Timms fakes call to mayor
A woman who harangued Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt for almost 10 minutes on television talkback was a fake - the caller was Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms.
Ms Timms admitted the deception when confronted by The Southland Times yesterday.
She said she had done it as a practical joke . . . and when The Times attempted to question her further, she hung up on the reporter.
The call was made to the city council's live talkback show on Cue TV last Wednesday night. Ms Timms claimed to be "Ruby", a mother of two who was struggling to make ends meet after her husband had been laid off from the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.
She repeatedly asked Mr Shadbolt questions about the planned Auckland-to-Bluff yacht race which is being promoted by the city council, saying it was a huge risk to city ratepayers and questioning what benefits ratepayers would get from it and what analysis the council had done.
"Ruby", who quizzed Mr Shadbolt for almost 10 minutes, indicated that if the council wanted to do something to support Bluff it should look to sprucing up the port town's main street.
Mr Shadbolt appeared uncomfortable with the intensity of the questioning, but appeared to have at least an inkling of the true identity of the caller, at one stage calling her Ali, at which she replied, "Sorry, who . . . this is Ruby here".
During the conversation, Mr Shadbolt told "Ruby" he had talked to Ali Timms about the issue and that she was understanding about what a project like the yacht race could mean for the city.
Ms Timms appears to have tried to disguise her voice during the phone-in, by blocking her nose, and almost gave the game away at the start of her call when the receptionist asked for the phone number she was calling from for the show's records. Ms Timms read out all the correct numbers on her cellphone except the final digit.
When The Times confronted Ms Timms yesterday she said she had done it as a "bit of a practical joke, that was all". "I could tell Tim knew who it was because he called me by my name, so end of story."
When asked if she had two children and a partner who had been laid off at Tiwai, she reiterated it had been a practical joke and a "few laughs".
"Tim knew who it was, he didn't seem too bothered about it and that's all I have to say." She declined to comment and hung up when asked whether she had contacted Mr Shadbolt afterwards to tell him she had been "Ruby".
Mr Shadbolt said yesterday morning that Ms Timms had not contacted him since her stunt to tell him she had posed as Ruby.
He said he was disturbed by her stunt and saddened that she had chosen to fabricate her story and not reveal her true identity.
He had never encountered such a thing in 23 years as a mayor, he said. "In local government, leaders speak to each other fully and frankly but we never try to impersonate someone else when we have these debates . . . these aren't jokes, these are serious proposals."
The mayor said he was disturbed Ms Timms had claimed to have a partner laid off at Tiwai.
She had taken advantage of a tragic situation at the plant, where 100 people have been made redundant, "just so she can make an anonymous call", he said.
Mr Shadbolt was also disturbed at her negative references to Bluff during the call, saying Environment Southland made huge profits out of the harbour at Bluff but put very little of those profits back into activities in the port town.
He had had suspicions during the call from "Ruby" that it was in fact Ali Timms on the phone, he said. "I gave her an out by calling her Ali . . . that's the whole part of it that makes me quite sad. That we can't have full and frank discussions between [local body leaders].
"I can't imagine in my wildest dreams Frana or Tracy ever pulling a stunt like that," Mr Shadbolt said, referring to Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno and Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks.
That said, Ms Timms had raised some important points about the yacht race, Mr Shadbolt said.
"We need to have a frank discussion with the port company and Environment Southland on these issues but we don't need to hide ourselves to do it. We can do it face to face.
"We have seen what prank calls can lead to in England. I don't think radio DJs or local government leaders should engage in them."
Mr Shadbolt contacted The Times later to say Ms Timms had just rung him to apologise and had told him it was "a joke gone wrong". "I said, ‘Oh well, Ali, we will have to have a serious talk about the race some time'."
Ms Timms rang Mr Shadbolt to apologise about two hours after The Times had asked her to explain her actions.
The Southland Times