Cr Jackie Elliott – Community Column

November is ‘White Ribbon Month’ where the message is ‘It is not ok’ to inflict any form of violence, physical, psychological or verbal against women, children, team mates, work colleges or anyone at all.

White Ribbon campaign supporters are asked to lead this message by example by embodying the principles of the campaign. However in my opinion, in Kāpiti, the White Ribbon Campaign has been hijacked.

In 2007 KCDC Mayor Jenny Rowan announced the Kāpiti Coast District Council is a ‘White Ribbon Council’. The planned virtuous vibes followed. However, this title was not bestowed by the White Ribbon Campaign Organisers, nor by Police, welfare agencies or any other agency. No, instead, the KCDC Mayor and Senior Management self appointed themselves White Ribbon Ambassadors.

Earlier this year, White Ribbon Campaign trustees discussed the wish to instigate an endorsement programme where they could appoint Official Ambassadors for the White Ribbon anti violence campaign on the basis of their actions. The KCDC spokesperson did not agree as this would expose KCDC’s self hijacking of the campaign in 2007 in order to hide behind it in the face of increasing complaints of systematic bullying within the Council culture.

How many times have you heard the previous or current Mayor say “KCDC are a White Ribbon Council”? The answer is many, usually in response to a public complaint of having experienced some form of bullying by KCDC.

Since being elected in 2013, after repeated incidents of bullying against myself and then, to my great distress, a female member of the public, I twice formally complained to the White Ribbon Campaign organisers asking that KCDC no longer use their campaign name. I believe it is damaging to their campaign. I have never had a response, despite following up on both my complaints.

Since then, I am aware of a further four written complaints to the campaign trustees about KCDC’s association with the campaign. Each also listing incidents of intimidation, derogatory name calling, harassment, systematic interruptions during meetings, related legal threats, trespass notices based on false allegations, verbal abuse and failure to carry out processes in accordance with the rules.

In the last year, two female elected members and three women from the community have told me they have experienced post traumatic anxiety symptoms while speaking or being in chambers and this affects their ability to stand up for themselves and their communities.

I know how they feel. It is demeaning and emotionally exhausting to have to be hurt in this way in order to do your job. The fear doesn’t just go away either, it takes a lot of time and energy to mentally prepare for and to get over the scenes and sounds of each meeting. And while we get through it, get on with it!, smile and function, I do not believe it is without causing deep physiological damage. This is, in my opinion, a very unhealthy place.

The public constantly ask me, how do I cope in Council. My answer is, “I don’t know”, (and seriously, I do not know how I cope). But my answer should be, “I shouldn’t have to cope. I should be allowed to enjoy the role and everyone has the right to feel safe there.”

The blinds to the exterior windows of chambers have been closed during at least four of our meetings of Council in the past two months. Why? to keep you from observing your council at work. Is this the transparent council you were promised? In my opinion Council is hiding from the bare truth as much as the White Ribbon Campaigners are.

As a woman, a mother, a nana and an elected representative of the people of Kāpiti, I publicly ask the White Ribbon Campaign organisers, in the face of mounting evidence that KCDC are not anti violence, to publicly distance the campaign from Kāpiti Coast District Council.

Cr Jackie Elliott

Kāpiti Coast District Council