A Nelson Marlborough District Health Board (NMDHB) member says she has been bullied by the board chair after taking a stand against water fluoridation.
However, a board spokesperson says action taken against member Judy Crowe at a meeting was taken because she breached protocol.
Crowe alleges she endured three months of unwarranted intimidatory tactics from board chair Jenny Black since informally rescinding her support for community water fluoridation in April.
This includes a May 24 public health board meeting, in which Crowe said she was denied her right to speak on submissions on fluoridation passed on by Nelson City Council, as well as private board meetings in which an “insidious” bias against her had been made apparent.
Crowe is the sole member of the board to have taken a public stance against water fluoridation since it was indicated that authority to decide the issue would be handed to DHBs.
Black said Crowe was “abusing” her power at a July 26 meeting when she, as committee chair, claimed NMDHB was embarking on “water fluoridation by stealth”.
The board is part of the South Island Public Health Partnership, which has fluoridation as one of its projects.
Black called a recess in the meeting, during which Crowe said she was taken into a room and given two alternatives.
“I could pass over chairing the committee or go back to the meeting and not bring it up again.
“I was in total shock that an incident like this could happen in a public meeting. I’ve spent almost 15 years in health board governance and I have never witnessed a member of the board being treated that way.”
Crowe said she was unsure whether Black’s behaviour towards her was personal in nature or purely related to the issue at hand.
“I have an expectation that the chair treats every board member with the utmost respect and does not undermine a member with intimidatory tactics because their view differs from the majority.
“It’s not about the [fluoridation] issue. This is about the undermining, the verbal abuse, the gagging – whatever form you like to describe it, it’s bullying.”
As an elected representative, Crowe said she felt an obligation to represent the views of her community.
“It was the community coming to the board which raised issues of myself of had I got it right with fluoridation,” she said.
“How can a democracy work if I just bow to the pressure of policy?”
A board spokesperson said the July 26 recess was called because Crowe breached committee governance policy and that it was approved by all committee members.
The DHB did not respond to Crowe’s other allegations.
Both Crowe and Black are candidates in this year’s health board election.