In the latest twist in Southland local body politics Gore District Council former finance chief Doug Walker, who claims he was bullied while in the job, has applied for the chief executive role at the council.
Walker, a vocal critic of long-standing chief executive Stephen Parry, says he is applying to lead the organisation where he spent the “darkest time in his career” out of a desire for redemption not revenge.
“This is a way I can come back and show to people I’ve always had the skills that they needed and I would have always been a valuable member of staff and that I can make a really worthwhile contribution,” he says.
Walker, who worked for the council in finance roles in the 2000s, was one of four ex-staff who complained to the Department of Labour about bullying at the local authority.
An investigation was conducted and while no bullying was identified it did result in the department in 2008 issuing the council with an improvement notice requiring it to change how it managed workplace stress.
Walker left the council 16 years ago and moved his young family to the UK where he has resided since.
It wasn’t long after arriving in London that Parry made a surprise visit to Walker’s home that resulted in him seeking a restraining order against his former boss for threatening behaviour.
The Southland Times reported at the time that Parry denied he had harassed or threatened Walker.
It said Parry had visited Walker’s home unannounced because he wanted to tell him that he intended to lodge a complaint against him with the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
Relish the challenge
Walker says he is realistic about his chances of even getting to the interview stage due to his past history with Parry and to be successful in the role he would need full political support.
“I would enjoy the challenge of trying to fix a broken council but I wouldn’t take on the role if I didn’t think every elected member was happy for me to do it.
“They may not trust me either because I have been a harsh critic of Mr Parry and obviously some of them support Mr Parry quite strongly.
“So I may not even get off base one to be honest,” says Walker.
“I just hope they see my application for what it is.
“It would be good if I were a serious contender and that they don’t believe I am doing it for bad reasons but for good positive one.
“I don’t want the council to think it’s just a stunt or me trying to get back at Mr Parry again.”
Walker says he hopes his application is viewed in light of what he can “bring to the table”, which includes his previous council experience, overseas experience and strong financial skills.
He was always “tempted” by the chief executive role and he would like to make operational changes that resulted in putting an end to yearly overspends and staffing issues that have plagued the council.
Walker says his family has “mixed reactions” about him applying for the role but would welcome a move back to either New Zealand or Australia.
After 22 years as chief executive Parry resigned in September.
He was due to finish at the council on October 31 but after Parry’s deputy Rex Capil, who was tipped to be named as interim chief executive, resigned after being offered a job at Invercargill City Council, councillors asked Parry to stay on in the interim.
He’s expected to stay in the role until early next year.
Finding a permanent replacement is in the hands of recruiters and a Gore District Council spokesperson says it has no information about applications or interviewees at this stage.
The chief executive role was advertised on November 8 and applications close on December 4.
Parry’s resignation came after months of turmoil at Gore District Council including a public falling out between the chief executive and Mayor Ben Bell that resulted in the appointment of an intermediary.
Bell’s first term as mayor has included a failed vote of no-confidence, the shock resignation of a long-standing councillor and a petition calling for Parry’s resignation that was later thrown out by Council.
In April Bell and councillors agreed to an independent review as a measure to restore confidence in the council that was later axed by councillors who believe it would be “counterproductive” to delve into past problems.
After Parry was appointed interim chief executive the newly formed Gore District Citizen Action Group launched a second petition calling for his removal as interim chief executive.
The petition is expected to be presented to the council on November 21.
Made with the support of the Public Interest Journalism Fund