Critical statement ‘highly unusual’

David Benson-Pope. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
David Benson-Pope. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
A city councillor says it is highly unusual, and unacceptable, a statement critical of him was issued by council staff this week.

Cr David Benson-Pope was singled out in a statement issued by a senior communications adviser at the council on Wednesday for comments he made about Mayor Jules Radich’s ability to perform his role.

The statement, issued in lieu of answers to ODT questions about the council’s chief executive appraisal committee, was sent on behalf of the mayor and made reference to a "personal attack on my leadership" by Cr Benson-Pope.

It was labelled "disappointing but sadly not surprising".

Earlier, amid questions about whether there was a robust process in place to review the performance of the chief executive, Cr Benson-Pope said Mr Radich's failure to hold meetings of the chief executive appraisal committee was symptomatic of him having "none of the skills" required to be mayor.

The ODT asked Mr Radich directly if he wanted to respond to the criticism, but all he said at the time was Cr Benson-Pope was not a member of the committee in question.

Staff issued the mayor’s response after the ODT published the criticism.

Cr Benson-Pope did not want to discuss the matter at length yesterday.

"It’s highly unusual and I don’t consider it acceptable either," he said.

He declined to comment further.

Dr Andy Asquith.
Dr Andy Asquith.
However, a local government academic agreed with his stance.

University of Technology Sydney Centre for Local Government industry fellow, Dr Andy Asquith, said a council’s governance should be "clearly separated" from its administration.

Council staff issuing statements critical of councillors was "a very grey area".

"It is not appropriate for the mayor to use staff for political means, which this is," Dr Asquith said.

He said the entire incident added fuel to the argument there should be a competency test for candidates for council.

There were many examples of first-term mayors who had "crashed and burned spectacularly".

"It does nothing for either the council, the citizens of that council area or local government in general."

It was made worse by the fact councils operated differently across the country.

"This is another problem with the system in New Zealand. There is no uniform code of conduct, there is no uniform governance model, each council sort of makes it up as they go along and interprets it as they see fit."

Yesterday, the ODT asked the council if it was appropriate for criticism of councillors to be issued by staff and whether any concerns had been raised about the statement.

A council spokesman said the media release issued yesterday was on behalf of the mayor and all quotes were approved by and attributed to him.