Tue, Aug 9, 2022 7:26 AM

Human Rights Commission accepts complaint over treatment at council


Sara Hollyman

A Nelson City councillor has had a complaint over poor treatment at the hands of Council leadership accepted by the Human Rights Commission.

Councillor Rachel Sanson lodged the complaint with the Human Rights Commission after what she describes as ongoing and targeted discrimination throughout her term on council.

“The council culture has not been great for much of this term, I requested mediation back in 2020 and that was refused, I’ve sought advice from lots of different organisations and requesting mediation was the recommended option.”

Council will this week hear the Code of Conduct complaint laid against councillor Sanson in October 2021 by council’s outgoing chief executive Pat Dougherty.

Rachel, who has been outspoken on several issues since being elected to Council as the top polling candidate in 2019, says the Code of Conduct complaint was sent directly to an external investigator by Mayor Rachel Reese without any prior conversation or discussion.

“I didn’t ask for or invite this process, in fact I’d requested mediation to discuss the challenging nature of council culture, and instead this is the approach Council leadership opted for,” she says.

She says the complaint relates to questions she asked in public meetings and three Facebook posts, from September 2020 to October 2021. Seven of these relate to Sanson’s advocacy regarding Council’s own forestry operations in public reserves and water catchments.

“There are other elected members around the table that are maybe more outspoken and make more confronting posts on Facebook, and yet, its only me that’s getting targeted in this way.

While Rachel says she’s looking forward to it being over and getting back to community business, it is also very satisfying to have the Human Rights Commission take on the allegation of discrimination and invite Council to engage in an impartial dispute resolution process.

“Mediation is now recommended by the Human Rights Commission, but a lot of time, money and heartache could have been saved if this had happened months ago when I requested it.”

However, council’s chief executive Pat Dougherty says council does not believe the complaint is appropriate for mediation.

“On 13 July 2022, the Human Rights Commission notified Nelson City Council that a complaint had been made by Councillor Sanson against the Council alleging unlawful discrimination in employment,” he says.

In its letter, the Commission asked whether council would be willing to participate in mediation.

“The Council has since responded to the Commission in writing raising several concerns with the complaint made and outlining why it does not believe the complaint to be appropriate for mediation through the Commission’s process," Pat says.

He says Rachel will be provided with a copy of the Council’s letter to the Commission.

The Code of Conduct complaint will be livestreamed at council’s meeting this Thursday, including a report into the investigation which recommends council writes Rachel a Letter of Censure.

The investigator also originally recommended mediation in his findings but amended his report after a request from the group manager community services, Andrew White, to make sure it followed the investigations Terms of Reference.

The investigation report says Rachel breached the Code of Conduct in eight out of 10 incidents listed in the complaint.

“I don’t accept the report and I have quite a lot to say, which I am sure the public will be interested to hear in the live-streamed meeting on Thursday,” Rachel says.

She says it’s being acknowledged nationally that the local government code of complaint system is one-sided and can be used to silence councillors.

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