Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark says he expects no repeat of a proposed apology drawn up by council staff.
The draft editorial was sent to him on the same day he had insisted, to news outlets across the country, that he would not apologize for quoting offensive language, including the N-word, which he had been unhappy to encounter in the artistic community.
Amid the furor that arose from his speech on March 7 at an Arts Foundation NZ event in Invercargill, the council’s director of strategic communications, Lisa Knight, sent him an internal email, suggesting he draft an apology .
Clark said Friday that he felt uncomfortable about it.
* Virginia Fallon: Nobby, the N-Word and Men Who Behave Sad
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“I have raised it with the chief executive (Michael Day),” he said. “And I would expect it to be a different approach going forward.”
Internal emails released under the Local Government Official Meetings and Information Act (LOGIMA) show that on March 8, Knight emailed Clark to tell her to apologise.
“This is the perfect example of when perception is more important than intent, and the media stories do not reflect positively on the city council or our relationship with those in the community,” he wrote.
She had discussed the matter with Day and he had agreed to draft a statement for Clark to consider.
“I’m happy to help you navigate this,” she said.
Clark chose to navigate the proposal himself. Straight to the rocks.
He rejected it outright, emailing Day: “If you have any concerns about my presentation, which I have informed you about, that concern should not be conveyed through your staff.”
Michael Day, chief executive of Invercargill City Council: “I do not support the use of those words.”
Day responded that he personally had no concerns, but later sent a clarification: “I do not support the use of those words, but I understand that you wanted to raise the issue.
“I accept that you don’t want to apologise, but I have received several concerns from staff, so I will be messaging staff today about the issue.”
The proposed apology “for the words used” would have included an explanation that Clark’s intention was to start a conversation around poetic expression, which Clark had acknowledged was his intention.
But he would have added: “I now know that my use of those words was inappropriate. Invercargill City Council and I deeply support the arts community and have great respect for the work they do.”
Maybe so, but on the Saturday before his incendiary speech at the arts meeting, Clark had emailed Day and the council’s director of leisure and recreation, Steve Gibling, saying Creative NZ staff would be among the public
He was unhappy that they had supported poet and author Tusiata Avia’s work The Savage Coloniser, which he saw as capable of inciting racial tension in the absence of “yet to be developed” legislation on the speech of the hate
“I want to understand why we are engaging with Creative NZ while this controversy exists,” Clark said.
The day after his speech, before Knight sent his apology email, Clark had sent an email to all councilors and some senior staff outlining his perspective on the speech and why he had made it.
He had made references to phrases he found repugnant “but these are references recently cited in the artist environment, including Avia’s poem.”
Day sent his council staff an internal email on March 10, two-thirds of which was redacted in the material released.
The published part acknowledges “some concerns” raised by staff.
“Our elected members are often asked to comment and give their views on community issues, but it is important to note that these views do not represent those of the organisation,” he said.
The council was guided by its compass values, which meant it respected and valued all people and cultures.
“I do not condone the use of racial slurs in any context,” Day said.
Clark, who reportedly received the redacted portions of that email, did not quibble when asked.
“I guess it’s what I had to do,” he said.
The vast majority of emails the council has released are a firestorm of public comments, most of which support Clark’s sentiments.
One addressed it, approvingly, as your warship.
Others read: “You have restored my faith in people with strength, courage and courage, … we should be able to have this kind of debate as a nation … thank you so much for sticking your head above the parapet. .. .please consider applying via PM”.
Critical messages include expressions of “my utmost disgust… there is no place or excuse for your use of that word… Congratulations, you tend to reaffirm Invercargill’s reputation as the world’s moron, and just when we were gaining some respect for our efforts to improve the city”.
Clark often responded with two statements: “Evil only prevails when good men remain silent” and “I fear no one.”
In one case he was more precise: “I’m not afraid of anyone in Wellington” and, after all, it was a long day, one was referring to his partner Karen Carter: “I’m not afraid of anyone (except Karen at home)”.
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