Doesn’t confidentiality apply both ways?

November 23rd, 2014 at 4:55 pm by David Farrar

I, along with many others, have been critical of Roger Sutton for breaching the confidentiality around the complaints against him by a CERA staffer. The press conference was a very bad idea, as it allowed him to spin his side of what happened.

But if one is to criticise Sutton for breaching the agreed upon confidentiality, doesn’t that apply both ways? A number of stories make it very clear that either the complainant is anonymously briefing media, or someone is on their behalf.

Now don’t get me wrong – the complainant is the wronged party. But if one is to criticise Sutton for talking publicly, then doesn’t the same apply to the other party?

As an example of the obvious briefings to the media.

The Herald:

The woman, who is bound by a confidentiality clause, said she was driven to take a stand because of what she says was similar treatment of other women at the organisation.

Another Herald story:

Meanwhile, other sources say there were problems with measures the commission put in place to keep Mr Sutton and the complainant at a distance while the allegations were being investigated.

These meant that he occasionally worked from Cera branch offices in the city, allowing the woman to work at the organisation’s HSBC Tower headquarters. The arrangement meant the complainant was told where Mr Sutton would be, so the two could avoid running into each other.

However, NZME News Service has been told Mr Sutton allegedly didn’t always stick to the arrangements and there were times the complainant believed they were both in the same building at the same time.

While their paths never crossed, the complainant raised concerns with the commission that Mr Sutton’s actions meant it was a very real possibility, the source said.

And today in the SST:

I’m told Sutton’s victim feels unable to walk down the street in her home city.

Now the complainant herself may not be talking to the media, but she is obviously talking to people who are talking to the media on her behalf. All these stories relay information only known to the complainant.

Now again Sutton is the one who has done wrong, and the SSC also stuffed up majorly with their press conference. But I think the ongoing anonymous briefings to the media on behalf of the complainant is not appropriate either.  Having this issue become an extended campaign of anonymous briefings to the media from one side, may encourage the other “side” to respond. I don’t think that would be a good outcome for anyone.

And once again so no one misrepresents me, I think both Sutton and the SSC are the ones who stuffed up and were in the wrong. But that doesn’t mean that one can’t be critical of what appears to be an ongoing release of information through anonymous sources.

More to Sutton case than a hug

November 19th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

A former Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority worker has blasted the official investigation into accusations of sexual harassment by former chief executive Roger Sutton as “incompetent”. …

Former communications adviser Tina Nixon questioned whether “people really think that a hug was what it was all about”. …

“No woman in the public service should currently feel confident that any complaint would be investigated professionally and without bias,” said Ms Nixon, who left Cera earlier this year to become economic development programme manager at Masterton District Council.

Cera operated the most “robust environment” she had experienced, in having worked in “half dozen or so” government departments.

Therefore, she said people needed to “get past the breathtaking PR snow job”.

The woman at the centre of the incident had done more for the post-earthquake Christchurch community “than many people I know”, Ms Nixon said. …

I know Tina Nixon well. She’s a friend. Tina is no sensitive 1970s feminist petal. She’s a tough as boots battler who kills mutton birds the old fashioned way by biting their necks. If Tina says that there was far more to this than the odd hug, she is worth listening to when she says the press conference was a “breathtaking PR snow job”

Andrea Vance wrote yesterday:

Gosh. Wasn’t that all a silly misunderstanding over dear old, affectionate Roger Sutton yesterday? Lost his job over a couple of hugs and a few off-colour remarks.

It’s a shame really. On Thursday, Roger was going to speak at a construction industry event in Christchurch called “How to attract women to your jobs”. He’ll probably have to give it a miss now.

Thankfully, those decent chaps at the State Services Commission (SSC) have got his back.

In a year when the public service should be self-flagellating over the mishandling of the Malaysian diplomat sexual assault case and the Roastbusters scandal, the SSC has taken victim-shaming to a whole new level.

Sutton’s victim did not make her complaint lightly. She’s respected, professional (not that this matters) and, like any woman forced into this nightmare, would have worried about her career. But, she bravely made a stand and forced her harasser to face up to his actions.

And how did the SSC reward her for her courage? They allowed her to be victim-shamed. First privately. And then very publicly.

First, she was sent home to work. Sutton remained in his job at the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority offices for the course of an eight-week investigation.

Her complaint was upheld. But the SSC did not deem it serious enough for Sutton to be sacked.

I can’t describe the nature of the complaints. But, as described to me, behaviour of that nature is sexist, humiliating, demeaning and an assertion of power over the victim.

I think Andrea makes some valid points. It seems what went on was more serious than was portrayed at the press conference, and allowing Sutton to spin his version of what happened was unfair to the complainant.

My view has been that it would have been preferable for the complainant to raise the issues internally with a deputy Secretary and/or HR manager and have them talk to Sutton and tell him that his style is making some staff feel uncomfortable. And then only if no change, elevate it up to the SSC. While I don’t know the full process of what happened, it seems that these issues are long standing and that there were attempts internally to raise concerns.

The Press has some more details:

The Press has obtained details of the complaint from a source that describes the nature of Sutton’s alleged impropriety.

They include: 

– Suggesting to young female staff that they participate in “visible G-string Friday”.

– Unwanted, body-press hugs.

– Asking the complainant whom she considered to be “hot” and “sexy” and who she would like to have sex with.

– Calling female staff members “honey” and “sweetie”.

A public sector CEO should not be behaving like that. It does create a hostile work environment for female staff.

The Press has seen details provided by another Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) employee as part of the SSC investigation into Sutton.

This alleges:

– Sutton made a sexually suggestive comment about Prime Minister John Key’s wife, Bronagh, in the presence of the chief executive of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Andrew Kibblewhite.

That’s rather stupid!

A friend of the complainant yesterday released a statement expressing concern that Sutton’s show of contrition had allowed him to downplay his actions.

“The unfairness of this is just wrong. She has followed all the rules, kept quiet and maintained her dignity, yet the other side gets to play the sympathy card and laud it over her.

“Someone needs to speak for her before any more damage is done and victims everywhere decide there is no point fighting the big man’s system.

“It has torn her up – she loves her job at Cera.”

The press conference was a very bad idea, as it allowed Sutton to frame the issue on his terms.

Meanwhile, State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie yesterday confirmed he was considering sanctions against Sutton for breaching confidentiality. …

Rennie would not discuss the allegations yesterday, saying he was bound by confidentiality clauses, as were Sutton and the complainant.

He believed Sutton had breached the agreement by divulging details of the case at Monday’s press conference and had told him so.

Last night, Rennie said he was considering what action to take against Sutton.

Wouldn’t it have been a good idea and somewhat competent to work out before hand what would be said at the press conference?

Sutton quits

November 17th, 2014 at 2:37 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Roger Sutton has resigned as chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA).

He had been under investigation for the last seven weeks after a complaint of sexual harassment from a senior staff member.

The allegation accused him of making inappropriate jokes and comments, and giving her an unwelcome hug.

A report provided to the State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie did not establish conduct which would have led to Sutton being dismissed and Rennie said he would not have asked him to stand down. 

“However, Mr Sutton offered his resignation and this was accepted,” Rennie said in a statement today.

A sad end to Sutton’s role at CERA. He was universally praised as the perfect person for the job when he was appointed. While he has obviously had some detractors during his tenure, he still remained very well respected.

We don’t know the details of the allegations, and are unlikely to know them. But it seems they are at the inappropriate humour side of things, rather than deliberate harassment. The SSC said that he would not have been sacked for them.

Sutton’s future

November 15th, 2014 at 7:49 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) chief executive Roger Sutton says he is considering his future after an allegation he sexually harassed a staff member.

The allegation accuses Sutton of harassing a senior female staffer, including making inappropriate jokes, comments and giving her an unwelcome hug.

A State Services Commission inquiry into the claims by a staff member is expected to deliver a finding next week. The inquiry has taken about seven weeks. …

Sutton, a flamboyant cycle-riding face of the recovery authority, said last night he could not talk about details of the complaint although The Press understands he has disputed some of the allegations or the alleged intention behind his behaviour.

“I can be a larrikin and make stupid silly jokes. It is a very difficult, stressful job and I’ve sometimes used humour to cope. I wish this wasn’t happening and I was horrified when I learned about it [the allegations],” he said.

“But I’m not the victim. I’ve made some stupid mistakes.”

One has to be careful of commenting without knowing the full details.

However I would make the point that if the issue was his general behaviour, rather than specific attention towards one staffer, it seems a pity it could not have been sorted out without a formal complaint. But maybe that was tried and got nowhere?

CERA staff need to be able to not feel harassed in the workplace, but if it is a case of misjudged humour rather than deliberate harassment, it would be a pity if it resulted in a widely respected CEO departing. But again, conclusions can be dangerous without the full facts.

Touring Christchurch

June 19th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A couple of Fridays ago, I (and around 14 other media) spent a day touring Christchurch as guests of CERA.  I found the day quite fascinating as the scale of the issues is daunting. I’m going to blog some photos and commentary, and also at the end my overall thoughts on Christchurch.

The tour started with an amusing incident as we passed the new McDonalds. Gerry Brownlee said that sadly it was not yet open, as the Council had yet to approve its consent. This caused some amusement, and I wondered if Gerry had considered using his special powers to consent it himself 🙂

We started off looking at areas such as Kaiapoi, where in some areas house after house is noticeably damaged and of course abandoned. But we also saw the areas where new sub-divisions are planned, and construction about to start. I believe Ngai Tahu is planning what will almost be a small township of 2,500 on some of their land.

We headed into the Cashel Container Mall, where we met some of the CERA executives such as Roger Sutton and Warwick Isaacs. Sutton is a very quirky personality, who was telling us how the amount of milk he has to drink to cycle to the Port Hills, is equal to the amount of petrol a car would need – in terms of energy. This factoid is new to us, but not new to Gerry and the other CERA people who I gather hear such factoids on a daily basis.

A profile of Sutton in The Press has he has calculated it takes 7 grams of chocolate to run up the 11 floors of HSBC house.

Putting aside the quirkiness, both Sutton and Isaacs impressed with their plans. There were lots of questions from media types, and I found their replies to be realistic. They are well aware that they can not force investors back into the central city, and that the CBD will be smaller. However they are doing what they can to make investment occur, such as working with the former large tenants such as the financial institutions, the law firms, the Government sector to confirm they will relocate back to the CBD if the rental cost is similar to what it was.

I’ll come back to the investment challenge, but will note that some of the property investors in Christchurch are very “loyal” and keen to invest if it can make sense for them. The Cashel Container Mall came about because four of the major property owners got together and arranged for all the owners to temporarily donate their land into a trust which charges peppercorn rentals to the current retailers.

We headed into the restricted zone, and saw first hand the deconstructions occurring.

Large areas of the CBD are now clear. CERA believes that within 12 months all the deconstruction will have occured, which suggests that by then the construction plans will be known and pretty finalised.

There is an opportunity here for Christchurch to get a city centre which is an improvement on the old one. Many locals will admit that the sad reality is that the city centre was in decline even before the quakes. One of the reasons for this is because so few people lived in the city centre.

The draft plan for the CBD is to have apartment blocks to allow 30,000 people to live in the inner city. That’s a great plan, and will make a real difference to its vibrancy.

However CERA was quite blunt, that the investment may not happen. The return on residential property is less than on commercial property in city centres. You get less per square metre. We won’t know for some months if there are property investors who will be willing to invest. One of the real problems is that the heightened requirements in the building code, means construction costs will be greater – possibly more than even insurance will cover. So the investment equation may not be there for new residential apartment blocks.

The other thing planned is to have some sort of logical sectors within the city. For example the courts, the police and the law firms will probably all be located next to each other. I quipped it was nice that prisoners would have shorter distances to travel 🙂

Part of the Cathedral. I am not an Architect, but having seen its exterior, I reckon anyone who thinks it is safe to preserve it is barking mad. It’s fucked.

The CERA Chief Geologist took us to Redcliffs. Those houses had such stunning views, but are now obviously unsafe to live in.

That’s a mighty big load of rocks that have come down.

Further along, they have this temporary solution of containers, to prevent further rock falls spreading onto the road. A simple but effective idea. Who knew containers had so many uses – prison cells, retail shops and rock guards!

You have to be careful emerging from between the containers as you are straight onto the road. I remarked to Beck Eleven from The Press that it would be bad to get run over here, as all the other media would get to report your being hit by a car or truck. Beck agreed, but said what would really gut her is that she has no camera with her to take photos of my body after being whacked by a vehicle. We agreed that she could take my iPhone from my body, and use it to take and send in photos of the scene 🙂

A bit hard to see through the window, but yes that is a large rock in the middle of that bedroom.

What happened is the rock landed here and bounced literally through the wall in the background into the bedroom.

We were told the rocks fall at around 90 km/hr but when they land and splinter, a shard can travel a several hundred kms/hr. So even a small shard can be fatal.

This rock had a cow underneath it. No it did not land on the cow, it caught it on the way down and splattered it at the bottom. I observed that if it landed on a human, you’d probably not even know there was a body underneath it.

Somehow a discussion eventuated about what would have happened if someone was, umm, being intimate with the cow when the rock struck it. The consensus was they would be very dead, or in great pain.

We ended the tour by going to the headquarters of SCIRT, the Stronger Canterbury Infrastructure Rebuild Team. They are the group rebuilding the roads, fresh water supply, waste water and storm water networks. It is an alliance of CERA, the CCC  and NZTA on the government side and Citycare, Downer, Fletcher, Fulton Hogan and McConnell Dowell on the construction side.

The scale of the work they have on is staggering. Off hand I think their budget is $2.5 billion. but instead of that being one big $2,5b project, this is around 500+ individual projects. Over the next few years I think 40% of the sewers will be replaced or upgraded. When they dig up roads, they are notifying utility companies, so one bright thing has been a lot of fibre or duct for fibre is being laid for little cost.

We finished the day watching the Crusaders play the Highlanders at the AMI stadium. The stadium is superb – you feel very close to the rugby. For a “temporary” stadium, they’ve done a great job. We were hosted by the stadium trust, in their box. At one stage the Highlanders scored a try and as a good former Dunedin resident I jumped out of my seat clapping and cheering. I then noticed that I was the only person in our area doing so, and the Mayor who was seated next to me gave me a very strange glare. I explained I went to Otago University and one has to stay loyal.

Overall it was a very enjoyable and interesting day. I think all the media found it so. The Press has a story online about some of their impressions. There is a lot happening, but the future is of course still unknown. The plan for the CBD is around half way through the 100 day formulation period, and it remains unknown how willing the large property owners and investors will be to build in the new CBD. However there are some confirmed tenancies which will help those decisions.

There were two things which struck me during the day. The first was how much time and energy is spent “fixing” things with the Council. Many many stories were told about issues where they have had to hurry or help the Council do something. Without exception these stories were told with respect for the Council. People often said that it is not their fault – the Council simply is not geared up to rebuild an entire city. They are staffed and structured for business as normal. They simply don’t have the staff, the experience, the flexibility and the funding to do much more than their core competencies.

Some politicians have called for the Council to be given a much larger role in the rebuild. I think this view is woefully misguided, and would be a disaster. I doubt the Council itself even has this view. They simply are not structured in a way where they could perform much more than what they currently do. This is not a criticism of them, just a reality.

The other thing that struck me was the intimate detailed knowledge CERA Minister Gerry Brownlee had on the city and the issues. Over six or more hours on the bus, he was peppered by questions, and could answer pretty much them all. At almost every location he could tell you what had happened, what issues had arisen, and what probably will happen. There were many stories about ministerial interventions to stop something bad happening by some entity. We’re not talking about use of official powers, but persuasion and yes diplomacy. With a rebuild of this size, it is not surprising that so many issues arise.

Now again some politicians have called for there to be a Board for CERA, and have the CEO report to the Board and the Board to the Minister. In my opinion that is also a very misguided and potentially disastrous idea. Apart from the fact there is no other Govt Dept that has such a setup, lets look at what would happen. The Minister would be a remote figure mainly based in Wellington deciding on recommendations from the board. The board would be a group of part-time directors who could only decide things when they formally meet every few weeks. Having a board would be near criminally stupid – it would remove the Minister from an active role, put in place some unelected directors who have no accountability, and slow things down massively. Most of all you would lose the ability of the Minister (and his associate Amy Adams who also showed a high level of knowledge) to perform that all important role of sorting out conflicts and clearing roadblocks.

As I said, the day was very interesting and I learnt a lot. I hope they do another media trip in a year’s time, when fingers crossed buildings in the new city centre will be starting to go up. But ultimately that will depend on if the private sector can get a return on any investment there.

NB – While invited by CERA, like all the other media I paid for my own travel down there.

Sutton tops the CEO ranks

June 8th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

Quake recovery tsar Roger Sutton has been named top public service chief executive.

The Economic Development Ministry – about to be merged into a new super- ministry – was ranked top government department of the year.

A panel of 19 high-profile business people, lobbyists and trade unionists rated 38 government departments and their bosses on performance of the chief executive, overall performance, quality of service and value for money.

The report was compiled by political newsletter Trans Tasman.

I met Roger Sutton last Friday when I was down in Christchurch for a CERA hosted tour. He is a very engaging personality. I will be blogging more fully on my observations about Christchurch early next week.

Trans Tasman editor-in- chief Max Bowden said Sutton had found himself in the “role as lightning rod for those dissatisfied about the pace of reconstruction” and praised his “calm and reasoned approach”. He added: “It seems Sutton and the authority are in for the long haul and with final decisions nearing about land zoning and the future of the central business district . . . there is still a big job to be done.”

Sutton paid tribute to his 200 staff. “It’s a very hard- working team . . . it’s a place with an amazing amount of energy and tenacity. Even when we get knockbacks we regroup and work out what we can be doing better and we get on with it.”

Rumours about his resignation were “bull….”, he said. “It’s ridiculous. I love my job. Ask my PA if I’ve ever been close to resignation. Nah.” Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said: “Trans Tasman have properly recognised that setting up a new government department and getting it up and running is no easy task. It’s fantastic.”

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall, who took up the post slightly more than a year ago, was ranked second in the report.

Marshall is proving an excellent Police Commissioner.

The Sutton love-fest

May 13th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

With no dis-respect to Martyn Dunne, but his decision to turn down the CERA job may have been the best thing to happen for Christchurch, as the praise for Roger Sutton’s appointment has been phenonomal.

On Twitter there have been hundreds of comments of praise. You can see a cloud of the most common terms here.

The Greens and Labour praised the appointment.

And William Mace at The Press has local reactions:

Former Christchurch mayor Garry Moore, who had called for Sutton to head the recovery effort, said the announcement was good news for the city.

“Roger Sutton is a guy who walks in ordinary people’s shoes. He understands the city, understands the people,” he said. “He’s got a good family and good networks. These are all the attributes we need to rebuild the city.”

Wigram MP and former mayoral candidate Jim Anderton said the appointment was “the best news I’ve had since the earthquake”.

“He is an incredibly good communicator. He tells it as it is. When he said the Orion cables were buggered, everyone understood it.”

Anderton praised Sutton’s management skills at “one of the best-managed corporations in the country”.

He said Sutton was a “quintessential Cantabrian”.

“We deserve someone who understands the ethos of the city – the anguish, the aspirations, the whole works,” Anderton said.

Christchurch Central Labour MP Brendon Burns said Sutton was an “excellent appointment”.

“He brings together shown leadership skills, a command of structural issues, a real capacity to engage with community leaders – I couldn’t think of a better choice,” he said.

Port Hills Labour MP Ruth Dyson gave Sutton “a 12 out of 10”, saying he had a “good strategic brain”.

“In his job as CEO of Orion he’s shown an amazing ability to keep people informed … Given what we need to do to recover strongly, he’s just perfectly positioned,” she said.

12/10 isn’t bad. I look forward to seeing Roger walk accross the Cook Strait.

The new CERA chief

May 12th, 2011 at 3:06 pm by David Farrar

I was going to blog on what a good appointment this is, but I can’t do better than what John Pagani has said:

Gerry Brownlee has made an outstanding appointment by getting Orion’s Roger Sutton to take over CERA.

 He’s a hero in Christchurch. Straight up guy.

Well done Gerry on the appointment and kudos to Mr Sutton for taking on such a crucial task.