Wellingtonian editorial: The overseas infatuation

Last updated 11:02 10/01/2013

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The Wellingtonian

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OPINION: We at the The Wellingtonian are no great fans of city council chief executive Garry Poole.

After 15 years in his job, he has appeared increasingly muddled in his thinking and has been a poor communicator.

The days of him bringing zest and new ideas to his role seem long gone. However, he has continued to claim an annual salary of $420,000, grotesque in this era of apparent austerity.

So we were happy when Mr Poole's position was not simply rolled over last year.

Instead the council advertised the chief executive's position and then drew up a shortlist of four - Mr Poole, Cornwall Council chief executive Kevin Lavery, a Dunedin official of moderate ability and another, more capable, person currently in a chief executive role in Wellington.

The council went for the Englishman, by a 9-6 vote.

He has been offered a five- year term at $400,000-plus a year.

What odds he doesn't see out his term and is paid out, at ratepayers' expense?

It's a pity the councillors got all misty-eyed at the thought of hiring someone from overseas for such a key role.

We've been down this path before.

In the 1990s Angela Griffin, fresh from working at the Redditch and Sandwell borough councils, landed the council chief executive role, and the accompanying gobsmacking salary.

Ms Griffin's time in Wellington was hardly a triumph and illustrated that where possible it's better to hire a local. (She has gone on to become urban sector manager of the World Bank, and her Wellington council role figures prominently on her CV.)

When contemplating hiring someone from overseas - for a government, local body or sports position - a rule of thumb might be: If they were any good wouldn't they be doing it in their own country?

In a recent interview, Mr Lavery made much of his love of rugby and how his children would attend Wellington schools.

He said Wellington was in a great position to grow and "be free of the financial strain of Cornwall".

Really? Has he heard about our earthquake-strengthening and leaky homes crises?

We'd prefer a chief executive who knows what "Wahine Day" refers to, is familiar with School C, knows what Black Magic was, knows who wrote the "mother of all budgets" and remembers the carless days of the 1970s . . . in short, a New Zealander.

Instead we'll spend a fortune (quite apart from his interview travel to New Zealand, removal expenses for his family and legal costs), educating Mr Lavery about New Zealand.

Then, chances are, he'll be gone, with another impressive- looking line on his CV.

At the moment he's at pains to please.

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Thus: "Wellington is big enough to pack a punch without amalgamation."

It would be good if he really understood the situation before uttering that sort of stuff.

Some councillors might have outsmarted themselves.

Many of those who voted for Mr Lavery have railed against the super-city concept for Wellington region.

But in Cornwall he oversaw the transition of a county council responsible for six district councils into a single authority with 123 councillors (!).

Don't be surprised if the council's chief executive punt turns out to be a costly blunder.

- The Wellingtonian

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