Auckland mayor Phil Goff has written a "please explain" letter to the chairman of poorly performing Ports of Auckland over a nearly $1 million exit payment to former chief executive Tony Gibson.
The total pay out to Gibson was up to $1.79m according to the Auckland Council-owned port's annual report published last week.
Gibson departed in June. The port has been in the spotlight over its poor health and safety record, low productivity and disappointing financial results, and failure to fully implement a long-running and costly container terminal automation project.
Meanwhile, Maritime NZ said its legal team had been advised Gibson would not seek name suppression concerning charges being brought against him by the agency, and against the port company, in relation to the death of a port worker a year ago.
A Maritime NZ public statement about the charges last month did not name Gibson, referring to "an individual". The charges were laid in the Auckland District Court and will be heard later this month.
On the payout to Gibson, who had been in the job 11 years, Goff said he did not support the decision, which neither he nor the council were informed of.
Asked who had signed off on the payout, the port company in a statement to the Herald said: "The board determines CEO remuneration. The previous CEO resigned and was paid out what he was contractually entitled to. Employment matters are confidential for all employees."
Asked by the Herald what the mayor and council were going to do about the payout, a mayoral office statement said Goff was writing to port chairman Bill Osborne, who leaves the job this month.
"Council has raised a number of concerns about the port's performance and has taken steps to improve it, including through the independent report into health and safety.
"Recent changes to the board, including the appointment of experienced director Jan Dawson will also help provide the leadership needed to improve performance and accountability. Further new board appointments are currently being made.
"The mayor's expectations around improving performance and accountability have been made very clear through the director selection process."
Dawson, deputy chairwoman of Air NZ, chair Westpac NZ and a director of Meridian Energy and AIG Insurance NZ, is strongly tipped to be named chairwoman of the port company.
Meanwhile, senior councillor Chris Darby, an outspoken critic of the council's past oversight of the port company, said he and several other councillors had asked for the letter to go to the port board.
"When the port is suffering poor productivity, found guilty and fined $424,000 for causing the death of ocean swimmer Lesley Gelberger, straddle automation is significantly delayed, port worker Pala'amo Kalati is killed on the job with the former CEO facing charges, and a damning safety report raised serious concerns about his management, it's a complete mystery how the port board finds an abhorrent payout to be a fair reflection of Mr Gibson's value to the company, " Darby said.
"That the board continues a pattern of obfuscation and refuses to be remotely transparent is alarming. While it is reasonable that salary packages for staff employed by the CEO remain confidential, it's not the same for the CEO who is the sole employee of the board. Most publicly listed companies disclose detail of their CEO's employment package.
"How a company publicly owned by the people of Auckland fails to be equally transparent is beyond comprehension."
The Maritime Union on Tuesday demanded worker representation on the port board.
Auckland branch secretary Russell Mayn said there were "1.7 million reasons" why this should happen immediately following news of the payout made to Gibson.
Mayn said workers wanted the immediate resignation of all board members responsible for allowing the payment package to be agreed on "including the inflated salary".
The port's annual report showed an unnamed executive earned between $1.78m and $1.79m in FY2021.
Gibson's pay in 2020 was $820,000.
Mayn said the money should have gone to the families of the workers who lost their lives working at the port.
The call for resignations did not include recently appointed directors who had been instrumental in changing the health and safety culture.