Call to explain Witt CEO's sudden exit

Questions over the sudden departure of Witt CEO Richard Handley need to be answered by the polytechnic's governing council, Labour list MP Andrew Little said yesterday.

"I think the people of New Plymouth are owed an explanation by the council why it is letting Richard go at this time," he said. "What confidence can the community have in their succession planning?"

The polytech and business community were stunned this week when it was revealed Mr Handley's contract would not be renewed.

Mr Little said the renewal of Mr Handley's contract was a matter of public confidence in the institution Mr Handley had brought back from the brink of closure.

Yesterday the Taranaki Daily News reported that New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young said the renewal of Mr Handley's contract was an employment matter the Witt council held sole responsibility for.

Mr Little said he disagreed.

"It is a matter of public confidence in Witt. That confidence was at an incredibly low ebb by 2008 and has been restored thanks to Richard's leadership."

The issue was a cause for concern for the people of New Plymouth and Taranaki.

Mr Little, who was on the Tertiary Education Commission board for four years and Witt Council from 2008 until 2010, said during his tenure there had often been talk of the need for TEC to make an example of a polytech that had made bad decisions by letting them fail.

Witt was most often held up as a prime candidate, he said.

"Witt was one of the worst performing polytechs at the time.

"It was hugely in debt, its educational performance was lacking and its roll was falling."

Stiff milestones were set for the polytech and he personally doubted whether Witt could meet them, he said.

But, he said, Mr Handley's leadership had saved the polytech.

"Richard was a steely and determined chief executive.

"In the two years I was on the [Witt] council, the milestones were met, and this gave confidence to the then council."

Mr Little said he respected Witt council chairwoman Mary Bourke, who also played an important part in the resurrection of Witt.

Nevertheless, the public needed answers.

Taranaki Daily News