From stop/go signs to council’s top role

Dunedin City Council’s new chief executive Sandy Graham wants to talk to council staff before publicly revealing her vision for the organisation.

Ms Graham (55), acting chief executive since former chief executive Sue Bidrose departed on July 17, was
yesterday confirmed in the top job.

Ms Graham, who will earn a base salary of $402,000 to start her new five-year contract with the council, was most recently city services general manager under the leadership of Dr Bidrose, but has held a range of senior positions at the council.

She had been aiming for the top bureaucratic role at the council as she worked her way up the ranks and was delighted to accept the position.

She intended speaking to council staff before before publicly outlining her aspirations for the organisation over the next five years.

Ms Graham was raised in Ranfurly, where her father worked for the Post Office. Her mother did, too, for a time, and Ms Graham said it was a working-class family.

Aged about 19, she joined the Dunedin council’s roading crew, starting on stop/go sign duties and with the chip sealing gang in summer and kerb and channelling in winter.

Her wife came from Texas and Ms Graham has two sons, aged 13 and 11.

Dunedin City Council’s new chief executive Sandy Graham smiles as she meets the media at the...
Dunedin City Council’s new chief executive Sandy Graham smiles as she meets the media at the Civic Centre in Dunedin yesterday. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN

Ms Graham spoke to Dr Bidrose before applying for the job but declined to comment on the substance of the conversation.

"But I would have to say that I have been really fortunate to have served with a couple of chief executives who have mentored me and have provided me with great opportunities," she said.

She received a "lovely text" from former council chief executive Paul Orders, who said he had seen the potential in her as well.

And while she was "clearly not Dr Bidrose", Ms Graham reiterated a message the departing Dr Bidrose gave: as with any public organisation that needed to be held to account, she would take questions and respond to the community about how the organisation was performing.

She would also have a "zero tolerance approach" towards abuse of staff.

"When attacks get personal, that’s when I think I will take a slightly different approach," she said.

The day she became acting chief executive she "hated it" because everyone looked at her differently, she said.

But since then she had "loved every minute" of the transition into her new job, leading a council with up to 1200 full- and part-time staff.

The Covid-19 pandemic presented a "range of challenges" across the board for the council, including finishing the last financial year with an unbalanced budget.

And it was now undertaking "one of the more comprehensive reviews" the council had been required to do for its coming 10-year plan.

Nevertheless, she said she was "raring to go".

"I know the business inside and out ...

"I know the people. And I know the culture of the organisation."

"I’m good at ignoring things that are white noise and identifying things that aren’t important and don’t need to be dealt with."

She was chosen after a recruitment process began in June that drew 51 applications.

Councillors met last week to vote for their preferred candidate from a shortlist of three finalists.

Ms Graham will officially take up the role on October 12.


I didn't realize that governmental organizations like the DCC "groomed" people. That said, nice to know DCC wasted the time of 50 other applicants when Graham already had the job. The nepotism in the DCC is disgusting!

It was pretty much a forgone conclusion, hawkins wanted her in come hell or high water, the question is then how much of the ratepayers money was spent on the farce that was to supposedly "recruit" someone into the job when hawknis had it all sewn up anyway?.







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