6 Sep 2021

Positive council report finds Mayor Tim Shadbolt 'unavoidable and inconvenient distraction'

9:14 pm on 6 September 2021

Invercargill's embattled mayor is being viewed as an unavoidable and inconvenient distraction despite a six-month progress review finding the council is working better together.

Invercargill City mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt.

Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

It follows an independent review that found a leadership void at the Invercargill City Council, with mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt struggling to do his job.

On Monday, the council's Risk and Assurance Committee received the six-month progress report behind closed doors during an emergency meeting.

Its author Richard Thomson said the council should be pleased with the progress that had been made.

"This is a council that remains a work in progress but should be pleased (both governance and management alike) of the progress that has been made. I congratulate them on their willingness to accept strong criticism and to respond in such a positive manner," Thomson said.

"Nobody is suggesting it is perfect but I believe that it is now meeting the expectations that its ratepayers should expect of it."

While councillors and staff were in a vastly better space than they were six months ago, there continued to be tensions with the mayor, he said.

"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.

"However, the significant difference to six months ago is that the Mayor is now seen more as an unavoidable and inconvenient distraction and the rest of them just have to get on and make things work."

Thomson recognised that recent media stories and public statements that had aired since he finished his review showed that there were still reasons for concern and work to be done.

"In most respects they have made significant progress in a very short period of time. There remains some work to do to consolidate this, and enable the phasing out of the External Appointees, most specifically around the tension that now overtly exists between the mayor and his deputy (and recognising that this reflects a wider frustration from councillors generally)."

While Sir Tim was well respected for his contribution to the city, more than 75 percent of councillors and 84 percent of staff surveyed didn't have confidence that the mayor was on top of key council issues, Thomson said.

But he didn't want that to dampen the progress that had been made.

"The majority of elected representatives and staff believe that ICC councillors have made noticeable progress in the past six months towards having respectful working relationships, which uphold the code of conduct and maintain public confidence in council."

Chief executive Clare Hadley said she was pleased the council got independent confirmation of the progress it had made.

"It is clear around the council table and among staff that the commitment we've all put in over the past six months has made a real difference to the way we work. We put in place a fairly rigorous programme of improvements and I'm proud of the efforts made to stick to the plan and get results," Hadley said.

"Our hard work has paid off, but we know we need to keep focused on our improvement plan. I believe the council is in a good place now, focused on delivering results for the people of Invercargill."

The review report was initially meant to be discussed by councillor last month, but it was delayed during lockdown.

Risk and Assurance Committee independent chair Bruce Robertson said clear progress was obvious around the council table.

"Council staff and elected members are to be commended for their work to address the issues raised in the original Thomson Report. It's not always easy having someone point out where you're not doing so well, but I've seen the council address the issues head-on and make some very good progress," he said.

The council would meet during an emergency meeting on Tuesday to officially consider the review and along with staff recommendations about how the governance review programme of work would continue.

The review report was set to be received by the council last month, but that was delayed by the lockdown.

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