New Zealand’s local government says it is hearing more and more stories from council members feeling unsafe because of their line of work.
Auckland Councilor Josephine Bartley from the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki ward was verbally abused at a vaccination center over the weekend.
He visited Pasefika Family Health Group in Panmure on Sunday after a man broke his store window with, according to police, personal health problems.
Bartley said she had finished dropping off some food and talking to staff when, back in her car, three men approached her, calling her “scum” and also threatened to wreck her car.
“I’m not easily moved because you know, I’ve heard people unhappy with me before, but never like this,” he said.
You have been advised not to attend events alone and to stop using your car because, like many elected representatives, it has your picture and your name on it.
“That puts me at even more risk, so just to be very careful … I will continue, but I will not use my car, but I will continue.”
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said there should be zero tolerance for such behavior.
“Threatening the councilwoman who is doing everything possible to try to protect as many people as possible in her community … that is not just shameful behavior, it is criminal behavior.”
Manukau neighborhood councilor Alf Filipaina said it was cowardly and that he hoped the perpetrators would be found and brought to justice.
I appreciated that people had different opinions, but this was not how they should express themselves.
“Let’s have a debate in which there is courtesy and space to listen to the opinions of others. It is not necessary to resort to violence, whether against threats or physical harm, intentional harm.”
New Zealand local government executive director Susan Freeman-Greene said Bartley had been doing an incredible job encouraging Pasifika to get vaccinated, work that saved lives.
It was a sad situation as it was part of a growing tendency to attack the person, not the problem, he said.
“Unfortunately, we are hearing more and more that our members and members of our local whānau government generally feel unsafe. They are receiving intimidation and abuse, which is a big problem.”
Freeman-Greene said local officials were dedicated and passionate and did incredible work for their community, especially during the pandemic.
Such behavior has a broader impact on civil discourse, preventing people from assuming a public role, he said.
“We are losing our ability to have honest, mature conversations about the real tough issues, and that is having some broader impacts, such as preventing people from speaking out and preventing people from advocating for these really important roles.”
Freeman-Greene said her organization was considering how to support the well-being of councilors.
Everyone has a responsibility to think about how they communicate with community leaders, council staff, elected members and councilors, he said.
Police said in a statement that they took each and every crime report seriously and would investigate accordingly.