Editorial: Committee stands corrected

Not just political machinations, but a sorry lack of professionalism, led to ructions and seepages in the process for selecting the Invercargill City Council chief executive officer.

The full council has rectified the mess, as best it can, by deciding that the over-reaching subcommittee handling the review process should stick to the role it was originally given.

The full council had put six of its members on this committee to oversee the work of an independent consultant who would use his specialist skills to assess the professional capabilities of the candidates and prepare the shortlist, then leave it to the full council to conduct the final interviews and make a decision. The Times knew that some members of that committee, acting with input from at least one councillor who wasn't on it, wanted the committee to be involved in the interview process earlier. They wanted to decide the shortlist before it reached their fellow councillors.

When we approached him and asked if he had resigned from the committee, its chairman Cr Norman Elder confirmed it and later said he feared the change was an attempt to politicise the process so the shortlist would reflect those councillors' own views, rather than the assessment of the professional called in for that part of the process.

It's an interesting if unhappy sideline that so much information handled by that committee was widely discussed around town. The Times became involved in this story only after it was clear that this was the talk of the clubs - the number of candidates for the job, the names of the more high-profile ones, and the activities of various councillors both on the committee and outside it. We suspect there was more than a little big-noting involved. People liked to be seen to be in the know. The lack of professionalism let alone integrity shown by some on that committee was shameful.

Cr Elder, for his part, wasn't having a bar of this changed process. The day after he resigned his committee membership the council held a workshop in which he spelt out his concerns. At that meeting Cr Ian Pottinger said he had been in contact with Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull to discuss the changed procedure that the committee wanted to adopt, which was similar to that used by Dunedin City Council. Now this was a strange piece of diligence, if not prescience, on Cr Pottinger's part. Not being on the committee, he shouldn't have been in a position to have known what it was doing, let alone be busying himself in the process.

The Times has heard from several sources that the changed process for which the review committee voted was orchestrated by two of its members, Crs Carolyn Dean and Lindsay Abbott. The two have emphatically denied that. Cr Dean says she cannot remember who it was who moved or seconded the change to the committee process. Somebody must have.

The mess gets even bigger because no record can be found in the full council's minutes of it formally accepting the changed status of the review committee. Clearly it was never taken back to the full council.

So then we get a situation where, the Times having brought the review committee conflicts to public attention, the full council has met and decided the committee would operate as it had originally instructed.

That was the right decision. It takes politics out of the selection process until the point where is should rightfully enter - after a shortlist has been compiled on the basis of professional competence, professionally assessed.

Once that shortlist is before them, the mayor and councillors have to be satisfied that the appointee is one that they all - or as many of them as possible - can work with.

The Southland Times