Dunedin City Council senior finance manager Athol
Stephens has quit and will clear his desk today after the shock
announcement yesterday of his departure.
It is unclear what triggered the general manager of finance
and resources' abrupt withdrawal, although it comes amid an
ongoing drive within the council to find operational savings.
Mr Stephens announced his departure in a joint statement with
council chief executive Paul Orders released at 5pm
yesterday, which said Mr Stephens had ''notified the council
of his wish to leave the role''.
Today will be his last day in the job after 17 years with the
In the strangely worded statement, Mr Stephens and Mr Orders
said they agreed that, with the council's focus turning to
financial maintenance and consolidation, it was ''timely for
[the council] to review the need for a role operating in the
way that [Mr Stephens'] had done''.
Mr Stephens said he was proud of what he had achieved, but he
now wanted ''to progress a long-held plan of pursuing
governance and other roles outside [the council's]
He had been a part of a period - not without its financial
planning challenges - of great progress in the city, that had
left the city with a ''magnificent collection of modern
community assets'', he said.
He also wished his team well and said it had been a privilege
and pleasure to work alongside such talented people, with
such high standards of professionalism and personal
He could not be contacted last night and Mr Orders declined
to elaborate on the statement, saying only that he was now
looking into temporary arrangements for leadership of the
council's finance team.
He acknowledged the significant contribution Mr Stephens had
made to the council over the years and his role in the
council's financial management.
Asked if Mr Stephens had resigned, or been offered
redundancy, he reiterated that Mr Stephens had simply
''notified his wish to leave''.
Asked about a payout for Mr Stephens, he said any agreement
would be ''in line with his contractual terms and
Mr Stephens has twice acted as council chief executive, the
last time for the nine months before the appointment of Mr
Orders, who swept a broom through the council's senior
management soon after his arrival in 2011.
That review resulted in the departure of council customer
services general manager Grant Strang and community life
general manager Graeme Hall, who both took voluntary
redundancy. The council has since shed more staff and
conducted major reviews of other expenditure, as an
efficiency drive, led by Mr Orders, aimed at finding millions
of dollars of savings each year, continues.
Mr Stephens was part of the council's seven-member executive
management team headed by Mr Orders.
Other executive management team members are strategy and
development general manager Sue Bidrose, city operations
general manager Tony Avery, governance manager Sandy Graham,
communications and marketing manager Graham McKerracher and
human resources manager Bruce Miller.
Councillors contacted yesterday declined to be drawn on what
most said was an operational matter.
Mayor Dave Cull declined to comment, other than to say Mr
Stephens had performed loyally for successive councils and
mayors for a long time.
However, the chairman of the council's finance, strategy and
development committee, Cr Syd Brown, who worked closely in
his committee role with Mr Stephens, said he would leave a
massive hole, both in terms of his financial knowledge and
contacts, and his institutional knowledge.
''He has been a tremendous stalwart with immense knowledge in
finance that has served the city and guided the council
He was well respected by council staff as a firm but fair
head, who would leave a ''huge gap'' to fill.
''You just don't replace someone of that calibre overnight.''
Cr Brown declined to comment on what may have led to Mr
Stephens' sudden departure, but he expected some sort of
financial leadership role would have to be retained, because
the council's governance structure as was would not be able
to absorb it.
Mr Orders denied that a ''review of how the role operates''
was doublespeak for disestablishing it, and said he would
look next week at a ''temporary solution'', while a closer
look at council operations would result in a permanent
solution further down the line.