The fallout from Sheryl Dawson's axing as Magic CEO has begun, with two board members resigning in the wake of Dawson's exit.
Despite the Magic winning the ANZ Championship and securing a new major sponsor (Kia Motors), Dawson didn't even make the final shortlist with Tim Hamilton appointed to the top job.
The decision was first foreshadowed in the Herald on Sunday on October 28, when it was revealed that former board chairman Peter de Luca had been replaced and Dawson was no certainty to continue in her role.
"It is an open process and will test the incumbents," Netball NZ CEO Raelene Castle said at the time. "We are very conscious of continuity but also must look to get the most suitable person for the role."
Long time board members Paula Thompson and Shirley Baker have given notice in the wake of the decision, with Thompson saying she was "gobsmacked" by the process as well as the final outcome. Baker is the current chairwoman of Netball Bay of Plenty while Thompson has served as a Magic director and board member for the last three years.
"I can't believe that Sheryl couldn't even make the final two," says Thompson. "Just over a week ago she was honoured by the mayor [of Tauranga] with an Excellence in Business Leadership award, who called her a local and national icon of sports management. A week later and she can't even make the shortlist - it defies belief. I'm completely nonplussed by it all and can't believe how they came to this decision."
"There is no logic to it," says Baker. "I can't comprehend the decision, nor the way it was done, and by staying, I would be condoning a process I'm not comfortable with."
"The biggest problem for me was that there was no real discussion about it," adds Thompson. "Netball New Zealand controlled the whole process. We conducted the initial interviews and then were basically presented with a shortlist."
According to Thompson, after the hour-long interviews (there were five candidates), board members were presented with a set of score sheets, with each of the eight members asked anonymously to rate competencies and skills. After all the interviews were completed, Jeremy Curragh - the Netball New Zealand representative on the board - left the room with the forms to compile the statistics before returning 30 minutes to announce the final two. The shortlisted pair went on to be interviewed by a three-person panel including Castle, new Magic chairman John Wiltshire and a representative from Sport New Zealand.
"There was no discussion," says Thompson. "We filled in our forms, Jeremy - who was the scrutineer - disappeared with the paperwork and came back later with the results which were presented to us. I had earlier suggested that, as a matter of policy, that existing staff [Dawson] should naturally go forward to the final two but this was turned down."
"Even the questions we were to ask had all been pre-prepared by Netball NZ," says Baker. "Also, by making it anonymous and having no discussion there is no accountability for why you may have given a particular score to a person."
Netball sources say issues affecting the franchise in recent years have included some strained relations between Bay of Plenty and Waikato factions. The Magic have also posted losses in two of Dawson's three years as CEO (although they have not had that on their own, with some other franchises similarly affected and Dawson inherited a deficit). Netball New Zealand has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the franchise afloat.
However, apart from being disappointed that someone with Dawson's credentials did not even make the short list, Thompson also feels the decision sends the wrong message for the sport.
"We now have a male CEO, a male chairman and the Netball NZ representative on the board is also male," says Thompson. "We now have netball run by men in the region - as New Zealand's biggest female sport where are we trying to encourage female representation at management and board level?"
Thompson added that the netball centres of Harbourside, Rotorua, Whakatane, Katikati, Te Puke, Opotiki and Kawerau were "devastated" by the decision .
"People at the grassroots are finding it hard to understand - especially following such a successful year."
Castle defended the process as "robust and thorough" and denied there was an overreaching involvement from the national body.
"The interviews and subsequent decisions were made by the whole board, on which there is just one Netball NZ representative," says Castle.
"They were assessing a whole range of competencies across a broad spectrum. We have to remember that the new CEO role is three jobs merged into one and vastly different to the old one in terms of a job description. Sheryl has contributed an immense amount to the sport - and I felt for her both personally and professionally."
Dawson had been involved with the Magic since 2002.