GOVERNANCE & MANAGEMENT Up Close and Personal – Governing politics, passion and performance

Informality and plain speaking are critical to successful mayoral/CEO partnership according to Christchurch mayor Garry Moore and his city’s chief executive of two years, Lesley McTurk. It is, they say, their ability to handle the ambiguities that arise whenever bureaucracy and politics collide that makes them winning governance team.
Moore is politician and nothing illustrates the difference between his role as Christchurch mayor – chairman of the city board if you like – and that of his CEO, than the current Ferrymead dispute.
It is McTurk’s role as chief bureaucrat to defend the right to build 14-storey office tower. Moore must manage the community’s concern over losing its view. “I think people are saying while high buildings are okay, they’ve got to be in the right place,” says Moore. “So it’s question of finding out what we can learn and what must change.”
It is Moore’s job to lead his board of 12 councillors in addressing key strategic issues and modelling policy decisions. On the flipside, McTurk is charged with leading the organisation and managing the implementation of council decisions. “As well as having compatible working styles Garry and I must know the boundaries within which we operate,” says McTurk, former director of hospital services for Southern Cross Healthcare.

Managing ambiguity
As with central government, council employees should not have personal political agendas. The recently enacted Local Government Act 2002 makes it even more difficult for CEOs to stick their noses where they don’t belong. Still, says Moore, there is dichotomy associated with serving ratepayers who are also voters and he’s often managing grey areas with McTurk, relative newcomer to local government management.
So where do their boundaries or responsibilities start and end? For start, often inexperienced or unqualified councillors must have the right information on which to base their decisions. That is McTurk’s job.
The new Act places greater responsibility on councils to listen to their communities. So McTurk needs reliable information, strong communication channels, and clear internal systems to deliver the right advice. “That means putting up options [to council] and arguing the relative risks of one over the other,” she says.
The 2002 Act redefines the role of elected representatives and provides greater clarity on the differences between local body governance and management. In the past, councillors were too often involved in management issues. Under the new act, employees no longer work with politicians to skew the advice given to council, according to McTurk. Nevertheless, in an attempt to provide guidance to the mayor and his councillors, McTurk frequently finds herself wading into the governance abyss. The reconciliation of business versus council interests over activities within the City’s Square is prime example. “The projects committee saw council staff and elected representatives working alongside each other to agree on amicable outcomes for all concerned,” she adds.
Moore sees this blurring of roles as by-product of the reality that even the most mundane council decisions can have political consequences. Local government is, he says, always oscillating between red tape and “response mode” with mood shifts in community sentiment. The ability to balance bureaucracy with the art of getting things done is the source of most tension within any local government environment. “Because we live in local government arena it’s also Lesley’s job to know what’s happening politically while managing the decisions of council,” says Moore, now in his third term as mayor.

The relationship
Moore sees his relationship with his CEO as integral to his council’s success. Experience told him that making the right CEO appointment, in this case McTurk, was critical to both his success as mayor and to his council’s ability to deliver. The city’s former CEOs were, he says, technically good but the new Act redefined the skills required for the CEO’s role. Having greater commercial leadership through more accountability, consultation, community participation and triple bottom-line focus on sustainability are now all part of the job description.
Moore’s new local government mantra is how to embrace the sea change forced on it through the legislation. That’s why he wanted change manager when he appointed McTurk as the city’s new CEO. In response, McTurk drew on her experience in change management and restructured her senior management line-up shortly after taking up the job in May 2003. Staff whose positions were disestablished could reapply. Others were offered redundancy.
Given the political context within which his council now operates, Moore says it was important to find someone who could bootstrap the council into the 21st century. It was equally important to find an individual who’d philosophically empathise with his “servant leadership” style, and willingly communicate at all levels. “The local government sector now requires very different management skills. And having CEO with sound commercial leadership experience gives us the opportunity to shine,” says Moore.

New table stakes
McTurk, an Auckland import, beat off 63 other CEO aspirants. Her ability to “relate both socially and professionally” probably swung it for her. She doesn’t think her relationship with Moore has changed much over the past two years but the organisation’s persona certainly has. In her opinion it now reflects the raised table stakes placed on councils to deliver.
McTurk thinks it’s easier to develop better and more robust relationships with the city’s elected representatives since councillor numbers were halved. “We’ve been working hard to change and are increasingly trying to be more responsible for our decision making,” she says.
But what are the personal factors Moore and McTurk think make their relationship work? Moore thinks recognition that politics is primarily about people and passion underscores successful relationship between CEO and mayor. He believes more informality, compatibility and transparency is needed than would either be acceptable or encouraged in traditional more corporate board context.
The relationship is, he says, unique because of the political environment where councillors can and do have differing agendas. In council context where the contact between CEO, mayor and councillors is so constant and robust, personal rapport and informality is critical. Not so between directors on more commercially focused board.
If relationships were more formal, McTurk thinks communications would quickly sour. Legally, local government CEO reports to the full council. But given his role as elected leader, McTurk considers it appropriate to have slightly different relationship with her mayor. “Neither of us could work with someone we didn’t respect. My relationship with Garry is transparent, and others can see that we’re open and that there’s no political agenda,” she says.

Informality reigns
Informality is also embedded in their workday approach. Communication is dominated by combination of phone and face-to-face meetings to debate issues and share advice. Because they operate out of the same building, they see nothing wrong with barging unannounced into one another’s offices demanding quick exchange of ideas.
Failure to do so, says McTurk, may impact on the pro-cess and lead to either one doing something that falls out of line. “In addition to liberal dollops of humour you need the ability to handle high levels of stress. We also need to be able to close the door and admit when we’ve cocked-up. We do that often,” she adds.
Moore and McTurk meet regularly on social level – either privately or at any number of official functions. But, Moore concedes, this is more reflection on the sheer smallness of Christchurch than any suggestion they live in each other’s pockets. “Understanding and respecting the different parts within the roles we play means w

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