Outbursts as director defends management

A Waikato Museum director has defended her management style which has been described as abrupt and aggressive by former staff giving evidence at an inquest.

The tension between Hamilton City Council museum management, its current and former staff was high during the second day of the inquest into the death of the museum's former science educator Raymond Eric Mayes.

Evidence presented at the Hamilton Coroner's Court, to Coroner Dr Wallace Bain, showed that Mayes was found dead on the footpath of Gallagher St - within metres of his workplace - about 2.10am on Friday, June 21, 2013.

Before jumping off the Bridge St bridge, Mayes called police to tell them that a body had been found - and that it was his.

On arrival, police found his keys and a suicide note in his pocket.

His wife, Julie, told Bain that the ever-increasing pressures from work were key factors in his death and the new museum director Cherie Meecham was a bully.

But the council denied there was a culture of bullying, or that Mayes had been bullied, and said none of the staff were aware that Mayes was feeling vulnerable.

Meecham took to the stand yesterday afternoon to defend herself after being slated by many former staff, as being abrupt, with one stating "the educators were harangued, harassed and ambushed during this time", by her.

But when asked whether she tended to be abrupt, Meecham replied, "no".

This resulted in an outburst of laughter from Mayes' supporters, which included former staff, in the public gallery.

The next outburst came soon after, when PSA lawyer Gillian Spry put evidence from former museum staff member Stephanie Chalmers.

Chalmers said Meecham told the staff in an exhibition team meeting, regarding personal performance reviews, that: "you can't possibly be scoring 4s and 5s, you'd be more like 1s and 2s - otherwise you would be working at Te Papa".

Meecham accepted she said that, except: "I said 2s and 3s".

The outbursts prompted Hamilton City Council lawyer Mark Hammond to ask the group to be quiet.

As for Mayes' health, Meecham said she had no idea that anything was wrong.

"There was no indication to me that Ray had any issues."

However, Steve Chappell, who gained a new role as visitor services manager in the restructure, made no bones about who he thought were the negative influences.

Chappell denied that management had anything to do with Mayes' death, rather it was ambivalent staff who created a negative atmosphere.

"I do not believe that the experience Ray had at the museum in the months preceding his death alone should be viewed as the cause. Those people involved in the museum restructure should not be held accountable for the events of Ray's lifetime which led up to this choice."

Chappell said the PSA had an ulterior motive and was simply getting involved to tackle bigger issues "rather than focusing on the support and advocacy of staff".

Bain reserved his decision. It is likely to be released in October. belinda.feek@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

Waikato Times