The State Services Commission moves in mysterious ways, but none so perplexing as this week's weirdness surrounding the resignation of Roger Sutton as chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

Whatever prompted State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie to fly to Christchurch on Monday to host a joint press conference with Sutton, it must be something Rennie must surely now regret.

Rennie is not prone to rash behaviour. He inhabits a world dominated by the fine print of employment law. An injudicious remark can be very costly. His comments are therefore always on the cautious side.

That is more reason why his instincts should have told him his presence at what turned out to be Sutton's press conference would be interpreted as him siding with Sutton.


It was a platform Sutton exploited to the hilt by patting himself on the back for doing the honourable thing by apologising and then resigning in the face of what he suggested were pretty trivial accusations.

It all looked too cosy. To the suspicious, it had the smell of Sutton being given the chance to resign, rather than being pushed. In return, the State Services Commission avoided the complications that come with the dismissal of a chief executive.

It was not quite like that. The commission's investigation found Sutton's behaviour was not always up to standard but did not warrant dismissal. Rennie says he would have followed that recommendation not to dismiss Sutton.

Rennie obviously did not intend making it look like the State Services Commission was siding with Sutton against the complainant. But that was the perception. The commission is now being pilloried for pussyfooting around when it comes to investigating sexual harassment.

With criticism from all political quarters, Rennie reacted by placing Sutton on leave after earlier agreeing his resignation would not take effect until February and he could keep working until then.

It was acknowledgment that the commission has got things seriously out of kilter. But it is probably too little too late to assuage Rennie's growing band of critics.