Petition set up to back Handley

18:24, Jan 29 2013
tdn hand stand
A petition has been set up in support of Witt chief executive Richard Handley.

Staff and students at the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (Witt) are rallying behind chief executive Richard Handley, whose contract has not been renewed.

Yesterday afternoon an online petition to keep Mr Handley in the chief executive role was set up by Witt principal academic Donna Willard-Moore.

It was seeking 5000 signatures and would be presented to the Witt council if it reached its goal, Ms Willard-Moore said.

New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven also supported Mr Handley.

On Monday, the Witt council confirmed it had declined Mr Handley's request to have his contract renewed.

The news dismayed Witt staff, as well as many in the Taranaki business community.


Ms Willard-Moore said Witt staff wanted answers from the council.

"At this point we want to ask council for further information because they are clearly indicating a change in strategic direction," Ms Willard-Moore said.

This could impact on the educational direction of the polytech, she said.

Yesterday, the Taranaki Daily News obtained numerous emails in support of Mr Handley.

Most were addressed to all Witt staff members, as well as Prime Minister John Key, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, Education Minister Hekia Parata and Witt council chairwoman Mary Bourke.

An email was also circulated around Witt encouraging staff to write letters to the editor at the Taranaki Daily News.

Witt staff were ordered not to speak to the Daily News.

Mr Handley also had support from Mr Duynhoven. "I have to say he has been impressive and has certainly turned the polytech around", Mr Duynhoven said.

Mr Handley was a consummate professional in his work, Mr Duynhoven said.

"Richard has certainly inspired an enormous amount of loyalty from his staff and support from the community."

New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young said the chief executive's renewal of contract was an employment matter the Witt council held sole responsibility for.

The next chief executive would inherit a far more healthy institution than existed five years ago, he said.

"Taranaki can be justifiably proud of Witt's progress under Richard Handley's and the Witt council's leadership," Mr Young said.

Witt computer programming tutor and Tertiary Education Union branch president Rod Fearn, who has been with the polytech since 1992, said Mr Handley had nearly 100 per cent support from Witt staff.

Before Mr Handley took up the reigns at Witt it was in a dire financial situation with huge debt.

It is now in a stable financial position and widely regarded as an integral part of Taranaki's infrastructure.

Mr Handley's request to stay on for two more years once his contract expires in July was formally declined on Friday.

Half of the Witt council's eight members were appointed by the minister of education, including Miss Bourke and deputy chair Malcolm Inglis.

The remaining four were appointed by the Witt council.

Taranaki Daily News