All council chief execs gone within a year

Westland District Council building in Hokitika. PHOTO: JANNA SHERMAN
Westland District Council building in Hokitika. PHOTO: JANNA SHERMAN
All four West Coast council chief executives have gone in just one year, in an unprecedented clean sweep of upper management.

Westland District Council chief executive Simon Bastion left yesterday, with immediate effect.

At the West Coast Regional Council, Heather Mabin was replaced a year ago last June by Darryl Lew. Next was Buller, which brought in Simon Pickford in March this year to replace Steve Gibling; that same week, Paul Morris left the Grey District Council, like Mr Bastion’s sudden departure, without notice and gone the same day.

An announcement on Mr Morris’ replacement is due later this week.

It has been a hard year for all four councils, with record rate rises forecasts, even prompting one councillor to cry during a meeting in Westport last week. Draft annual plans have been inundated with public submissions — more than 600 in Buller and 170 in Westland, while the Westland council has also been picketed with protests this year.

Westland Mayor Helen Lash issued a brief statement yesterday to say Mr Bastion had resigned his position with immediate effect.

Simon Bastion
Simon Bastion
His departure comes hot on the heels of the resignation just last week of his senior manager, Te Aroha Cook, who finishes in September.

One protester outside the recent annual plan hearing spent the morning heckling outside the council building, chanting "CEO needs to go".

The council’s group manager district assets Scott Baxendale has been appointed acting chief executive.

Mr Bastion was new to local government when he joined the council in 2017, having previously been an operations manager at Westland Milk Products in Hokitika.

The mayors said yesterday the chief executive role was a demanding one, and they could often get paid better elsewhere, for less responsibility.

Buller District Council had had a lot of turnover at the top.

Mayor Jamie Cleine said yesterday there were constraints around the council’s ability to pay competitive salaries.

He said Mr Bastion’s seven years at Westland was a "pretty good stint". Buller’s best of recent years was Sharon Mason, who served four years.

"Our senior leaders are relatively new-ish to the district — gone are the days [when] you joined as a cadet at 17 and were there for 50 years. It’s unheard of [today]."

Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson, who has been finalising the appointment of the council’s new chief executive, said things were "pressurised".

"It’s certainly not easy. Every person’s circumstance is different."

However, her council also wanted the new chief executive to be involved with the community, as it helped with understanding.