The epiphany of the Otago Regional Council? | Otago Daily Times News Online

Otago Regional Council elected officials, especially those running for re-election, may be keen to convince voters that they have moved on from the turmoil of the past three years.

Last week, retired High Court judge Sir Graham Panckhurst’s report on the council’s response to the dumping of demolition debris in the River Clutha illustrated the snowball effect of poor communication. He said the lack of transparency and communication after last year’s event was “in another league”.

He was brought in after councilors discovered an Environmental Protection Agency investigation had been hampered when council staff refused to participate.

Good communication between the staff and the chief executive officer (CEO), as well as the CEO and the advisers, was crucial in such an organization, but the blockage between the CEO and the advisers was inexplicable, he said.

This failure could not be attributed to a mistake, but the relationship between the CEO and the president and the advisers was unhealthy, if not broken.

This observation will come as no surprise to anyone who follows the evolution of the ORC during this tenure. It went from one controversy to another, including unedifying public bickering between some advisers and recently deceased CEO Sarah Gardner and some senior executives.

Sir Graham said interviewees had commented on the existence of the division between staff and advisers during his investigation.

“Essentially, it seems the problem is that staff think advisers are not sticking to their strategic and policy guidance role; and if performance monitoring, advisers are not treating staff with respect. Advisors, however, consider that staff seem to influence strategy and policy and when it comes to communication, they are only told what staff want them to know.If these perceptions turn out to be correct, there is fundamental issues related to leadership and culture.

The confusion surrounding the publication of Sir Graham’s report has not been a triumph for a council which has been criticized by the judge for problems with transparency and compliance with the Official Local Government Information and Meetings Act, although that it appears that common sense has prevailed and redactions are being made to the published report. were minors.

Acting CEO Pim Borren assured that most of Sir Graham’s eight recommendations (which the judge described as suggestions or lessons) have been addressed through changes to internal processes, and that “there is has other learnings that will be covered in full”, whatever that means.

It might be convenient to believe that everything will be smooth and light now, but can we be sure that any divide between all senior managers and advisors has disappeared and that all have a clear understanding of respectful behavior and the roles of governance and management ?

It should be remembered that there are still contentious issues waiting to be aired. The final report by the former Chief Freshwater Commissioner, Professor Peter Skelton, is due to be published. He was called in by Environment Minister David Parker earlier this year to investigate whether the council was doing its freshwater management and resource allocation correctly after the president Andrew Noone had asked about the possibility of an extension for the council to complete its land and water plan, due at the end of next year.

When Professor Skelton led the council in 2019, he found that his freshwater planning framework was not fit for purpose, and the council agreed on a series of steps to ensure that he was on the right track.

Also hanging over the council’s heads is the controversial issue of its delay in setting minimum flows for the Manuherikia River. It looks like it will be until August before the River Reference Groups’ Technical Advisory Group (Tag) report is considered, a year after the board controversially voted not to take notice of a report on the proposed minimum flow rates.

Time is running out for the elected council to reform its rope reputation and focus on any positive achievements before voting begins in September’s local elections.

Elna M. Lemons