When Queenstown Lakes District Council chief executive Adam Feeley needed a lift to the airport recently, staff didn’t exactly come running.
Feeley, overseeing a sweeping council review, recalls: “One said ‘Who’d want to give you a lift right now?’”
A staffer did step up and Feeley says when asked how they were feeling about the changes, the staffer replied: ‘A bit nervous but quite excited something is happening’.
Feeley’s been here before and doesn’t mind flak – prior to his arrival at council last year he oversaw the biggest shake-up of the Serious Fraud Office in 20 years.
“Some say ‘I don’t agree and the new chief executive is off the wall’ but they’ll make their own decisions about their career directions.
“Ultimately, there’ll be one or two who’ll take it pretty hard and react accordingly. By and large, they’ve behaved pretty professionally and I’m enormously respectful of that because it’s not an easy process.”
Feeley adds: “Take the person you reported last week who said morale is terrible. The morale in this place isn’t a consequence of the organisational review – it’s a symptom of more fundamental problems and that’s why we’re having an organisational review.
“I said exactly the same thing to the SFO team – ‘You’re going to go through change but I will look you in the eye in 12 months and we’ll be better for it’. And I’ve never had staff say you’re wrong. They always say we needed that change.”
Feeley, who says he agrees with the “overall tenor” of this week’s proposed draft – axing the equivalent of 42 positions and hyping millions in annual savings – is adamant it’s not about numbers, but making council better and cheaper for ratepayers.
Council culture also needs to be more comfortable with taking and managing risks instead of avoiding it altogether, he says.
“If people park their brains when they come to work, they make dumb policy-based decisions which annoy the hell out of the people in this district. If you say to yourself ‘I’m paid to make good decisions’, it’ll work much better. People in business here by and large take a lot more risk – much more than your average New Zealander – and for them to deal with a council that has an aversion to risk, I imagine for them is exasperating.
“When I got to SFO I said to the staff get out and talk to people who are getting ripped off and the people running these companies – and have a relationship with them. And I had guys saying to me ‘But what can I say?’ I told them ‘You’re a very talented lawyer or accountant or investigator – I think you’ll figure out what you can and can’t tell them’.”
Feeley claims you could walk into SFO today and ask anyone their purpose and what they’re going to achieve next year and they’d have a clear answer – but it wouldn’t be the same at council now.
“[But] in 12 months, you ask why they’re here and what they’re going to achieve, they’ll be able to answer.”