Will he keep his job?

We’ve had a rare window into the politics of employment at the Wellington City Council this week, with two closed meetings where councillors discussed the work of their chief executive Garry Poole (seen above in July 2010).

The first of the meetings was held on Wednesday morning. It was advertised as an “extraordinary” meeting of the performance review committee, though the council played down the significance of the word which it was using. In the afternoon, councillors attended a meeting of their strategy and policy committee. Then came an evening meeting of the full council, which went into a closed session for a second discussion of the chief executive’s employment.

It took another 24 hours before the councillors were ready to tell us what they had decided. We learnt the decision last night: the council is to advertise the chief executive’s job. But we are told this doesn’t reflect on his performance. The mayor says he has served with “vigour, passion and distinction.” The deputy mayor says he has “met or exceeded performance indicators” and has “put Wellington in a strong position to meet the many challenges that lie ahead.”

Nevertheless, his job is to be advertised and others with ambitions of running the council will be able to apply. This will be the third time this process has been followed since Garry Poole was appointed 15 years ago. Each time so far, he’s been reappointed.

As he waits to discover whether he still has a job, the chief executive is overseeing what he calls an “extensive review of the council’s existing structure of business units,” which includes … cutting other people’s jobs. At the start of the review, he abolished three senior positions, and decided to reduce the number of senior directors from eight to six. The three directors who lost their jobs were told they could apply for new positions. More changes are expected to be announced next month.

Garry Poole has said almost nothing in public about the review, which seems to be an attempt to save money. The first redundancies were in the council’s works unit CitiOperations, where about 35 staff lost their jobs. But their work continues – drainage maintenance responsibilities have been moved to CityCare, a private contractor. No other job cuts have yet become public.

At the other end of town, the Government is much more enthusiastic – and much less secretive – about cutting jobs. Yesterday it announced that it had abolished 555 of them in the first six months of the year. It didn’t give a geographical breakdown, but whenever weaknesses in the Wellington economy are reported, blame tends to be placed on cutbacks in the public service.

Fortunately for the city, there’s growth in other areas. Wellington-based Xero announced today that it’s created 128 new jobs so far this year, and it’s looking to find 100 more people, “many of them in Wellington and Auckland.”

And everyone knows of the high employment in Miramar, where large numbers of talented people have been working at Weta Digital for Prometheus and The Avengers, and even more are being employed as the rollout of three Hobbit movies continues. Hobbit post-production also involves the team at Park Road Post Production, where previous credits include TinTin, not forgetting The Lord Of The Rings. All of which demonstrates a growing diversity in Wellington employment. And all of which is a reminder of the city’s growing tourism industry – no Wellington tour is complete without a visit to the Weta Cave.

[This article has been corrected since publication, to make it clear that the meeting of the strategy and policy committee did not discuss the employment issue and was not closed to the public.)

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