A battle-hardened chief exec

Last updated 07:28 26/02/2013

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OPINION: Now that the dust has settled and the air has cleared, I would like to explain why I believe that Richard King is probably the best choice for chief executive of Invercargill City Council until we are amalgamated, writes Tim Shadbolt in Southern Focus.

Some people have expressed surprise at my decision because I have given young Richard a few severe public beatings over his role as returning officer during the 1993 mayoral byelections and his drink-driving incident. He publicly apologised over his lack of judgment during the byelection and took his punishment like a man for drinking and driving.

During one of Invercargill's coldest winters he push-biked across the windswept estuary to his modest home in Otatara. On several occasions I offered him a lift home, but he was determined to do his penance and steadfastly refused my offers. I don't judge people only by their victories. The real test of character is how a person handles defeats, disasters and public humiliation.

Let me make it quite clear that I am not a Richard King sycophant who believes he is the Albert Einstein of local government. In all the tests, assessments, peer reviews and councillor appraisals we've put him through in the past 20 years, he has consistently received average marks, but where he stood head and shoulders above the other candidates was his local experience and local knowledge.

I know that sounds a tad traditional, and even my own partner Asha Dutt announced to the world that although I was once a radical I had now become an entrenched member of the establishment. There is of course some truth in her claim. The much respected British historian A J P Taylor made the observation that the protesters of today would become the leaders of tomorrow. When you fight the system you figure out how it works.

You also learn literary skills when publishing pamphlets and develop confidence in public speaking during rallies. You become skilled at promotional work and you learn to respect those with experience.

That is why incumbent chief executives in the majority of councils throughout New Zealand are re-appointed if they stand for the position. When push comes to shove, it's hard to beat an entrenched candidate armed to the teeth with a wealth of experience.

In my view, Richard's greatest attribute is his skill as a diplomat. In any democratic system factions will inevitably emerge. The job of chief executive is to relieve the tension and try to keep the peace.

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Everything in life is relative and if you compare the sagas in Christchurch with their chief executive, Richard King seems positively angelic. Tony Maryatt's pay increase and his Hamilton golf games during the earthquake crisis created a series of incredibly negative headlines and friction around the council table increased dramatically.

Richard never requests a pay increase and whenever there is a crisis he's right there on the coal face. Although he's a bureaucrat by nature his heart believes in democracy.

When Jackie Kruger became my deputy mayor and introduced new concepts such as councillor portfolios, the big picture video and the Te Anau retreat, I'm sure Richard had a few reservations which he was intelligent enough to keep to himself. Within council, however, he backed Jackie to the hilt.

When I was elected as mayor and launched a new era of events as well as backing innovative new schemes such as Zero Fees and the Auckland Island pigs, Richard did appear a little nervous at times, but publicly he never flinched. I was democratically elected by the people of Invercargill and that was that.

His own vision for the future involved more traditional developments such as the industrial park at Awarua, but in my view he always seems open to initiatives of staff or councillors.

Finally, there's plain and simple good luck. Richard King has been in the right place at the right time.

The perception of Invercargill has been transferred from a dying rural backwater to an innovative, dynamic and progressive city. As chief executive Richard shares in the glory.

Our city businesses have been thriving, our debt is relatively low and our new stadium will open this year. Once again Richard King benefits from our collective success.

Mind you, if everything had turned to custard Richard would have copped the lion's share of the blame. A large slice of life is about the roll of the dice.

» Tim Shadbolt is the mayor of Invercargill.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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