A Taupo councillor’s use of a dated analogy containing a racial slur has horrified his colleagues and sparked a code of conduct complaint.
John Boddy made the comment of being the “n….. in the woodpile” at Tuesday’s full council meeting during a series of comments by councillors in praise of the council’s efforts in getting its rates increase down following the Covid-19 crisis.
Boddy joined in on the comments praising staff and the rate cutting but then added: “But I’m also going to be the n….. in the wood pile, sorry the elephant in the room because I stood on the platform six years ago in regards to debt reduction in this council.”
As he continued, audible comment could be heard from other councillors about the inappropriateness of the phrase and Kathy Guy, sitting next to Boddy, became visibly uncomfortable.
She turned her back on him and covered her face with her hand.
Taupō Mayor David Trewavas interrupted Boddy to pull him up on the comment.
“Could I have you withdraw those comments please,” said Trewavas.
Boddy again apologised and said he had made his point about debt.
After the meeting the council issued a release saying that a Code of Conduct investigation was to be launched following the comment “from a councillor at this afternoon’s Taupō District Council meeting that was considered to have ‘extremely inappropriate racial tones’.”
The phrase has its origins in the United States during the slavery era and refers to something out of the ordinary or poorly concealed, like a runaway enslaved person. It was more commonly used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but its use has declined as awareness of its racially charged nature has risen.
Australian Broadcaster Alan Jones was pinged by broadcasting authorities for using it on air in 2018.
Speaking after the meeting, Boddy stated: “it was a slip of the tongue, there was no ill-will or evil intent, I was getting fired up about this annual plan and once I’d said it I knew I’d made a mistake.”
Boddy said he had been called by the mayor after the meeting, and he was just going to have to face the code of conduct hearing, though he believed the penalties for a breach of the code were “quite severe.”
“But I believe I did all I could to apologise.
“There was no ill will meant… Christ, I’ve got Tongan grandchildren, I’m not a racist. It’s one of those sayings from way back in the past. I was saying I’m the odd one out.”
In the council release Trewavas said following the comments the councillor’s colleagues and staff were in a state of shock and disbelief.
“It was incredibly disappointing and was in no way reflective of who we are as a council, or reflective of our values. We have taken time to foster strong relationships across all sectors of the community and take great pride in providing an inclusive environment.”
Official complaints had been lodged from both elected members and the chief executive and legal advice was now being sought on the next steps with regard to the investigation, he said.
Boddy confirmed that he had been asked to refrain from attending council meetings or taking part in any council-related activities until the investigation was concluded.
“The mayor is concerned about my safety and my wife’s, so we’re going to see what develops in the next 24 hours.”
Asked whether he felt his safety was at risk, Boddy replied “I certainly would hope not.”