Bullying at a Waikato council is rife and an inquiry is
needed to address the systemic and "toxic" problem which has
resulted in 120 suspected cases, claims one councillor.
Dave Macpherson said Hamilton City Council must sort out its
entrenched culture of bullying and harassment in the
workplace before anyone else is harmed, after a science
educator at the council-run Waikato Museum died recently. His
death is not considered suspicious.
But council chief executive Barry Harris said Mr Macpherson
needed to "put up or shut up" because his accusations were
wrong and damaging the council's image and morale.
Dr Raymond Mayes' wife, Julie, has asked the coroner to
investigate whether her husband's death was triggered by
workplace bullying after the museum went through a major
restructure which resulted in budget cuts, staff losses and
an increased workload.
Mr Macpherson said the council was able to deny many
settlements with staff because the reason for leaving was not
recorded as bullying.
A council committee had requested low-level bullying
complaints be recorded.
One staff member accused council managers of creating "bogus"
restructures in order to get rid of certain staff.
"It's generally people who are good staff and have initiative
but who will question something if they can see a better way.
"So if you aren't a 'yes' person you do not survive at
Hamilton City Council."
An external audit of management procedures around bullying
made 39 recommendations to improve the way the council treats
claims of bullying and harassment.
The report, released in May this year and commissioned by the
council as a condition of one exit package, warned more
payouts were inevitable without change.
That followed another exit package letter to Mr Harris and
Mayor Julie Hardaker warning of a flawed complaints process
However, Mr Harris said he was disappointed a finger of blame
was being pointed at Waikato Museum staff.
"It is totally unacceptable to accuse people of causing the
death of a friend and a colleague. I'm personally very angry.
"I understand the tragedy of it and the impact it has on the
family but it's totally unacceptable to do this," he said.
Mr Harris denied there were 120 exit packages but said there
were three formal complaints of bullying and harassment which
were independently investigated and none substantiated.
He said the council had worked hard to create a safe
environment for staff including training, working with the
PSA to understand what bullying looks like, and establishing
peer support and leadership.
The 39 audit report recommendations were either being
assessed or had been implemented, he said.
Mr Harris said the accusation of bogus restructures was
"As the chief executive I have led every restructuring and in
every case it's been focused on achieving efficiencies and
- Natalie Akoorie of the New Zealand Herald