Tough challenge for council's new CEO

23:27, Jun 15 2014
Dr Karleen Edwards
FULL LIST: Dr Karleen Edwards has stepped into the demanding role of chief executive for the Christchurch City Council.

The first day in a new job is nerve-racking at the best of times.

It must be daunting when that new job involves heading an organisation that is running a city recovering from a devastating natural disaster without enough money to pay for everything.

What do you tackle first?

How must new council chief executive Dr Karleen Edwards be feeling today?

She is now in charge of a staff of almost 2000 and an annual operating budget of $474 million, not to mention a $1.1 billion capital works programme.

For Edwards there will be no chance of easing into the job slowly.


Her employers, Mayor Lianne Dalziel and the elected councillors, have placed a heavy weight of expectation on her shoulders. They are looking to her to ensure the organisation is fit to lead the city through the rebuild.

They need to have a strong, competent chief executive and a cohesive, well-performing council if they are to have any chance of convincing the Government, in the near future, that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) is no longer required.

Unless Edwards comes equipped with a magic wand, it is not going to be an easy job.

Council chief operating officer Jane Parfitt, who has been at the helm since Tony Marryatt's departure last July, has done some high-level restructuring but that work is far from over.

Some silos still need to be broken down.

The fact that Edwards has not worked in local government before could be a strength. She has built her career on being a change manager, on being someone who can come in, spot the problems and fix them.

She is going to have to learn to handle constantly being in the spotlight. One of her predecessor's biggest failings was his reluctance to publicly engage.

Marryatt preferred to operate behind the scenes; Edwards can't afford to make the same mistake. She needs to be open about what she is doing and why. She may be employed by the elected council, but ultimately it is Christchurch's 160,000 ratepayers who pay her salary, so she needs to answer to them too.

Edwards is also going to have to quickly come up to speed with the politics of her new working environment. Local government in Christchurch is a strange beast and it has got stranger since the earthquakes and the advent of Cera. Lines of responsibility have become blurred.

Navigating the political maze without hitting too many brick walls or encountering a displeased Earthquake Recovery Minister will be no easy feat.

Good luck Dr Edwards.

The Press