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Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark against a backdrop
Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark (Photo: ICC, design: Archi Banal)

PoliticsMay 4, 2023

Mayor Nobby Clark accused of a ‘cover-up’ as councillor urged to resign

Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark against a backdrop
Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark (Photo: ICC, design: Archi Banal)

An Invercargill councillor says her colleague Nigel Skelt needs to quit over accusations of sexual harassment, while the mayor’s role in the saga is being questioned too. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports.

Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark has been accused of a “cover-up” and of trying to sweep harassment claims against one of his own councillors “under the carpet”.

Nigel Skelt, 65, recently stepped down as general manager of Stadium Southland, a position he had held for more than two decades. As The Spinoff first reported on Monday, that resignation came just weeks after Skelt was accused of sexual harassment by an 18-year-old former stadium employee. Skelt has yet to publicly comment on the claims and calls to him by The Spinoff have gone to voicemail.

The revelations have prompted calls for Skelt to resign, as well as questions about mayor Clark’s role in the investigation into the alleged inappropriate behaviour.

Ria Bond, a current Invercargill councillor and previous MP and mayoral hopeful, told The Spinoff it was time for Skelt to step aside from council. “He should have the good graciousness to resign,” said Bond. “It smacks of a power imbalance and I’m not the first to air that… A young woman [was] treated in such a heinous way by a public figure. It has taken a lot of strength and courage for her to come forward.”

It was “unthinkable”, said Bond, that Skelt could keep his position given he was the lead councillor appointed to Project 1225 – a major infrastructure project in the city that included the rebuild of Invercargill’s museum.

The council’s chief executive Michael Day has maintained that, “at this time”, Skelt remains a councillor. Bond isn’t alone in her calls for her colleague to resign, with fellow councillor Peter Kett telling Stuff that Skelt should “face the music” for what he’s done.

Invercargill city councillor Nigel Skelt (Image design: Tina Tiller)

Meanwhile, questions are also being raised about the role mayor Clark himself played in the investigation into Skelt’s alleged behaviour. Documents released to The Spinoff revealed that Clark directly responded to the complaint about Skelt, despite the alleged behaviour taking place at Stadium Southland. Clark said that, in his capacity as the council’s representative on the stadium trust, he would personally look into the allegations and helped to broker a settlement that saw the complainant offered $3,000 for “pain and suffering” along with free counselling sessions. 

Bond said the mayor mishandled the complaint from the start and should have stayed clear altogether. “He should never have touched that complaint. He should never have put his paws on it,” she told The Spinoff.

It’s understood that while the mayor had been investigating the complaint against Skelt since mid-February, he was possibly the only person within council to know about it. Bond said councillors were kept in the dark until 3.19pm on Monday, mere minutes before The Spinoff and other media were provided with official information requested in the weeks prior. “Councillors were not privy to that information before then,” Bond said. “No councillor or even our chief executive knew until the LGOIMA requests started coming in.” The Spinoff has sought confirmation of who exactly knew what prior to Monday afternoon.

Bond said that while the public may have been led to believe there was a council cover-up from media reports, that wasn’t the case. “It wasn’t the council sweeping it under the carpet, it was the mayor.” Bond suggested Clark should step aside from his role on the stadium trust immediately in order to ensure a fair and independent investigation.

Clark’s predecessor as mayor, Tim Shadbolt, went a step further and claimed there was a full blown “cover-up”.

“It implicates all involved, especially council,” he wrote on Facebook this week. “There must be severe repercussions. The Old Boys must be accountable.”

Invercargill Council told The Spinoff that Nobby Clark was unavailable for comment this week due to a sudden family bereavement. His deputy Tom Campbell, however, rejected the idea that Clark had tried to sweep the allegations against Skelt under the carpet and said that the complainant’s “best intentions” were front of mind. He admitted, however, that he had been unaware of the investigation until Monday afternoon and believed the mayor should not have been involved at all.

 “I’m quite happy to say I think it would have been much better if he had asked somebody else to undertake that investigation… preferably a woman,” said Campbell. “I don’t think that the mayor tried, in any sense, to sweep it under the carpet. In any employment case there is an element of confidentiality.”

He added: “I think it was handled properly, but it was handled by the wrong person.” Campbell didn’t know whether Skelt would return to council, but said he thought it was unlikely.

Local Government NZ’s deputy chief executive, Scott Necklen, told The Spinoff that allegations such as those against Skelt needed to be taken seriously and properly investigated. “We recommend that everyone involved seek professional advice and support when employment issues arise,” he said.

Skelt is yet to respond to any of the reports about his behaviour and it’s understood he’s been absent from council for a few weeks. However, The Spinoff can also reveal that he has since been temporarily suspended from another position. Until last month, Skelt was an adjudicator for the Racing Integrity Board, most recently asked to rule on whether a jockey had whipped their horse more than the limit during a race. A spokesperson told The Spinoff that Skelt has been on “administrative leave since April 2023 when this matter first came to the attention of the Racing Integrity Board”.

The spokesperson would not comment any further given this was a matter between Skelt and his previous employer.

If you know more, please get in touch: stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

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