Councillor walks out of CEO meeting

Invercargill City councillor Lindsay Abbott last night walked out of a council meeting called to discuss the appointment of a new chief executive after it went into public excluded.

Cr Abbott has been at the centre of controversy surrounding the appointment after it was alleged he conspired with two councillors to manipulate the process.

In June the council appointed a subcommittee comprising Mayor Tim Shadbolt, Deputy Mayor Darren Ludlow and four city councillors - Norman Elder, Neil Boniface, Carolyn Dean and Cr Abbott - to accept a consultant's recommended final 10 candidates for the chief executive's job.

It is understood the subcommittee later changed the process - allowing them to also interview the final 10 candidates and have a say on who should be on the shortlist, and subcommittee chairman Cr Elder resigned in response.

It was alleged Cr Abbott and Cr Dean held a secret meeting with another councillor to discuss how the shortlist could contain candidates they favoured.

Mr Shadbolt then asked the council's lawyers to investigate the appointment process, after saying he received advice the subcommittee had not been delegated authority to do anything.

Yesterday's extraordinary meeting was called as a result.

Just before the meeting started, Cr Abbott said he had nothing to defend himself against and he wanted the meeting in public as a point of principle. There was no reason for it not to be public.

If the council decided to continue in public excluded, he would make a statement and then leave.

Mayor Tim Shadbolt said he wanted to hold some of the meeting in public, partly because the council would be discussing things already known through the newspapers.

After the motion to go into public excluded was passed, Cr Abbott said he would leave and read out his personal statement.

In it, he rejected "the allegations in The Southland Times" that there had been a secret meeting.

He said the article implied the subcommittee had been working against the council, which was not true.

He said the subcommittee democratically decided to change the process, that it reported it to the council in a workshop on October 30, that the full council endorsed the change, that the independent consultant was involved in the change and had confirmed the new process was consistent with industry standards.

Cr Abbott defended the changes to the appointment process.

"I unreservedly believe that the subcommittee must ensure they are fully involved in the interview process to ensure we get to see the candidates in action rather than abrogating our responsibilities to a paid consultant."

He then chose to leave the council chamber before the extraordinary council meeting - whereas members of the public and media left because they had to.

The Southland Times