Time to give peace a chance after tumultuous years at Witt

John and Yoko had the right idea - let's give peace a chance.
ENRIQUE MARCARIAN

John and Yoko had the right idea - let's give peace a chance.

EDITORIAL: The courtrooms have been cleared - it's time to let the dust settle.

The best thing about the Employment Relations Authority's decision that Angela Parr did indeed write and distribute 'nasty' letters about her former employer, Witt, is that it finally means there's a chance of closing the case and moving on.

The exit of Richard Handley as the organisation's chief executive took place more than four years ago and the period since can only be described as tumultuous for the Taranaki polytech.

It's time to shake off the storm clouds that have hung over Witt for the past four years.
ANDY JACKSON/STUFF

It's time to shake off the storm clouds that have hung over Witt for the past four years.

It has been a nasty time for all concerned, with claim and counter claim swirling in the undercurrents stirred up by the axing of the man who brought Witt back from the brink during his tenure. 

READ MORE:
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The first blow was the revelation that students in Witt's Maori Performing Arts courses were falsely awarded qualifications they had not worked for. That cost Witt $3.7 million it had to pay back to the Government as well as immeasurable reputational damage.

Former Witt chief executive Richard Handley's exit from Witt helped spark four years of turmoil.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Former Witt chief executive Richard Handley's exit from Witt helped spark four years of turmoil.

More lately there have been two ERA hearings against former staff members who left in the aftermath of Handley's demise.

In September 2016 the EPA heard a case, brought by Witt, against former academic director  Christine Fenton, ended with a confidential settlement and a public apology from Fenton. She acknowledged two comments she posted on Facebook about her former employer were disparaging. 

Parr was Handley's former secretary and left her position six weeks after him, in April 2013. Parr used a fake name when sending letters to Steven Joyce, David Cunliffe, the TSB Community Trust and the Bishops Action Foundation in which she made numerous negative allegations about the institution. 

Former Witt academic director Christine Fenton was one of two people taken to the Employment Relations Authority by ...
Supplied

Former Witt academic director Christine Fenton was one of two people taken to the Employment Relations Authority by Witt. The other was Handley's former secretary Angela Parr. Witt won on both occasions.

Again, Witt took the case to the ERA, and on Wednesday, it determined her denial of writing the letters was false, that they breached a settlement she had reached with Witt and ordered her to pay $6000.

Whether Witt, under the leadership of Handley's replacement Barbara George, was right to take the cases to the ERA remains a judgement call. In both cases they won the day, so can feel some sense of vindication and of having protected the polytech's reputation.

However the cases have continued to keep all the turmoil of the Handley departure era alive in the media as the cases played out.  And in taking the cases it only added fuel to the fire around the allegations of cultural problems within the polytech.

Witt chief executive Barbara George has had a torrid four years at the helm.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Fairfax NZ

Witt chief executive Barbara George has had a torrid four years at the helm.

Both Fenton and Parr were upset at the exit of the man who was their boss and the changes that brought. That's a natural human reaction. But they went about expressing that anger in the wrong way.

Their bitterness and that of their supporters likely remains.

But with the ERA's latest rulings, it is time to rule a line under the past four years.

Witt is an important piece of the Taranaki puzzle, and after a recent history where calm patches have been the exception rather than the rule it's time for the province to get in and support it.

A reputable and well-functioning tertiary study option in the region is vital as we gear up for an ever-intensifying battle to keep our youngsters sticking around.

Witt faces ongoing challenges that need to be sorted, but the past shouldn't be among them.

Everyone has had their day in court. So let's now take a leaf out of John Lennon's book and give peace a chance.

 - Stuff

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