From the Chief Executive - Every Move Under Scrutiny

20/08/2014 12:00 a.m.

Over the past two to three years we have averaged at least a 30 per cent turnover of council Chief Executive Officers in New Zealand. The changes come through retirement, earlier departure for one reason or another, or failure to gain re-appointment.

New Zealand’s main cities – Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin all have new CEO appointments. Hamilton is now recruiting for a new CEO, and Tauranga’s appointment is also relatively recent.

There are 11 councils that form part of the Canterbury region. In the past seven years, eight of the 11 have changed CEOs. New CEOs have just commenced at Christchurch City and Waimate District Councils.

CEOs of New Zealand’s 78 local authorities are appointed for terms of no more than five years. Councils can, if they wish, reappoint CEOs for a further term of up to two years without advertising the vacancies. But the Local Government Act 2002 makes it quite clear CEOs have no right and should have no expectation of renewed employment at the end of any term.

When CEOs terms are close to expiry, councils have to advertise the vacancies, even if they are satisfied with their CEO’s performance. Of the applicants who apply for the role, councils must appoint the person best suited to the position. The average cost of the re-appointment process sits somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000.

While that sounds like a lot of money, the appointment of a CEO is generally considered the most important decision any council will make. Get it wrong and the council’s performance can quickly deteriorate.

Employment disputes centred on a council’s dissatisfaction with a CEO’s performance can cost communities hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Accordingly, councils often make use of recruitment consultants to advise them with the employment process, and also to assist them with the CEO’s annual performance review.

When I applied for the Ashburton District Council CEO role in February 2013 I was one of 57 applicants. A recruitment consultant helped the council form a short-list of applicants to interview.

I was initially interviewed by the recruitment consultant and underwent a series of cognitive, mathematical and personality tests, before being put on a long-list of 15 applicants. The council reduced that to a short- list of five people, who were each interviewed in front of the full council in April 2013. Referee checks occurred during the process and prior to an offer of appointment being made.

I started work as the council’s CEO four months later in September 2013.

Because of the timing of the vacancy, with the local body elections in October 2013, four of Ashburton District Council’s 12 current councillors weren’t part of my earlier selection process.

Like all council CEOs, my performance is formally reviewed. In my case this happens twice a year.

Ashburton District Council’s Executive Committee has been appointed by their colleagues to undertake this specific task. The committee is made up of the mayor Angus McKay, deputy mayor Darryl Nelson, and the chairpersons of the council’s finance and business support committee Neil Brown, service delivery committee Stuart Wilson and regulatory committee Alan Totty.

The performance agreement I signed with the council in April 2013 has 72 measures to report against.

These reflect the size and breadth of the range of services the council carries out, and detail a number of key deliverables that the council wanted achieved. A survey of the mayor and the 12 councillors’ satisfaction with my performance forms part of the annual assessment.

My six-month review occurred in March 2014, and was reported through to the council in April.

The performance review occurs in private, but the council subsequently released its findings and a couple of related decisions in the public section of its minutes.

I complete my first year in the role at the end of this month, so an annual performance review will occur in the near future.

Page reviewed: 20 Aug 2014 9:09am