Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark (foreground) and city councillor Nigel Skelt (background) (Image: Archi Banal)
Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark (foreground) and city councillor Nigel Skelt (background) (Image: Archi Banal)

PoliticsMay 2, 2023

Mayor and licensing trust boss at odds over job ‘option’ for harassment complainant

Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark (foreground) and city councillor Nigel Skelt (background) (Image: Archi Banal)
Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark (foreground) and city councillor Nigel Skelt (background) (Image: Archi Banal)

Invercargill’s licensing trust chief says no job offer was ever on the table for a teenager who lodged a sexual harassment complaint against a councillor. But emails from the mayor referencing ‘discrete preference’ suggest otherwise.

The head of Invercargill’s licensing trust appears at odds with the city’s mayor over how a complaint of alleged sexual harassment was handled.

The Spinoff first reported yesterday that sitting Invercargill councillor Nigel Skelt had faced an accusation of harassment from an 18-year-old employee at Stadium Southland. It came just two months before Skelt resigned as general manager of the venue, a role he had held for more than two decades. The official statement from the stadium said Skelt was stepping down for medical and personal reasons.

In documents released to The Spinoff under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, it was revealed that the teenage complainant, who resigned from the stadium due to the alleged incidents, was offered alternative job opportunities after coming forward about Skelt’s behaviour.

In an email on February 24, Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark, who opted to investigate the complaints because of his position as the council’s representative to the stadium trust, said he had authority from the board chair to offer the complainant a new position within the stadium. It was described by Clark as a “position of significant development”. 

As an alternative, the complainant was also told of an “employment option” with the Invercargill Licensing Trust. “[They] are a large employer and have a number of vacancies and could facilitate with a job offer,” wrote Clark. “[The complainant] will be treated just like any other applicant but may get some discrete preference if there is a match for her.” 

He continued: “Nobody but the [chief executive] and board members will be involved and be aware of the options.” Clark said the offer was being made “on a confidential basis” to the complainant. 

The mayor has no authority over the licensing trust, which is a separate entity from the council and maintains its own publicly elected board. 

In subsequent emails sent to the family of the complainant, Clark characterised the position at the Invercargill Licensing Trust as a “job option” and a “potential new job”.

“The ILT are a large employer, they will be discrete, nobody will know, any job will be a current vacancy which she will get on merit like anyone else,” Clark wrote in another email obtained by The Spinoff.

The final settlement between the stadium and the complainant again noted “a possible hospitality role” at the licensing trust had been offered, but was declined.

A family member said this role was turned down as the complainant was concerned the position was being created to “make up for what has happened”. 

The Spinoff has asked Stadium Southland for clarification over the settlement with the complainant, but has yet to hear back. It’s understood the stadium is now undertaking a review of its processes following the alleged incident. According to Stuff, stadium trust chairman Alan Dennis – the former long-serving ILT president – was voluntarily standing aside while the investigation was carried out.

Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund / Design: Archi Banal)

Speaking to The Spinoff today, the head of the Invercargill Licensing Trust, Chris Ramsay, rejected the notion that any preferential treatment would have been offered to the complainant. They would have been required to submit a CV and complete an interview process just like any other applicant, Ramsay said, and no job was ever offered.

Ramsay said he “hadn’t seen the messages” sent by the mayor to the complainant’s family, but confirmed he had been given a heads up of their existence. The mayor had contacted him to inform him that media reporting may include emails about the licensing trust. During this conversation, Ramsay said he and Clark agreed that no immediate job offer was on the table for the complainant.

Ramsay said he was already aware of the harassment accusation facing Skelt “because the complainant sent it to us first”. He had made sure it was passed onto the right party, as the licensing trust had no authority over the stadium. When asked if he was concerned by the allegations, Ramsay said “of course.”

The documents provided to The Spinoff also reveal that Clark requested the family of the complainant agree to a confidentiality agreement “as a final matter” before the settlement was reached. While a parent of the complainant had initially expressed concern that Clark was more worried about “looking after Nigel and the stadium’s reputation”, this confidentiality arrangement was ultimately agreed to. It meant that few people inside council were aware of the complaint against Skelt until media reports this week.

Requests to Skelt for comment have not been responded to. However, Invercargill Council chief executive Michael Day confirmed to The Spinoff that Skelt remained a councillor. “I am not aware of any actions taken or decisions made regarding his role at this time,” Day said.

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