Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt remains an “unavoidable and inconvenient” distraction although the Invercargill City Council is in a vastly better place, a new review of the embattled council says.
In his six-month review report, released yesterday, Richard Thomson largely focused on how the council was performing, both in governance and management, much more cohesively than it was half a year earlier, when he revealed problems within the council, including Shadbolt’s struggle to fulfil significant aspects of his job and the lack of working relationships between the mayor, chief executive and councillors.
Significant space in the latest review, while it was placed deliberately at the bottom of Thomson’s revised list of concerns, was still focused on how Shadbolt’s performance as mayor remained a difficulty for the council.
Thomson attributed much of the positive turnaround at the council to Nobby Clark’s performance as deputy mayor, saying Clark had filled the leadership void highlighted in his original scathing review of the council’s performance.
Clark had corrected most of the rude and aggressive behaviour that led to significant concerns outlined in his original report as to his suitability for the role, although there was still some room for improvement, Thomson said in his report.
Another contributor to the turnaround was what looked to be a “far greater deal of respect between all parties”.
During his interviews with elected members, staff and stakeholders, the difference in mood and morale, with the exception of the mayor, was significant, Thomson said.
“There was a strong sense of collegial purpose and an apparent willingness to step back from confrontation around things that might have irritated previously, and may still do, in the interests of the city’s greater good.
“In most respects, they have made significant progress in a very short period of time.”
There were still some issues to work through, including, most specifically, around the tension that overtly existed between Shadbolt and Clark following various incidents, but also the potentially disabling impact of the use by the chief executive of an email sent to the mayor and that councillors remained concerned about the mayor’s performance.
“There remain significant difficulties in managing a political process in which the mayor is seen by his colleagues as not just unable to perform his expected functions, but actively continuing to stoke discontent through his public media statements.”
Councillors saw Shadbolt as an “unavoidable and inconvenient distraction” but were making things work despite his failings.
Shadbolt was now more isolated than ever at the council and the subject of media attacks from both within and outside the council, Thomson said.
“It is a lonely and distressing place to be and it is difficult not to feel considerable sadness for the position he is in.”
He advised the council to be careful when responding to Shadbolt’s public statements, saying it should be done carefully or it would risk appearing like “kicking someone when they are down”.
The next steps for the council should include phasing out the roles of the two external appointees and that councillors adopt some basic principles on speaking to media, focusing comments on council issues and activities rather than the actions or decisions of other elected members or staff, to enhance the council’s reputation and their own and “ensure a collegial approach continues to the benefit of the city”, he said.
Shadbolt yesterday called the review “predictably negative” about his performance and said councillors discussing the review at a public-excluded risk and assurance committee meeting yesterday were “disturbingly preoccupied with how the media could be controlled from here and the effects of the review on their re-election in 13 months”.
At a press conference after the report’s release, council chief executive Clare Hadley said despite gaps in leadership, hard, collaborative, co-operative work between staff and elected members had resulted in some good work being done.
“You could pick out a number of projects … but actually what we’ve really done is make decision-making at Invercargill [City Council] a far more active process based on fair information, better adherence to the Local Government Act and it leads to stronger democracy and that’s a really good thing for communities.”
Councils did not always work in harmony.
“There is no performance review, is what I’m trying to say, other than every three years,” Hadley said.
An emergency council meeting will be held today, where the report and recommendations from the risk and assurance committee will be discussed.
Thomson report on Invercargill City Council
• Significant progress has been made on council work in past six months
• Mood and morale at council (elected and operational) much improved
• Deputy mayor has stepped up to fill leadership void and amended much of behaviour that was of concern
• All new executive leadership team much stronger
• Chief executive has stepped back from governance issues
• Apparent willingness to step back from confrontation around things that might previously have irritated
• Regional relationships are improved.
What’s not so good
• Role of mayor and his performance of that role remain a difficulty for the council
• Still work to do around overt tensions between the mayor and deputy mayor
• The potentially disabling impact of use, by the chief executive, of an email sent to the mayor
• Deputy mayor voted against adopting the entire long term plan because he lost a vote on one aspect
• Deputy mayor’s reporting back from his duties viewed as lacking objectivity
• Still need to set media protocols.
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