17 Nov 2014

Wife of CERA boss pleased he's quitting

8:51 pm on 17 November 2014

The wife of outgoing Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) boss Roger Sutton says she is glad her husband is resigning.

Mr Sutton resigned today following claims of sexual harassment.

Roger Sutton.

Roger Sutton said he was confronting his actions, including seeing a psychologist. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie made the announcement at a news conference attended by Mr Sutton this afternoon.

Mr Sutton said he called women inappropriate names, such as honey and sweetie, and made jokes, and he was sorry that behaviour had hurt people.

"Hugs, jokes, I do do those things and I've hurt somebody with that behaviour and I'm very, very sorry about that," he said.

"I may have also offended other women through my actions and I'm really sorry to them, as well."

Mr Sutton said he had been seeing a psychologist.

Mr Sutton's wife, Jo Malcolm, said she just wanted her husband to leave CERA and be with his family. Their sons would be glad to have their father back, she said.

"I want him to go. I want him to be with us. I've been raising my boys by myself and I think when he said it's the straw that broke the camel's back, it is.

"I know him. I know what he's like. He puts himself out there."

Ms Malcolm said she wished the process handling the allegations and her husband's resignation had been carried out in a less public, less hideous way.

Roger Sutton announces his resignation

Roger Sutton at the news conference this afternoon. Photo: RNZ

Mr Rennie said Mr Sutton's resignation was a situation with no winners, that Mr Sutton had reflected on his actions and was deeply apologetic.

"There are no winners. This is a sad day for the complainant in terms of the impact on them. This is a very sad day for Mr Sutton and his family," he said.

"He is a very talented chief executive."

The commission had carried out an investigation into Mr Sutton's conduct following a complaint from a CERA staff member.

"I expect high standards of public service chief executives and I take any complaints of inappropriate conduct very seriously," he said.

"Every state servant must be able to work in a safe environment where they are treated with professionalism and respect."

The investigation found that Mr Sutton's conduct did not always meet the standard expected of public service leaders, but did not recommend dismissal. Although not called on to make any decision in relation to the report, Mr Rennie said it was likely to have followed the recommendation not to dismiss Mr Sutton.

However, Mr Sutton had already offered his resignation.

Iain Rennie

Iain Rennie at the news conference this afternoon. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

"I respect Mr Sutton's decision and acknowledge that this was a very difficult call to make for someone who is so committed to the Canterbury community," Mr Rennie said.

"Mr Sutton has made an outstanding contribution to Canterbury as chief executive of CERA since 2011 and he leaves a strong legacy to his successor. His visible and engaged leadership during challenging times will be remembered well for many years."

The investigation report and details of the nature of the complaint would not be released, to protect the privacy of the parties involved, Mr Rennie said.

Roger Sutton told reporters today that he was confronting his actions following complaints by a senior staff member.

"I'm not a victim - I take responsibility for my own actions. I've been confronting my actions, my joking, my inappropriate joking. I've been seeing a psychologist, so I take responsibility for what I've done."

Last day questioned

Mr Sutton's last day at CERA would be 31 January 2015, when CERA moves from being a public service department to being a departmental agency hosted by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

But Public Service Association national secretary Erin Polaczuk questioned his delayed exit, saying it raised questions about how Mr Sutton's staff would be protected from similar behaviour.

Sexual harassment and bullying were all too common in the state services sector, Ms Polaczuk said.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority CEO Roger Sutton and Christchurch City Council CEO Karleen Edwards.

CERA boss Roger Sutton and Christchurch City Council boss Karleen Edwards on a tandem bike to mark the re-opening of part of Summit Road in July. Photo: RNZ / Jemma Brackebush

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and council chief executive Karleen Edwards released a joint statement this afternoon saying they were sad Mr Sutton had resigned and describing him as a strong advocate for the city.

Mr Sutton gave up a lot to take on the role, including a large drop in salary, and worked incredibly hard and long hours on behalf of Christchurch residents, they said.

Prime Minister John Key also endorsed Mr Sutton's performance in the role.

"Well I think he's been a very, very good chief executive in terms of the work that he's done for that organisation but I can't comment on any other issues that relate to this inquiry," he said.

"They're quite a different matter. They are the sole domain of the State Services Commissioner."

Mr Sutton began in the role in August 2011, following the February earthquake earlier that year. At the time, Mr Rennie said he was a strong leader, with the skills required for the position.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said today he was disappointed by the events which have led to the resignation.

Mr Brownlee said the State Services Commission sets high standards. The minister acknowledged Mr Sutton's contribution as chief executive.

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