Tauranga City pays $1.3 million to ex-staff

By John Cousins

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Tauranga City Council has made payouts totalling $1.3 million to former staff.

The payouts have been revealed by an Official Information Act request Cr Murray Guy made after last year's investigation into allegations of bullying and intimidation within the organisation.

Although the investigation did not uphold the complaints, the information received by Cr Guy showed that $828,000 was paid for 21 "settlement and exit packages" during the seven years to June 30 last year. A further $443,000 was paid for 20 redundancy settlements in the five years to June 30. Four of the payouts totalled $225,000.

Councillor Guy said the figures were "hugely staggering".

The investigation began about the same time as the sudden death on June 17 of the council's former chief executive Ken Paterson. The council subsequently made a confidential settlement to Mr Paterson's widow.

Cr Guy explained that it was after Mr Paterson's death that he became involved in the investigation initiated by staff against staff. It was then he became aware that there was a bigger picture, and his request for information was in a bid to better understand the working environment in the council.

Advice he received from a "significant" city employer was that about one-in-six employees saw through a grievance process to its conclusion. Most opted to stick it out until they found another job.

Cr Guy said this raised the question of how much was really being spent by the council on grievance processes. The payouts made on the cases that reached a conclusion did not include the costs of lawyers and independent investigators.

"Many thousands of dollars go unrecorded."

Cr Guy did not believe the 20 redundancies were all jobs that had been disestablished because he could recall only a couple of occasions before June 30 last year when councillors had been informed of restructuring.

He said it was well known that a redundancy package was the most expedient way to resolve a grievance for all concerned.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby disagreed. He said there was a process to go through under the Employment Law and there are various outcomes, one being redundancy.

He did not believe the figures suggested a deep-seated problem within the organisation.

"We have 500 staff and there have been a number of [reorganisations] in the past seven years and, as well, people move on for different reasons so this is not out of the usual for a big organisation that has a current salary bill of $37 million. You've got to put it in perspective," he said.

He did not believe employees were steered toward redundancy and said the organisation expected high standards and there "may have been" some performance issues but, on the whole, there was "a superb group of hard-working employees" within the organisation.

Cr Guy questioned how councillors could ensure that the working environment for staff was the best it could be when such important information was being withheld. He had never seen a budget for exit packages and redundancies.

Mr Crosby said making the information public was "a difficult situation".

"I respect people's privacy more than Cr Guy. You've got to put yourself in their shoes. Employees are entitled to a degree of privacy and I respect that more than Cr Guy."

Cr Guy has called for a presentation to the council on the figures.


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