Change agent's tough first year

00:00, Jan 21 2014
FOCUSED: Clare Hadley is enjoying the challenges of running city hall.

Arriving at the desk of chief executive of the Nelson City Council a year out from an election was bound to be tough, but Clare Hadley - the council's most senior executive - answers questions about that with well-honed diplomacy.

"Part of the reason I love the job is the dynamics of the political arena," she said a few weeks into a new year, and fresh from an adventure holiday hiking Tuatapere's Hump Ridge Track in the deep south.

It was Christmas a year ago when Mrs Hadley arrived in Nelson. She had left a position as chief executive of the Rangitikei District Council to come to the place she described then as her "dream location".

Her stance has not changed, despite the rigours of a few challenging moments leading up to last October's election charge, and heading a tough reorganisation of the business that resulted in some big job losses.

Mrs Hadley said she could not isolate any standout moment in her first year, but former mayor Aldo Miccio's connections with China and whether there was any crossover between his civic duties and his personal business dealings did present a curve ball.

The release under official information of previously withheld emails [between Mr Miccio and New Zealand King Salmon regarding NZ Inc Shop's selling of salmon online] which in the end revealed very little, proved a trying time.


"I'm not sure there's any one [challenge], but if I think about it, coming into the job and being immediately faced with the China emails was a different challenge but I was fortunate that I was able to speak to the Office of the Auditor General because of my prior contact with it."

Then came the large-scale restructuring of the 260 staff which included 15 redundancies, 23 job reassignments, seven positions made contestable and 10 jobs contracted. The changes saw several senior staff leave the organisation, taking significant knowledge with them.

Mrs Hadley said the changes were less to do with central Government edict than they were about refocusing attention on new areas councils needed to perform better in. She said when starting in Nelson that change was something to be expected in local government and councils needed to be able to constantly adapt. They also had to remain responsive to their communities.

Mrs Hadley reiterated that the changes were not all about getting the cost structure down either, even though the calls to do that have been shrill and long-running.

"That was some of it, but more importantly it was about getting us focused in the right areas, and in that resource management area we hadn't been paying enough attention to. That was really important."

Mrs Hadley said she regretted the council had lost good people.

"What we're finding is that we need some of that existing knowledge and more new knowledge."

Staff unrest at all the change was evidenced by the results of a workplace survey, obtained by the Mail after it was refused a copy.

Comments about "bullying" and intimidation" among ranks were matched by others who felt the new chief executive was having a positive impact on the council.

Mrs Hadley said she and other staff were upset and disappointed the survey had reached the hands of the media.

"I felt really betrayed over the survey comments being released. I chose to share the comments with the staff as my commitment to being open with them. Many staff felt betrayed and I did too, but I was heartened by the numbers who came forward and supported me."

Mrs Hadley has been in local government for more than two decades. She was appointed as city council chief executive from a field of 56 applicants from around New Zealand and overseas.

While the job has turned out pretty much as expected so far, she appears to have given in to initial reluctance to foster a low profile. She said the interest the Nelson community had in her was not what she expected, but in the end the job remained the same: Giving apolitical advice on providing right information for good decision-making.

"I've grown to understand that the role of CEO in the 21st Century has many faces. I wanted to make sure my personality didn't become an issue, and perhaps I overplayed that, because I understand it's about getting it in the right measure.

"Where I've come from, there was a greater sense of separation between what I did and who I am."

Mrs Hadley appeared puzzled by the question, which was heard often around the time of the election, as to how she and new Mayor Rachel Reese would get on.

"We get on absolutely fine. I've farewelled three mayors as a CEO. I've lamented their loss and embraced their successor - it's part of what makes this job Dynamic.

"Rachel is clear about what she wants to achieve, she is looking for good information and priority setting, and she's a Dunedinite. She even went to the same school I did.

"I'm intrigued that the question is asked, and I wonder if people would ask the same about two strong men in these roles."

Mrs Hadley said Nelson was blessed to have two local government professionals in charge of the city, and to have a mayor who had a "very strong sense of what the responsibilities of the office of the mayor are".

Mrs Hadley and her husband, Ken, to whom she has been married 28 years and has raised four children with, bought a house last year and admits doing so was tougher than expected. They finally settled on a place in The Wood, within walking distance of the cinema, cafes and Saturday's Nelson Market.

Moving here has allowed Mr Hadley to retire from a career in policy, and become involved in volunteering.

"He's been able to retire and have a really rewarding life in Nelson that he might not have had elsewhere."

While there is not much about Nelson that has surprised them, the ease at which people accept others was not what they expected.

"I do think its geographic distance lends itself to how people take things differently.

"The Nelson Market for example - people are side by side in ways you wouldn't find elsewhere and they talk without any societal strata."

Mrs Hadley is looking forward to the challenges she knows this year will bring. First up: Drafting the Long Term Plan.

The Nelson Mail