There is really no defence to a complaint of sexual harassment. If the accused did not know he was being misinterpreted or that his interest was not returned, the best that can be said of him is that he is a clod, a dimwit. If he is a public figure and imagines there is anything he can usefully say about it when he resigns, he confirms the impression.

Until this week, I thought Roger Sutton was merely disappointing. He had been given the largest and hardest reconstruction task New Zealand has needed. He headed the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority with powers to cut through normal consent procedures and get our second biggest city rebuilt.

When he was chosen, he sounded just right - brisk, smart, calm and practical as he outlined "what we need to do".

As time passed, that phrase, "what we need to do" prefaced almost everything he said. After a year, it began to disturb me that "what we need to do" was much the same as what we'd needed to do last year.


As Christchurch waited for something constructive to happen behind the barricades, it became evident that Sutton was not Superman and Cera was just another bureaucracy. But he could still talk the talk and clearly enjoyed his celebrity.

Rather than restore life to the city centre as quickly as it could, Cera was demolishing most of the remaining buildings. It saw the city central as a blank canvas for civic planners to design what they pleased.

Not long before they issued their "blueprint" a group of out-of-town media were invited by Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee to see the progress. Sutton joined us for coffee in the delightful little mall of shipping containers that private enterprise had created amid the demolition cranes and debris. I expressed disappointment at the wider sceneand he replied with a sarcastic reference to the design of downtown Auckland.

It was a surreal moment. Nobody knew what to say. What can be said to someone who raises the aesthetic deficiencies of Queen St when the core of his city is lying in ruins all around?

He didn't seem accustomed to criticism, he was used to being admired.

He was capable of saying strange things about himself. A few months ago he was quoted in the Herald on the subject of work-life balance.

His was a hard job, he said. "It has been busy. It is stressful. I try and manage myself; while I work long days I try to keep the weekends to myself. I enjoy the outdoors here - that wellness stuff. I do actually sit down every week and my PA makes me fill out a table of how many times I actually had proper exercise, how many pages of a novel have I read and how many proper interactions with friends have I had ... "

I have never had a PA and wouldn't know what they do. But a record of pages of a novel? His interactions with friends? It must have been just talk. Heaven forbid that it was true.


"Eccentric" was a word used for him this week after his attempt to diminish whatever he did to cause a woman at Cera to complain of sexual harassment. His wife's explanation was helpful. "(He) kind of forgot that he was the leader of the public service and he's too informal, he's too relaxed ... but that's who he is."

Leaders like that don't quite believe the power of their position. They want to wear authority lightly and be regarded as a nice genial guy who nobody minds being able to call the shots when he must. They are not deliberate offenders but they are not leadership material either.

The nature of Sutton's departure has exposed weaknesses that probably affected his performance in other respects too. The Government decided some time ago to bring Cera into the Prime Minister's Department next year and Sutton was unlikely to see out his contract to 2016.

The head of the department has given him a parting hug this week but those who appointed Sutton should review their selection techniques.

If they looked past his long curls and other quirks at the time, they ought now consider whether those were not signs of strength but flagged a need for affection that has not served us well.