The Dunedin City Council sees a hint of
light at the end of the tunnel after four years of
high-profile headaches, but it is counting the cost after an
almost complete clean-out of its top managers. Chris Morris
Tony Avery will follow a well-worn path to the door when he
quits the Dunedin City Council sometime in the next few
However, he will leave with his head held high, rather than
under a cloud.
Mr Avery (51) made the shock announcement on Thursday he was
resigning over the growing scandal surrounding the alleged
$1.5 million Citifleet fraud.
Mr Avery and his boss, council chief executive Dr Sue
Bidrose, have both said he was unaware of the alleged
But as the general manager responsible for Citifleet - among
a variety of other council departments - Mr Avery accepted
''the buck stops with me''.
''It's the right thing to do,'' he told the Otago Daily
His decision sent shockwaves through council ranks, but his
departure only added to an exodus of senior managers from the
organisation in recent years.
That has seen an almost complete overhaul of the council's
executive leadership team - the top-tier of council
management - since 2010.
Dr Bidrose told the ODT the turnover came at a cost
but also made room for new ideas - and new ways of doing
things - to be introduced.
''Every time there's a change in management there's a
transition period, and although it is great to get people
with new ideas and bring ideas in from outside, there's also
no doubt that other people are left carrying the can.
''There's a cost as well.''
The exodus began with the resignation of former chief
executive Jim Harland weeks after then-mayor Peter Chin
failed to win re-election in October 2010.
Mr Harland's replacement as chief executive, Paul Orders, was
quick to launch a management overhaul, and the list of
departures grew to include Grant Strang and Graeme Hall, who
both quit in late 2011.
Athol Stephens joined the list when he left in March last
year, just a day after his intention to depart was announced,
and he was followed out the door in September by Bruce
Mr Avery's announcement this week meant the only survivor
from 2010's executive leadership team was Dr Bidrose.
She joined the council in late 2010, before replacing Mr
Orders as chief executive when he returned to Wales last
Exodus across ranks
The exodus did not stop at the top level, with a list of
managers from the council's lower ranks also heading for the
door in recent years.
That included council customer services manager William
Robertson, who resigned in 2011 and left the same day, while
denying allegations of bullying within his department played
any part in his decision.
Former council aquatic services manager Steve Prescott also
resigned under a cloud earlier this year, after apologising
for ''misleading'' statements about his private profits from
Moana Pool's vending machines.
Former city property manager Robert Clark left quickly, four
days after resigning, in April this year, a month after a
proposal to effectively disestablish his role was circulated.
Others to go - for a variety of reasons, including
retirement, resignations and new job offers - included
long-serving communications co-ordinator Rodney Bryant,
energy manager Neville Auton, Dunedin Centre manager Svend
Tolson, EDU manager Peter Harris, marketing and
communications manager Debra Simes, water and waste services
manager John Mackie, transportation operations general
manager Graeme Hamilton, Toitu Otago Settlers Museum director
Linda Wigley and Dunedin Public Art Gallery director
Dr Bidrose, contacted yesterday, would not say whether she
considered the turnover was unusual for a council of the
Nor would she be drawn on whether the rate of attrition
within the council had any links to the high-profile and
costly issues the council had grappled with in recent years -
of which the alleged $1.5 million Citifleet fraud is only the
most recent example.
The list includes the bill for Forsyth Barr Stadium, which
jumped from $188 million to between $224.4 million and $266.4
million, depending on which peripheral projects are included
in the tally, and millions more in ongoing losses.
The council was left reeling from a surprise $8 million drop
in dividends from its companies in 2011, and further cuts
since then, as well as from the $6.4 million cost of failed
property purchases by one of its companies, Delta.
The purchase and sale of Carisbrook cost ratepayers another
$3.4 million, while the outlay over the tussle surrounding
State Highway 88 has continued to mount.
Reform 'well due'
Dr Bidrose said the alleged Citifleet fraud was just ''one of
the challenges'' facing the council when she joined in 2010,
and reform within the organisation had been ''well due''.
She was reluctant to discuss the culture within the council
when she arrived, but said, when it came to some internal
processes, ''there was a lot of opportunity to do some things
''I think people have rightly questioned some of our
practices and processes.''
The alleged Citifleet fraud was one example of what could go
wrong and was an ''awful thing'', she said.
''We as an organisation are supposed to be good, cautious and
prudent stewards of ratepayers' money, and we let ratepayers
The turning point came with the election of new councillors
in 2010 - bolstered by more fresh blood following the 2013
election - who had given staff ''very clear'' direction about
the need for change, she said.
That change ranged from putting an end to staff buying
surplus council vehicles, to introducing a conflict of
interest register, to an overhaul of the council companies'
governance structure under Mr Orders.
There had also been an increased focus on debt repayments
under Mr Orders, allowing the council to finally start down
the other side of its debt mountain in the last year, she
Attention was now focused on plugging other gaps in the
council's internal controls - for example, updating the
council's ''whistleblower'' policy and creating a new risk
and audit subcommittee - and tackling bigger issues, like the
review of the stadium, she said.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull told the ODT there had been
''enormous change'' within the council in recent years, and
he - like others - was committed to instilling best practice
across the organisation.
Nevertheless, the various headaches - from the stadium to
Citifleet - together represented a ''very big loss'' to the
council and ratepayers.
''Basically that's the cost of inefficient decision-making
systems,'' he said.
Some of the headaches were one-offs, but there was also
''undoubtedly'' some connections between them, he believed.
''One of the things that could connect them is a culture ...
there was a kind of old-fashioned, complacent, public service
ethic, in my view, and it's had to change.''
That change had been driven by Mr Orders and Dr Bidrose, as
chief executives who both had ''a very clearly articulated
public service ethic'', he said.
While he hesitated to describe the council's previous culture
as ''rotten'', there ''probably'' was a culture of
entitlement when it came to some things - like free tickets
for staff - within the council.
''There was a bit of complacency that things had always been
done that way,'' Mr Cull said.
''People could maintain that attitude when things didn't go
Dr Bidrose said, despite the challenges, the council had
managed to deliver improved services while keeping rates
increases well below earlier forecasts.
Nobody complained about the quality of the Toitu Otago
Settlers Museum, or the city's upgraded water system, and
there was light at the end of the tunnel, she believed.
''We are delivering the changes that [councillors] are
demanding on the behalf of ratepayers.''