Councillors’ potshots creating ‘toxic work environment’

Carmen Houlahan. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Carmen Houlahan. PHOTO: ODT FILES
A few bitter councillors taking potshots at Dunedin’s mayor is creating a "toxic work environment", another councillor says.

Cr Carmen Houlahan yesterday said "some councillors" had yet to accept the results of the last election.

Councillors critical of Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich needed to get over the fact former mayor Aaron Hawkins was no longer in power, Cr Houlahan said.

"The people have voted and he didn’t get in.

"They need to focus more on our city rather than petty nitpicking over minor issues.

"The city deserves better than this.

"Constantly watching the mayor to see if he makes a slip-up so they can criticise him for it creates a toxic work environment, kills innovation and does not build relationships.

"Enough is enough."

ODT questions about the process in place to review the performance of the chief executive prompted a review of the mayor's performance from Cr David Benson-Pope, who said Mr Radich had "none of the skills" to get the job done.

It also prompted the former deputy mayor, Cr Sophie Barker, to say the mayor’s lack of proper process around the chief executive appraisal committee was "a little bit dangerous".

Bill Acklin
Bill Acklin
Cr Bill Acklin yesterday defended the mayor, saying quarterly meetings for the committee as outlined in the council’s delegations manual were "just not practical" and should be reconsidered. The mayor and chief executive were working together "all the time".

There were discussions held between the two on an informal basis that would "well and truly do the job" of a quarterly meeting of the committee.

And the annual appraisal, such as the one in September last year (which appears to be when the committee last met) was a thorough evaluation of the chief executive led by an independent employment relations expert.

Cr Acklin said criticism of Mr Radich was largely coming from "councillors who were joined at the hip with the last mayor and have been sulking ever since" the last election.

The attacks were designed to distract the public from the good work the mayor was doing, he said.

To suggest the mayor was not doing his job properly by not adhering to one line of the delegations manual outlining the frequency of the meetings was "absolutely pathetic".

"To make the comment that he doesn’t have the skills for the role is just ridiculous.

"Furthermore, there’s no job description ... it doesn’t apply here.

"But what it does, it winds people up."

Yesterday, the council’s communications team issued a statement on behalf of Mr Radich saying the chief executive appraisal process was on track, despite the recent criticism.

"The last 12 months have been particularly busy, but the process remains on track, with a mix of formal committee meetings and check-ins.

"This is entirely appropriate and exceeds our statutory obligations under the Local Government Act," Mr Radich said in the statement.

The next meeting of the committee would take place on June 11 and as was standard practice would be public-excluded.

An important part of the committee’s work was to set key performance indicators (KPIs) for the chief executive, but this could not happen until after decisions were made on the next annual plan, as those decisions would inform the KPIs.

All councillors had received regular updates on this since last September, the statement said.

‘‘The personal attack on my leadership by Cr Benson-Pope, published in the Otago Daily Times, is therefore disappointing but sadly not surprising.

‘‘I’m fully aware of my legal obligations as mayor and as an employer, and I want to remind councillors of their own legal obligations as employers too,’’ it said.