knew this.
He didn’t deny it.
What he called it was “a throwaway comment” and refused to take ownership for it, no doubt hoping it would at that point all go away without him having to take ownership.
Two weeks later he was inferring she misheard him entirely.
Council’s news release on the Code of Conduct meeting?
Let’s see if you can see who’s missing:
It’s like mean girls, in government.
No, Council – we do NOT want you to bury this, to close the door on it and pretend that this problem does not exist.
Yet STILL – knowing this, Council want to close the entire thing up, and carry on as if the Institutional racism coating this entire affair is not unfairly impacting Māori in this region. Councillor’s statements make it EXTREMELY clear that they have no idea what racism is, and how it operates.
But enough is enough. I cannot praise Meredith highly enough for sitting in there, amongst this ONGOING level of toxicity, bias, disregard, isolation, abuse of process and privilege, and continue to go to bat for us, the victims of Institutional racism in her region. Thankyou Meredith.
For the rest of Gisborne District Council. This WILL NOT go away. We will continue to insist that you, as a council, admit to your own racial bias, and work OPENLY to address it, for the betterment of everyone in our region.
We can do better, GDC.
(And in closing… Robin DiAngelo, Robin DiAngelo, Robin DiAngelo)