City Council boss quits for his career

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 10/06/2014
BARRY HARRIS
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ
RESIGNED: Hamilton City Council chief executive Barry Harris.

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Hamilton City Council chief executive Barry Harris has resigned from the council's top job to open up opportunities to focus on company directorships.

Harris, 59, announced his resignation late yesterday afternoon after 3 years in the role. He will leave on October 17.

Under Harris' watch, the council completed a massive restructure with subsequent job losses.

He also came under fire last year for his multiple external directorships, including on the board of AgResearch as it voted to axe jobs from the city.

Harris said yesterday he had no regrets.

"I first became a chief executive at 35 and you have good days and bad days, but no regrets."

Harris, who is on the board of DairyNZ as well as being deputy chairman of AgResearch's board, said his resignation would allow him to take up other company directorships.

"My resignation has surprised a number of people but the reaction I've received has been very positive. To be clear, I'm not pursuing any further executive positions. This is a deliberate career move for the next stage of my life."

Local government commentators say there is no obvious successor to Harris, with council tipped to look overseas for a replacement.

Last month Harris secured a 2.1 per cent pay increase, back-dated to April 5, taking his salary to $385,777.

His position with AgResearch is worth an estimated $35,000 a year.

In a survey of Times readers last year, most expressed concern with Harris' performance, in particular his management of rates money and his handling of staff-councillor relations.

Labour MP Sue Moroney said Harris' dual role with council and AgResearch had been controversial and his resignation gave council the ability to reassess its stance on the AgResearch restructure "with fresh eyes".

Hamilton deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman described him as the council's best-performing chief executive of the past 20 years.

"Barry has taken the organisation through a difficult restructuring period and we've come through the other end with a council that is in great shape. The big emphasis has been on improving the financials, the cutting of costs, and the tightening up of the organisation."

Councillor Ewan Wilson said he sometimes disagreed with Harris' decisions but grew to respect his leadership qualities.

"I have to say under the leadership of [Mayor Julie] Hardaker we've seen some good work and Barry has been a part of that. I would have been delighted for him to have one more term."

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Hardaker said she respected Harris' strategic and commercial acumen.

The search for a new CEO would start in the next few weeks, she said.

Councillor Garry Mallett said he was surprised by Harris' departure but declined to assess his performance. He wasn't disappointed by Harris' decision, saying it was his alone to make. "I'd encourage anyone to do what they wanted to do, you're only here once."

BARRY HARRIS

Appointed Hamilton City Council's CEO in December 2010. Before that he led Fonterra's dairy supply unit for five years and its sustainability unit for a year.

Resigned from board of Tainui Group Holdings to work at council. Joined the council, working with first-time mayor Julie Hardaker. Improving Hamilton's economic development was a top priority.

Described his leadership style as "empowering", but said he was no softie either. Was criticised for his involvement in boards outside of council.

In May his council salary was raised to $385,777, his DairyNZ director fee, $43,000, AgResearch director fee, $35,250. Total, $464,027.

A 2013 Waikato Times poll showed readers were critical of his handling of staff and councillor relations. The poll gave pass marks for lifting the city's look and feel.

Harris and his wife Wendy have three children and the family moved from Auckland to Hamilton in 2011.

- Waikato Times

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