Sutton resigns as CERA CEO


Services Commissioner Iain Rennie  has confirmed Roger Sutton has chosen to resign as Chief Executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA).

The State Services Commission (SSC) has carried out an investigation into Mr Sutton’s conduct following a complaint from a CERA staff member.

“I expect high standards of Public Service chief executives and I take any complaints of inappropriate conduct very seriously,” Mr Rennie said.

“Every State servant must be able to work in a safe environment where they are treated with professionalism and respect,” he said.

The investigation report was provided to the Commissioner. However, Mr Sutton offered his resignation and this was accepted. While the report found that Mr Sutton’s conduct did not always meet the standard expected of public service leaders, it did not recommend dismissal. Although not called on to make any decision in relation to the report, the Commissioner is very likely to have followed the recommendation not to dismiss Mr Sutton.

“I respect Mr Sutton’s decision and acknowledge that this was a very difficult call to make for someone who is so committed to the Canterbury community,” Mr Rennie said.

“Mr Sutton has made an outstanding contribution to Canterbury as Chief Executive of CERA since 2011 and he leaves a strong legacy to his successor. His visible and engaged leadership during challenging times will be remembered well for many years”.

“Greater Christchurch’s recovery continues to be a major focus for the Public Service and Mr Sutton’s resignation will not affect the work to make that happen or the role of CERA,” he said.

“Throughout this process, SSC has worked with CERA to ensure the complainant has been supported and will receive any ongoing support required,” said Mr Rennie. “As his employer, we have also provided support to Mr Sutton,” Mr Rennie said.

To protect the privacy of the parties involved in this complaint and to respect undertakings of confidentiality, the investigation report and details of the exact nature of the complaint will not be released.

“I expect every government agency to have clear policies and processes to deal with complaints fairly and confidentially, and to provide appropriate support to complainants and those whose conduct is investigated,” Mr Rennie said.

Mr Sutton has decided that a natural point for a change of leadership for CERA is the date at which CERA transitions from being a Public Service department to being a departmental agency hosted by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Therefore, he will cease to be Chief Executive of CERA on 31 January 2015, the day before the departmental agency is formed.

Arrangements for an Acting Chief Executive for CERA from 1 February 2015 and the recruitment process for the ongoing Chief Executive of CERA will be advised shortly.

“This will no doubt be a difficult time for the people who work for CERA. SSC will be working closely with the senior leadership team to ensure CERA staff are well supported and can continue with the excellent work they are doing,” Mr Rennie said.

The Press reports:

. . . He had been under investigation for the last seven weeks after a complaint of sexual harassment from a senior staff member.

The allegation accused him of making inappropriate jokes and comments, and giving her an unwelcome hug. . .

That sort of behaviour complained of would have been common-place, and at least tolerated, in many workplaces not too long ago.

It isn’t now, although it’s not always black and white. What someone finds unwelcome and/or offensive might not concern someone else.

However, a CEO must lead by example and be above reproof.


Someone told someone but we don’t know who


In nine years with Labour in power did anyone leak anything of significance in order to sabotage government policy?

After less than two years with National in power there have already been two leaks designed to do that.

The first was information from the cabinet paper on a stocktake of minerals on Schedule 4 land. The second was information from a  Cabinet paper on lifting performance and service delivery in the State Sector.

The State Services Commissioner, Iain Rennie,  investigated and discovered someone told someone something they shouldn’t have but was unable to determine who:

In respect of the minerals inquiry it was found that there was a deliberate unauthorised disclosure. There was not sufficient evidence to establish who disclosed the information. The evidence does not indicate that disclosures were more likely to have come from the Public Service than other parties who had access to the information disclosed.

In respect of the machinery of government paper investigation it was found that there was a deliberate unauthorised disclosure of information relating to the options contained in the Cabinet paper. No one person was identified as having deliberately disclosed the information. However, at least one aspect of what was being proposed was probably disclosed by a public servant. The report found that the evidence lead to the conclusion that one of the sources for the journalists was either someone in the National Library, or someone being told something by someone in the National Library, who then passed this information on. This is a disappointing finding as it indicates a lapse from the high standard of professionalism held by the majority of public servants.

In the introduction to his statement Mr Rennie said:

The unauthorised disclosure of government information strikes at the heart of the crucial relationship of trust that needs to exist between Ministers and their officials, for the business of government to work as it should. Ministers have a right to make decisions in a calm and deliberative manner and through processes which are not destabilised by premature and unauthorised disclosure.

This reminded me of  an interview earlier this year in which Mark Prebble told Kathryn Ryan:

“Public servants have to implement the policies of the government of the day

Many people come to government to try to support a good cause. They don’t realise the one who has to determine which good cause is to be supported is the democratically minister of the day. And quite a lot of departments, not slinging off at their professionalism but say DOC, you get a lot of people who join DOC because they know they want to save a kakapo and if not a kakapo it will be the lesser spotted whatever. And if the lesser spotted whatever is not on the minister’s list of priorities they’ll find it hard to do.

A key part of the role of senior public servants is to explain to them well it is the minister who has to take the heat in public about that and the public servant really isn’t just employed to follow their own interests and if they want to follow their interests they can go and work in the private sector like anyone else. . .

. . . No public servant should be zealous about the particular cause they’re interested in. They should be zealous about democracy and respecting the law. . .”

The  public service must be apolitical.

This doesn’t mean public servants can’t hold political views but it does mean they can’t be political in their work and they can’t  use knowledge gained in their work to further their political aims.

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