Encouraging staff to nurture dreams

How cruel ratepayers can be. I've heard people slagging off at the Dunedin City Council for spending more than half a million dollars each year on staff training.

Don't they realise that local body staff are really just like great oafish Old English sheepdogs? They are fun and friendly but must be trained to avoid wrecking the joint.

Perhaps it's the amount of money Dunedin is spending compared with other councils that upsets the ratepayers? Dunedin with 656 full-time-equivalent (FTE) staff has spent $2.67million in the last five years. A slightly larger city, Tauranga, gets by with only 473 FTE staff and has spent just $1.51million.

Perhaps Tauranga local body staff are more house-trained and more efficient? I suspect though, that the ugly urban sprawl which blights that once-pleasant Bay of Plenty seaside town is less expensive to run that an ''old'' city like Dunedin.

The only way to find out is to see where the $500,000 a year is spent and, as I suspected, these training courses don't come cheap. This year, the city dog catcher was sent on a ''stock control'' course in Melbourne which turned out to be a seminar on keeping count of council assets and had nothing to do with stray dogs. However, he now has the extra responsibility of counting the council cars each week, so it wasn't a complete waste of $5567.

Of course, the $321,000 spent on sending six people to the Copenhagen ''Built a Better Bikeway'' seminar last year made a big hole on the budget. But look at the benefits. Sadly, the seminar was based on riding on the right-hand side of the road and the translation of the lessons learned to fit Dunedin conditions has been less than trouble-free.

Less expensive is the regular booking of overseas gurus who come to Dunedin for a week or so and teach all they know to local staff. The recent lecture series by Aaltonen Berg, the Finnish library expert, is a good example. That Mr Berg did not speak English and that a translator had to be flown in bumped up the cost a bit. But Mr Berg's advice, ''grind the faces of the borrowers in the dirt and get from them as much as you can'' could well be a useful starting point for the debate on how much leeway in amassing overdue fines should be allowed borrowers which is now raging in Dunedin library circles.

Many years ago, my employers sent me on a two-week course in New York, at Columbia University where oral history had been pioneered in America. It turned out the American way of doing things was not the way I wanted to do them but it was an expensive way of confirming what I felt, anyway. Naturally, like today's city council employees, I shoved in a 10-page report on how valuable my fortnight in New York had been. No doubt, an impressive archive of such reports is being amassed at the Dunedin City Council.

Think of the saving to be made when the next generation of transport system employees ask to be sent to courses at Hawaii and Bali. Just send them down to the basement for the report on the Norfolk 2015 Canute Conference (How to Hold Back the Sea). There they will learn all they need to know without the hard grind of amassing knowledge in the oppressive heat of some over-rated islands.

As the Dunedin City Council chief executive says of the courses, ''while they might appear cushy, actually they're hard work.''

I agree. My two weeks of listening to the American accent full-on was the hardest work I'd ever done.

But the council CEO must be given credit for donating her $15.000 pay rise to the DCC budget for staff remuneration and associated costs which struggles by on a mere $48.3million a year. Happily, it was just the amount needed for her to attend a leadership course at Oxford University.

We must encourage our employees to nurture their dreams. The world is full of great leaders who enhanced their abilities in Dunedin (and now Oxford). To my mind, heading the DCC is about as high on the leadership ladder to which one can aspire, and in the old days to be Dunedin's Town Clerk was a goal to be gained and held on to until retirement.

Things have changed. Will our ratepayer funds assist in nurturing the leadership skills of the next president of the United States? Or the next Pope? Or the next chairman of McDonald's? These are exciting times.


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