Waikato mayor's profanity sparks probe

Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson said he told another elected member to "shut up" out of frustration.

Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson said he told another elected member to "shut up" out of frustration.

A muttered expletive and a live mike sparked an independent investigation at Waikato District Council after the mayor was overheard labelling someone a "w.....".

Mayor Allan Sanson's salty remarks were picked up at a council infrastructure committee meeting and followed a tense exchange between himself and councillor Noel Smith.

Matters came to a head when the mayor, believing Smith was talking out-of-turn, told the councillor to "shut up" and not interrupt him.

Waikato District councillor Noel Smith.

Waikato District councillor Noel Smith.

Smith called a point of order and asked the mayor to retract his comments - but he refused.

A short time later Sanson was overheard uttering the word "w.....".

An independent investigation, headed by lawyer Mark Hammond, was launched after Smith laid a formal complaint.

Gavin Ion, chief executive of Waikato District Council.

Gavin Ion, chief executive of Waikato District Council.

The four-member conduct review committee concluded that although the mayor did use the obscenity, they couldn't be satisfied where the insult was directed.

"There is some doubt as to the immediacy of the word being used to the exchange between councillor Smith and Mayor Sanson," the investigation concluded.

Feedback from members of the infrastructure committee varied from 'the events happening together' to 'soon after'. 

"The committee is not satisfied however on the balance of probabilities that the offending word was 'directed at' councillor Smith.  The substance of the complaint is therefore not upheld. The view of the committee however is that in no circumstances should an offensive word such as 'w.....' be used in the chamber."

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Council chief executive Gavin Ion declined to discuss the committee's report, only to say matters had been fully investigated and the substance of the complaint had not been upheld.

Matters were now closed, Ion said.

Sanson, in his written submission to the conduct review committee, said after his exchange with Smith, he went back to reading an online Facebook discussion on his iPad.

The mayor said he came across a posting from a resident in Bombay "who was having an online spat with a woman from Pokeno".

"At this stage I mumbled under my breath 'this joker is a w.....' not realising that my microphone was still on."

The mayor later apologised for using the term "shut up" in the chamber.

Speaking afterwards, Sanson said the incident had been appropriately dealt with and he was found not to have a case to answer.

Sanson's comments to Smith to "shut up" were said in frustration but was not a phrase that should be used in the chamber.

The mayor, however, was reluctant to elaborate on his "w....." observation.

"The one downside about the whole thing is that people just jump to the obvious conclusion every time when they hear something and don't actually ask what people meant by it and what context," Sanson said.

"I think there's been a fall down in communication between one or two people."

Smith, a one-time mayoral candidate, said he accepted the findings of the conduct review committee and was committed to working with the mayor for the good of the community.

Robust political debate was healthy but should be carried out within the "confines of accepted norms", he said.

"We can all make mistakes and I myself have made them from time to time. I look back and say I could have done better. That's where I want to leave it."

 - Stuff


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