WCC Week Three: Three weeks in a leaky boat, everyone’s a bully baby that’s the truth, a new CEO, and how safe is the city?

020917-N-0000X-028 At Sea off the coast of Cost Rica (Sep. 17, 2002) Ð The battered and broken sailboat belonging to 62-year-old Richard Van Pham, who was spotted adrift in his small sailboat by military aircraft conducting drug interdiction operations in the region. Van Pham was rescued by the U.S. Navy frigate USS McClusky (DDG 41), after being adrift at sea for 3 1/2 months. Van Pham set put for a short trip between Long Beach, Calif., and Catalina Island, when high winds damaged his mast, disabling his boat. U.S. Navy Photo (RELEASED)

A war of words erupted this week overshadowing several of the typical happy-clap WCC PR releases. Councillors accused of bullying counter-accused each other and allegations of leaking information showed that the Council is a country-mile away from shaking off it’s “toxic culture”, an allegation that has been in play for some years now.

Starting the week saw Simon Woolf involved in the spat and by the end of the week it had spilt over into open warfare between Justin Lester and Diane Calvert.

“It appears Justin Lester’s email to me was intended for someone else. I emailed straight back and asked him for an explanation but have not had a response”, Calvert said in her complaint.

The original email was forwarded to another councillor at the time and no-one else, Calvert said.

“I do not know whether it is just personal against me and or politically motivated because over the past month there has been a range of other petty information being leaked involving myself and others.

“I am deeply suspicious that they were also Justin, and that his email to me was actually intended for the media. If so, such information leaks may well be more than trying to harass me and at worst could be trying to undermine this Council as a whole, either by just himself and or with others.”

Oops! Justin Lester allegedly mixes up email, sparking complaint

Ouch. That’s a very serious allegation.

Underlying all this is the ongoing belief that the Council itself has a toxic culture and this has been documented time and again over the years with absolutely no resolution it appears. It’s not just contained with the Council walls; it spills over to the public from time to time with the Council seen as being overbearing and extremely litigious in some circumstances.

Glassdoor, a job site that allows reviews of employers by employees, carries the same theme over the last few years — and a quick Google search links to many different news articles and sites that reinforce this belief.

Culture starts at the top, so perhaps the appointment of a new Chief Executive will go some way to resolving the issues. To date, the Council has largely refused to accept the bullying and toxic culture claims, which means that they will never get resolved. Perhaps a new broom will admit the issues and set about tackling them.

Wellington City Council’s current chief operating officer Barbara McKerrow has been named as the organisation’s new chief executive.

McKerrow will take over from outgoing chief executive Kevin Lavery from March.

Her contract is for a minimum period of five years.

New Wellington City Council chief executive hired from within

The appointment seems a nod to business as usual rather than transformation, which is what the city largely voted for under Andy Foster.

The problem with the culture now is that it is putting the petty political point-scoring games against the needs of an entire city. The Council has two executive levels. The Councillors and Mayor, and the General Management team of the WCC.

In the case of the Councillors, it is the Mayor’s responsibility to bring them together and out of this tangle. If the allegations are true, then this is made more difficult by a leaker who has been quite consistent in the last few years. Leaking information to media at key points in the decision-making process is hugely damaging and manipulative.

A new Chief Executive is the opportunity to clean house and restructure. It’s time that the General Management team were put under the gun with the needs of the city put foremost, formed into strategy, and then the best executive hired to make that happen, with outliers retired.

In more worrying news, the Council has admitted it is unable to identify possible defective buildings in the city.

Checks have been made on the quality of the earthquake design of several buildings in Christchurch, but Wellington has been unable to follow suit.

This follows design defects by structural engineering company Kevin O’Connor and Associates (KOA) being identified in relatively new buildings in Palmerston North and Masterton.

But the Wellington City Council has not identified any buildings because its computer system can’t manage it.

“The council teamwork document system, in which Building and Resource consents and associated information are stored, does not enable searching on a name to bring up consents that are associated with the name,” the council told RNZ.

“Searching on ‘Kevin O’Connor Associates’ and derivatives of the name produced a list of over 11,000 records … without assessing each individual record we are unable to narrow the results of the search down.”

Council unable to identify possible defective buildings in capital

So we have no idea how many defective buildings there may be out there in the wild and whether they are an earthquake risk. That’s a large worry and no doubt contributing to things like insurance increases. So what is the Council doing about that?

Well, nothing, it appears.

Week three and the Council appears curiously adrift, rather like the cruise liner that, alarmingly, broke down in the middle of the harbour shipping lane this week. Ghosts of the past appear to be tainting the future of the Council, and nothing short of some very sharp leadership at this point is required to correct the floundering boat.