'Denigration' spurs letter to council

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 05:00 14/06/2014

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Staff at Hawke's Bay Regional Council told councillors they are making the council appear "broken and dysfunctional".

Council chairman Fenton Wilson said he was "absolutely concerned" at the contents of a letter sent to nine councillors on Thursday from the council's Staff Support Group, comprised of five elected members of staff.

He planned to "get the councillors together next week, shut the doors and have a chat".

The two-page letter said staff were writing "to express our concerns at the attitude and behaviour of our elected council".

"The public in-fighting and direct insinuations regarding staff credibility have had a far reaching impact on staff morale . . . The use of the term ‘staff' in disparaging statements through the media taints all of us, whether or not directly involved in the [plan change and dam proposal]," it said.

The mood around the council table has been tense since last year's ballot, with the election of four councillors who have been united in their opposition to various decisions - including those related to the Ruataniwha dam and a large increase in the salary of the chief executive of the council's investment arm.

The four councillors say they were excluded from deliberations in developing the council's response to the Board of Inquiry decision on the dam proposal and this week made their own submission to the board.

The letter said staff involved in the Environmental Protection Authority process over the dam contributed at the council's request and performed their roles "often with significant personal sacrifice" to meet stringent timelines.

"The continual politicking has come at a time when, more than ever, we need Council to show leadership, loyalty, maturity, professionalism and integrity. We have yet to see any outline or statement of strategic intent or direction from the Council," it said.

The staff said they were "understandably concerned" at what might come of proposed council amalgamation in the region, "but we are more concerned at the denigration of our individual and collective credibility by some councillors".

They asked councillors to make a statement of support for all staff.

"Presently the perception of the [council] is that of an organisation that has a broken and dysfunctional leadership".

Wilson said staff had made their feelings clear "and it's at our end that the work needs to be done".

He said he did not hold any individual responsible and accepted he was "not blameless in this".

"We've got to remedy this and come up with a united front pretty bloody quickly.

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"But it's very hard to make sense of the politicking going on by a group of councillors that haven't quite become part of the organisation yet," he said.

Councillor Rick Barker - one of the four united councillors - said he would not comment. "It's an internal staff matter and I'd prefer to respond directly to staff."

The council's acting chief executive, Liz Lambert, said it had got to the point where staff felt they needed to respond to some of the comments made by councillors.

She had received feedback from several councillors, which had been passed on to staff. She would not comment on whether she agreed with the letter's sentiments.

- The Dominion Post

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