Handley chose not to reapply - Bourke

HANNAH FLEMING
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2013
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ROBERT CHARLES
Witt council chairwoman Mary Bourke

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Witt council chairwoman Mary Bourke recognises it may be an uphill battle to regain the confidence and trust of staff opposing the dismissal of its chief executive Richard Handley.

Many have expressed their concerns over the decision to appoint a new chief executive and Ms Bourke said that was reasonable based on what had been portrayed in the public arena.

"What is not reasonable is that staff somehow have the idea that they - and the public for that matter - can interfere in decisions that the council have made around the end of one fixed-term contract and the awarding of another.

"It is regrettable that an entirely appropriate decision by a council, that has the best intentions for Witt at the heart of all its decisions, should have been communicated in a way that generated an unreasonable and in some instances irresponsible reaction to it."

Ms Bourke said some responses were based on the view Mr Handley had been dumped, rather than the fact it was his own choice not to participate in the reappointment process.

"The issue here is not about the performance of the current CE, it is about being sure we have the right person for what will be in a very different future.

"The council has not precluded the CE, he has precluded himself. And he could change his mind at any stage and still be considered part of the process," she said.

Witt is in its final year of a debt recovery contract with the Government and some have questioned why the council did not extend Mr Handley's contract until that debt had cleared.

The cost associated with conducting a thorough recruitment process added to the concern.

Ms Bourke said delaying or skimping on what was such an important part of the council's role would be a false  economy.

"The council views these costs as a reasonable investment for the future."

Ms Bourke said any chief executive, whether reappointed or new, would have to operate within existing financial commitments.

Further traits sought by the council in its new chief executive had not yet been decided.

A new strategy for the polytech was being discussed, Ms Bourke said.

It would be similar but more advanced than the current one.

A new direction was needed if Witt was to succeed and avoid the constant downsizing and cost cutting of recent years, she said.

"The key foci are looking to identify up to three flagship areas in which we can develop a good reputation for Witt both nationally and internationally.

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"The key difference is in the way we want to go about implementing the strategy," she said.

A focus would be put on creating effective partnerships with other providers and the wider community within the region, and finding better ways to identify and embrace under-utilised resources within Witt, and Taranaki.

Ms Bourke would not comment on whether the new strategic plan had been the cause of any disagreement between herself and Mr Handley.

Last week a confidential Witt council review was leaked to the Taranaki Daily News and revealed bullying allegations against the chairwoman.

Ms Bourke said the bullying accusations were not the view of the majority, although they had been portrayed that way.

"I make no apology for my style of leadership - which is to keep one's eye on the end objective," she said.

She had seen the enthusiasm and goodwill of too many individuals and groups spoiled by the unhelpful behaviour of some team members.

"As a result I am fairly consistent in wanting to nip such behaviour in the bud as quickly as possible.

"If this is construed by some as bullying - so be it."

Ms Bourke said it was great there was so much interest in the future of Witt and concern for Mr Handley personally.

"Richard has done a great job and that was reflected in our asking him to consider reapplying."

- Taranaki Daily News

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