Editorial: CEO's death leaves big gap to fill

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Ken Paterson, the man hired to lead Tauranga into a new era, died before he had a chance to really stamp his style on the city council.

The canny and astute Scotsman's background in private sector management clinched his selection as the council's chief executive in April last year.

It was a unanimous choice by the council which immediately warmed to Mr Paterson's can-do attitude, unhindered by a long career in local government.

He was very much the man for the times, with the council wanting someone who could cut through red tape and position the organisation for the tough economic environment that emerged from the global credit crunch.

The council took a gamble because Mr Paterson had turned 60 by the time he arrived to take up his new job on July 11 - an age when most people were finishing their careers.

It was also a courageous decision by Mr Paterson who took over the council reins four months before he become the father of twins. He already had a 3-year-old son from his marriage five years earlier and twins would be hard work for a husband even half his age.

If being the CEO of New Zealand's fifth largest city wasn't already a pressure-cooker job, it most certainly was when the Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef on October 5.

But such was his irrepressible enthusiasm that he appeared to take everything in his stride, optimistic that he was on top of earlier health problems.

Mr Paterson had undergone heart surgery prior to joining the Northland Regional Council four years earlier - his baptism of leading a council.

A regional council is one thing but Tauranga City Council is another beast altogether.

He was immediately thrust into the debacle around the council's failed project to redevelop the Mount Hot Pools, managing to sort out the aftermath and successfully urging more hands-on political control of the council's pools company in the interim.

The scale of the Rena disaster dwarfed everything else, but he still managed to find time to drive projects such as the tsunami sirens, and the Marine Precinct at Sulphur Point.

If Mr Paterson thought he had put his heart problems behind him, the return of chest pains on Saturday, May 5 was a reminder that he needed to take care.

He was admitted to hospital for tests and was back behind his desk barely a week after his discharge - such was his confidence it was a minor setback.

Forty-three days later he died in his sleep.

His legacy will be to show what can be done if a council CEO is prepared to step outside the mould and tackle projects with gusto and a forthright attitude.

He died on the threshold of embarking on a potentially far-reaching reorganisation of the council.

Once the period of mourning for Mr Paterson has finished, the council will face a difficult decision of whether to seek a like-minded replacement or go with someone well versed in running the legalistic bureaucracy of a council.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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