Applications closed yesterday for the position of Greater Wellington Regional Council's chief executive, but one entry has caught some by surprise.
Current GWRC chairman Daran Ponter has applied for the position, the Herald understands.
It's a risky move for Ponter because, as one experienced board director puts it, it would be extremely difficult for him to have any credibility to continue as chairman if he was unsuccessful.
The situation is tricky because regional councillors are the ones who make the call on who gets the chief executive position.
Ponter declined to comment. While the move is unusual, it is not unprecedented.
Michael Redman was mayor of Hamilton City Council until he resigned to take up the position of chief executive.
Current KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller was formerly chairman of the company's board.
Dr Dean Knight, an associate professor at Victoria University's faculty of law, said switching from "team political" to "team administration" could be quite tricky, although not unheard of.
"The difficulty for a former-political chief executive often is that they need to quell their strategic ambition, because they become the servant, not the master."
In this case, Ponter has spent more time as a public servant than a politician.
His roles include working as a consultant at the Waitangi Tribunal, a negotiator for the Ministry For Primary Industries, a private secretary to Nanaia Mahuta when she was Minister of Māori Development, and he played a key role in establishing the Māori Television Service.
The GWRC chief executive role is a significant step up in remuneration compared to the chair's pay.
The council's latest annual report shows current chief executive, Greg Campbell, got $444,495 for the year ended June 2020. Former chairman Chris Laidlaw got $168,000 for the year ended June 2019.
Ponter was elected by his peers as chairman after the October 2019 local body elections.
Richard Westlake, managing director of Westlake Governance Limited and an experienced director and board chairman, said the situation immediately had a "whiff" to it.
"It doesn't quite smell right, but that said, in principle, I don't think there is anything substantially wrong."
He said it was valid for anyone to apply for a role and, frankly, competent people did not undertake elected member roles on councils for the money.
But Westlake said that as soon as Ponter has declared his interest, he has to step away from council business.
"From the moment he applies, he is no longer a member of that club for transparency purposes.
"Otherwise, there is always the opportunity to influence, the perception that he could offer favours, the perception that he could lean on people."
Ponter could also be the perfect candidate because he had sat around the table and understood the issues, Westlake said.
"You can get very precious about these things, but I've seen some really successfully senior board members go into a chief executive role."
Westlake said the big question was whether Ponter could continue on as chairman if he was unsuccessful.
This was because Ponter would fundamentally disagree with the biggest decision the council would make this year, being who the chief executive is, Westlake said.
"It is extremely difficult for him to have credibility as being the council chair because who has to manage the council's relationship with the CEO most of the time? It's the chair of course."