Cera boss Roger Sutton resigns over sexual harassment claims
Roger Sutton will receive a payout after resigning as chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) today.
He had been under investigation for the last seven weeks after a complaint of sexual harassment from a senior staff member.
The allegation accused him of making inappropriate jokes and comments, and giving the staffer an unwelcome hug.
A report provided to the State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie did not establish conduct which would have led to Sutton being dismissed and Rennie said he would not have asked him to stand down.
"However, Mr Sutton offered his resignation and this was accepted," Rennie said in a statement today.
It is understood the parties thrashed out an agreement over the weekend. The commission confirmed today that Sutton will receive a settlement as part of the deal.
Asked about whether Sutton would receive any payment other than his salary up until January 31, Rennie indicated an additional payment.
"We've reached an acceptable outcome that acknowledges Roger's early resignation. It is consistent with his entitlements under his contract."
He refused to provide details.
"I'm not going to comment any more on Roger's personal matters."
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is in Perth at a meeting of defence ministers this week.
Prime Minister John Key said his interactions with Sutton were "thoroughly professional and very good".
"I think he's been a very good chief executive in terms of the work he's done for that organisation, but I can't comment on issues that relate to this inquiry."
Key told reporters he was aware that an inquiry had been undertaken, and that the SSC had concluded that there was not enough in the allegations to dismiss him.
"Clearly what's resulted either as part of this or generally as a process of reflection is that Mr Sutton himself has decided that when his contract effectively expires because CERA becomes a departmental agency in February of 2015, that he's not going to reapply."
Sutton, who was accompanied by his wife, said he had missed school camps and sports days since he started at Cera.
He revealed that he was considering leaving next year anyway, citing stress and exhaustion. Earlier this year he said he was unlikely not stay on after Cera's powers expired in April 2016.
Many colleagues had been supportive, but "now is the time for new leadership", he said.
"I want to have a proper holiday. I want to be a better father, a better husband."
He said he was "very upset" to have offended anybody.
"I'm tired," he said. "I've called women 'honey' or 'sweetie' ... and that's wrong, it's a sexist thing to do."
He said staying or going was a choice between work or family.
"My wife in many ways is bringing up our children alone at the moment."
Sutton's wife Jo Malcolm began to cry when he said that.
Sutton spoke from the heart and said he missed spending time with his family and felt it was time for a change.
"I'm determined that out of this, I will become a better person. I'm going to tell fewer jokes and no inappropriate jokes."
Malcolm said she felt shocked and sad about the way her husband's time with Cera had ended.
"I just wish this could have happened in a less public, less hideous way."
She said the support received by family, friends and colleagues had been overwhelming but she was glad she would be getting her husband back.
"I want him to get out. I want him to be with us ... I've been raising our boys by myself really," she said.
Malcolm said her husband was "too relaxed, too informal".
"I think he'd forgotten that he's the chief executive of a public service."
Sutton will be allowed to stay in the job until the end of January, when CERA will then fall under the control of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
"I expect high standards of Public Service chief executives and I take any complaints of inappropriate conduct very seriously. Every State servant must be able to work in a safe environment where they are treated with professionalism and respect," Rennie said.
"I respect Mr Sutton's decision and acknowledge that this was a very difficult call to make for someone who is so committed to the Canterbury community," he added.
Sutton would leave a "strong legacy" in Canterbury, Rennie said.
The Public Service Association (PSA), which represents thousands of public sector workers on employment issues, said the delay in Sutton's departure raised questions.
"Mr Sutton choosing to remain in his job until January 31 raises questions about how the rights of his employees will be safeguarded from any future repetition of his actions," PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk said.
"This investigation is a timely reminder of how much work is still to be done to ensure public service workplaces enable all public servants to thrive. Positive workplace behaviours are in everyone's interest, and it appears that Mr Sutton's actions fell short of this."
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and Christchurch City Council chief executive Karleen Edwards said they were sad to learn of Sutton's resignation.
In a joint media statement, they said Sutton had been a "stand-out leader for our city and region".
"As CEO of Orion at this time, Roger took community engagement to a new level and never shied away from fronting the community whose interests he always had totally at heart.
"Residents will remember him turning up on his bike with maps in hand to community meetings held in local parks."
They said he was the "logical choice" for Cera's chief executive.
"He gave up so much to take this role, including a large drop in salary and he worked incredibly hard and long hours on behalf of Christchurch residents."
Establishing and leading a new government department was a "huge challenge".
"Despite the challenges of this unprecedented recovery structure, he maintained his commitment to his community and never shirked from speaking out on behalf of his city.
"In these difficult times, he was the voice of Christchurch," the statement said. When Edwards took up her position this year as the new council chief executive, Sutton was "enormously supportive".
"Roger Sutton has been a real asset to the city and our only hope is that his experience, passion, knowledge and desire to get his city back on its feet will not be lost to the Christchurch community."
The Green Party's Christchurch spokeswoman, Eugenie Sage, described Sutton as a "bouncy, tigger-ish character".
She said his resignation, and the events surrounding it, were "really unfortunate".
"His style was always very informal whether it was in select committees or meetings," Sage said.
"I think that was one of the reasons his appointment was so popular."
However, Cera as an organisation lacked transparency and public accountability through consultation, she said.
"And Roger Sutton was unable to change that ... it goes back to [Brownlee's] refusal to engage with Christchurch citizens."
Sage said sexual harassment in the workplace was "very serious" and all complaints should be taken seriously.
"It's made me think ... that you have to be very very careful."
She said Sutton would be an example to many bosses around the country who might think twice about making jokey or inappropriate comments to colleagues.
"It might result [in a] buttoned-up workplace ... and a more conservative approach."
Ruth Dyson, Labour's earthquake recovery spokeswoman, said being the centre of a seven-week-long investigation would have been "very stressful regardless of the outcome".
Dyson said she was "always a very strong supporter" of Sutton but believed he had been unable to effectively do his job and use his expertise.
"I don't think he was able to deliver what he would have wanted...because of the role [Brownlee] has taken.
"It's a bit of a wasted opportunity."
She said Sutton was a "family man" at heart so having such a stressful job and working such long hours would have undoubtedly taken a toll.
READ MORE: Claim taken seriously
THE ROGER SUTTON FILE
Sutton became Christchurch's quake recovery czar in May 2011 when he was appointed Cera chief executive for a five-year period.
Then Orion's chief executive, his handling of the power lines company's staff working long hours to restore electricity to the city post-quake impressed many.
His honest communication skills also received praise.
Sutton initially refused to consider the Cera job when his name was first mooted in early March 2011.
But two months later, he took a $200,000 pay cut, replacing interim chief executive John Ombler in the role.
At the time, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said Sutton's appointment would "speed the recovery process".
Sutton was chief executive at Orion from 2003 to 2011, when he took over at Cera.
He graduated from the University of Canterbury with a Bachelor of Engineering in 1986.
A vocal advocate of inner-city cycling, he often makes a point of cycling to appointments around town.
He said in June that he did not think he would continue as Canterbury's earthquake boss beyond 2016, when the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 expires.
Central government would continue to have "some sort of presence in Christchurch" after that time, he said.
"I never meant to hurt anybody.
"I think a lot of people around this city know me...they know about my values and people also know when Cera has stuffed up or I've stuffed up."
Sutton said he intended to go on a well-deserved holiday with his family.
- The Press