Editorial: Not comical, Ali
Ali Timms has behaved reprehensibly.
The chairman of Environment Southland used a fake name and identity when she phoned up Cue talkback television to give Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt a hard time about the funding of the Auckland to Bluff yacht race. The questions she asked were good ones, but the way she went about it was not honest, not accountable, not even grownup. And it was seriously inappropriate at a time when her council's reputation for honest dealing has been looking threadbare.
Presumably to make the point that people couldn't afford to support the race through rates, Ms Timms identified herself as "Ruby", a mother of two whose husband had recently been laid off from Tiwai. Citing one of her own favourite projects, she contrasted the expense and single-event nature of the yacht race with the abiding benefits of the Northern Southland cycle trail. She also reminded the mayor that Environment Southland had "come out very strongly" against Stadium Southland spending.
Anybody who heard that performance - which we are posting on our website - would be liable to think she was trying to disguise her voice by blocking her nose.
Mr Shadbolt seemed acutely uncomfortable dealing with her questions. Clearly, though, his reaction was complicated by the fact that on some level he knew 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. If so, she didn't take it. Quite the reverse. She corrected him that it was "Ruby here" and continued on.
When The Southland Times contacted her, Ms Timms described her actions as a practical joke and then, just after being asked whether at any stage she had let Mr Shadbolt in on it, she declined further comment and hung up on our reporter.
You have to wonder at the culture in Environment Southland. This debacle comes only weeks after the fallout from a staff member's notorious tampering with the way a police officer had filled in a form during a joint operation. In what should have been a chastened, sensitive and scrupulous environment, Ms Timms tried to engineer a public kneecapping in a way that escaped any accountability.
The relationship between Environment Southland and the city council, at least at political levels, has been testy. The city has long held the view that the regional council should get with the programme and financially support joint initiatives backed by the territorial authorities. This paper has commended ES for not doing so, on the basis that this would be taxing people twice for the same project since the other authorities between them cover all the ratepayers of the region.
Ms Timms was entirely at liberty to be archly 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 any position of public trust, let alone one of the most influential positions in Southland.
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 now . . . we're going to say questionable . . . whether she can continue as the chairman of Environment Southland.
The Southland Times