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Mr Hawkins shared confidential information from a public and staff-excluded meeting assessing council chief executive Sue Bidrose’s performance with Dr Bidrose last year.
And while in general the briefing Mr Hawkins gave was "usual", some detail should have been kept confidential, Dyhrberg Drayton Employment Law partner Steph Dyhrberg found.
After investigating a complaint by Cr Lee Vandervis on the breach, in a 12-page finding obtained by the Otago Daily Times, Ms Dyhrberg determined the breach to be non-material, but recommended the council develop guidelines to ensure confidential matters were handled better — and that Mr Hawkins "apologise to Cr Vandervis and other members for his misjudgement".
Mr Hawkins said this week when the council took office this triennium it inherited the chief executive performance review midway through "and I made changes to make it more inclusive of all elected members" but he should have made the process "clearer to all parties in advance".
"I have apologised in writing to all of my elected colleagues for this oversight," he said.
Ms Dyhrberg writes in her December report that at the staff-excluded November 12 meeting, a proposed "key performance indicator" for the council chief executive was raised.
Cr Vandervis proposed the chief executive should be "present and able" for 90% of normal working days.
At issue was how Dr Bidrose came to learn of the failed motion from the meeting when she wrote to all councillors a week later noting the matter of her attendance had not been raised with her previously, reminding councillors of their obligations to her as her employers.
Cr Vandervis complained the information was shared in such a way that future breaches could result in legal action.
Also, the confidentiality breach was compounded because Dr Bidrose shared the information with two of her staff.
When Mr Hawkins was interviewed for the investigation he did not recall discussing with Dr Bidrose who had put the matter up for a vote.
According to Ms Dyhrberg’s report, Mr Hawkins and Dr Bidrose travelled together by car to a meeting in Oamaru when they "chatted" about the performance review.
While councillors were "pretty happy" with her performance, one of two issues raised in conversation was the matter of the time Dr Bidrose spent in her office.
Dr Bidrose asked if Cr Vandervis had raised the issue, Ms Dyhrberg’s account states.
Dr Bidrose could not recall if Mr Hawkins said yes, "but she was certain he did not say no".
Dr Bidrose then "put two and two together" as to who had raised the concern because of an official information request by Cr Vandervis into the amount of time she spent in her office.
Dr Bidrose then checked the minutes from the meeting she was excluded from, in order to correct the wording she used in her email to all councillors, which she also sent to communications staff due to interest in the issue at the time from the ODT.
While Dr Bidrose was found not have broken a council rule by authorising herself to see information from the staff-excluded meeting into her review, her power to do so should not be used "in that way", Ms Dyhrberg advises.