Editorial: For better or worse

Last updated 12:30 01/02/2013
Southland Times photo
Fairfax NZ
Invercargill City Council chief executive Richard King.

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OPINION: Asha Dutt, Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt's long-time partner, did not take the news well on Wednesday night when she learnt council chief executive Richard King had been reappointed for another five years, venting on her Facebook page about her one-time radical political activist mate that he had become king of the (despised) f...ing old-boy network.

She will be even more enraged when she realises, if she has not already, that Mr Shadbolt was not just a supporter of the status quo, he was the King-maker. It was his advocacy that changed the thinking of several wavering councillors during a lively discussion of the merits of all three shortlisted candidates by the full council.

Ms Dutt is a powerful behind-the-scenes influence on the mayor, councillors and staff. Her antipathy for Mr King is well known and she is not used to being thwarted, so Mr Shadbolt's rare show of defiance is unlikely to go unpunished, as he ruefully acknowledged after the vote was taken when he told councillors he was going to be in trouble when he got home.

The drawn-out process of deciding who would be Invercargill's chief executive for the next five years has been seething with controversy ever since Mr King turned down a two-year extension to his contract last year, opting instead to seek a full five-year term even though by doing so he would be putting himself through a searching selection process against all-comers.

That was a big call. His conviction for drink-driving, after being involved in a traffic accident on his way home from a drinks session at the council offices, had raised questions for some about his judgment and others, envious at his perceived influence over the mayor and senior councillors, were sure to try to take advantage of his putting himself up for reappointment. And of course they did.

Several councillors tried to hijack the selection process, arbitrarily changing the selection criteria set by the full council, but they were eventually reeled in, the 30 applicants were whittled down to a final three by employment consultant Mike Stenhouse of Christchurch management firm Sheffield, and on Monday and Tuesday this week all three were put through searching interviews.

Both outside candidates, chief executives of local authorities in the North Island, impressed. Highly capable, either would have provided effective leadership of the council administration, and councillors who took turns to summarise the pros and cons of all three on a whiteboard came down evenly split between one of the North Island chief executives and Mr King.

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Interestingly, in spite of Ms Dutt's Facebook claim that the old-boy network was block-voting for Mr King, his candidature was backed by several first-term councillors.

But the real surprise came when Mr Shadbolt, who until then had not expressed an opinion, was asked to choose, and he chose Mr King. He spoke of loyalty, of support, but most of all he spoke of his own strength, as a promoter of the city, and that he was more confident of continued support for that role from Mr King than the other candidates, who had not seen that as a significant part of the role.

Unstated, but sure to have been at the forefront of Mr Shadbolt's thinking, would have been the unerring ability of Mr King to sort out the difficulties the mayor is prone to get himself into, an indulgence not likely to have been continued by an outsider.

Mr Shadbolt having spoken, several councillors opposing the reappointment immediately switched sides and when a formal vote was taken only three councillors held out to the bitter end. So Mr King remains Invercargill's chief executive for another five years, for better or worse.

- The Southland Times

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