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Who is Nobby Clark? A brief history of Invercargill’s controversial mayor

Jun 22, 2024

Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark's decision to remain in the top job on Friday, despite multiple calls for his resignation, is not the first time he has courted controversy.

Clark's five years at council have been marked by well-documented difficulties and a commitment to doing things his own way.

This week, he catapulted into the headlines on the back of a complaint into his behaviour at a private event in March.

Clark faced allegations that he labelled volunteer firefighters as second class citizens, verbally attacked the MC, and disparaged young people in authority.

The council held an extraordinary meeting on Friday to discuss this breach of its Code of Conduct, with multiple members saying he should step aside.

But a seemingly unfazed Clark has decided to stay on, giving a short speech at the start of the meeting before removing himself.

A bumpy road to mayoralty

Clark has often found himself in hot water over his remarks.

While still deputy mayor in 2021, Clark sat down with Local Democracy Reporting and detailed his long and varied employment history, which included two dismissals out of senior positions.

On both occasions he claimed he challenged the outcome - and won - but at a significant financial cost.

"Financially bloody bad news. Because you win but you lose," he said at the time.

His working life had seen him wander down a range of paths, from medical work during a war to corporate management at Child Youth and Family (now Oranga Tamariki), a role with Stopping Violence Southland, and area management at IHC.

He claims to have "rocked the boat in many of those caring areas", which Local Democracy Reporting understands were the source of the employment issues.

Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark has drawn criticism this week following an investigation which found him to be in breach of the council's Code of Conduct. Photo: Supplied / Otago Daily Times

Later, Clark bought into a cleaning business before becoming a rural delivery driver.

Then in 2019, his career took another turn when his underlying interest in local government was realised - he was voted into Invercargill City Council as its highest ranking candidate.

He described his first day on the job as "a wolf coming into the sheep pack".

Despite his brash nature, Clark hit the ground running, and ascended.

One year into his first term, he was appointed deputy by then-mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt, who in many ways was his antithesis.

A complex and polarising figure

While Shadbolt was protesting the Vietnam War, Clark was on the ground (albeit as an army medic).

That move to make Clark deputy was highlighted in an independent report released in November 2020.

"I cannot help but worry that the mayor's lack of insight into what is needed has resulted in him appointing the person least likely to enable a collegial path forward," the 'Thomson Report' read.

Clark was described as a "complex character" who was viewed by most councillors as "extremely polarising".

The month after the report was released, Clark had his first brush with the council's code of conduct when he was found to be in breach for questioning the truthfulness of then-chief executive Clare Hadley at a public meeting.

It did not take long for the relationship between Clark and Shadbolt to sour.

In May 2021, the pair had a widely-publicised falling out with the revelation they were no longer talking.

Communication resumed, but Clark later upset Shadbolt by accusing him of "hoarding" personal items in council buildings across the city while claiming he had helped remove 50 boxes of "old stuff" from a schoolhouse.

The following year, Clark requested to step aside as deputy because he was struggling to juggle the role alongside his views, which he said sometimes saw him in a minority position at the council.

He claimed the decision had nothing to do with his relationship with Shadbolt, and later rescinded it after the mayor encouraged him to stay on.

Clark runs for top job

The twists and turns kept coming when in May 2022, Clark did a U-turn on previous claims of not having mayoral aspirations by announcing his candidacy.

Five months later he landed the top role, almost 3000 votes ahead of his nearest rival.

But Clark continued to walk a tight rope, drawing criticism in June 2023 for throwing support behind an anti-co-governance tour.

October 2023 saw an Invercargill woman come forward upset over comments he had made about the handling of former councillor and ILT Stadium boss Nigel Skelt.

Skelt resigned from his positions following a complaint by a female stadium employee of inappropriate behaviour, and Clark later said the family appreciated the work he had done in dealing with the situation.

The mother of the woman involved was shocked, saying the mayor's comments were "so far from the truth".

Under fire for racial slur

In April 2024, Clark appeared on satirical news show New Zealand Today and repeated the 'N-word' - a move he had been criticised for at an Art Foundation event the previous year.

His appearance on the show prompted a Code of Conduct complaint by two councillors, which is still ongoing.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, details of the complaint about the mayor's behaviour at a United Fire Brigades' Association event in March came to light, sparking an early call from councillor Ian Pottinger for his resignation.

The complaint said the female MC targeted by the mayor's verbal attack had been left wishing the ground would "open up and swallow her".

Pottinger's view was shared by several other councillors and two mana whenua representatives, one of whom said Clark had told her she had "black privilege".

As Clark continues to flout the rules and do things his own way, does the ongoing criticism, or its fallout, bother him?

Perhaps the tattoo on his arm provides some insight into his philosophy - one of being in the present, and not thinking too far ahead.

"Tomorrow never comes," it reads.

 

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