Call for Handley to stay and council to go Email claims no confidence vote

Witt's Richard Handley has not had his contract extended.
Witt's Richard Handley has not had his contract extended.

A call for the Witt council to be replaced and for outgoing chief executive Richard Handley to stay on has been sent out to the Government.

An email, sent to Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce on Thursday, claims to be written on behalf of Witt staff and says 97.7 per cent of them voted in a ballot they had no confidence in the council.

The email was not attributed to anyone, it was only signed "on behalf of Witt staff"'.

It said voting signatures remained confidential and were being held by a justice of the peace.

Nobody would put their name to the email yesterday because Witt rules forbid staff to speak with media.

A separate letter, sent to politicians and tertiary leaders requested immediate action from Mr Joyce. It was also sent to Prime Minister John Key, New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young, Labour MP Andrew Little and New Plymouth mayor Harry Duynhoven, among others.

Last month Mr Handley's request to stay on as chief executive for two more years, once his contract expired in July, was formally declined by the council.

A written statement from Mr Joyce's office yesterday said the email had been received.

It said the council was solely responsible to decide who was best to lead the polytechnic.

Witt council chair Mary Bourke said she was aware of the vote of no confidence but did not know its context and had not seen the letter addressed to Mr Joyce.

Labour MP Andrew Little, a former union leader, said it was a highly unusual move.

"I've never seen anything like this in the tertiary sector where we've seen staff, in overwhelming numbers, express no confidence in their council," he said.

Mr Little, who used to sit on the Witt council, said if the matter wasn't resolved within the next few days the Government should start asking questions. "This is a watershed moment for Witt and I think the council need to understand the seriousness of it."

Mr Duynhoven said the vote of no confidence illustrated how much staff respected Mr Handley and wanted him to stay on for two more years.

"I think a majority vote of the staff like that is something the board should consider," Mr Duynhoven said.

New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young said the recent success of Witt could be attributed to the hard work of both the council and Mr Handley. "In my mind the council are made up of reputable people who are committed to the success of Witt and have contributed to its success."

Taranaki Daily News