Editorial: No place for deceit

The elected head of Environment Southland has behaved badly by using a fake name and identity when she phoned into a television talkback show to give Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt a hard time.

The questions she asked about council funding for an Auckland-to-Bluff yacht race were good ones, but the way she went about it was not honest and not accountable. And it was seriously inappropriate at a time when her own house is not entirely in order.

Presumably to make the point that people couldn't afford to support the yacht race through rates, regional council chairwoman Ali Timms identified herself on the television show as "Ruby", a mother of two whose husband had been laid off from the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

Mr Shadbolt seemed acutely uncomfortable dealing with her questions. His reaction was possibly complicated by the fact that he seemed to know something was screwy. He airily said "We've talked to Ali Timms about this, of course" and then even referred to the caller directly as "Ali", later saying this was his way of giving her an out. She didn't take it. Quite the reverse - she corrected him that it was "Ruby here" and continued on.

When a reporter contacted her later, Ms Timms described her actions as a practical joke and then hung up.

Ms Timms was entirely at liberty to be critical of the city council, and to express such views publicly. But there is no defence for this sort of tactic. It is not the behaviour to be expected from anyone in a position of public trust, let alone one of the most influential positions in a region.

Had she shown remorse and accepted that her deceitful call was a terrible lapse of judgment, then maybe she could have toughed out the personal embarrassment and the further damage inflicted on the council's public standing and continued in her role.

But her response, at no stage stepping forward to 'fess up, and when confronted minimising what she did as a joke, suggests that she doesn't have any personal problem with the integrity of her actions. That is such a serious misjudgment that it is questionable whether she should continue in the role.

She has stepped down on full pay for six weeks - which neatly covers the Christmas break anyway - but her council members should be pushing for something more lasting. She should go.

The Marlborough Express