Monday, 24 November 2014

So why should we care about Sutton? [updated]

In our office, sexual harassment is marked out of 10. 

There are people who care about Roger Sutton, about Ian Rennie and Gery Brownlee the rest of the big-government crew drawn wriggling into the light by the complaint about Sutton, about the “debate” about sexual harassment it has supposedly begin and the “conversation” about state services procedures it has apparently inspired.

I am not among them. Nor is anyone around my office.

Sutton should be shamed not for what he allegedly did in the privacy of CERA’s Christchurch offices, but for what he and CERA’s officer’s have done to Christchurch.

If Sutton and his motley crew had simply sat on their hands that would have led to fewer complaints. They stuck them instead into everyone else’s business – achieving their apparent goal of all-but ending the business of business in central Christchurch.

Thank goodness then that there are businessmen around like Richard Driver who, while Sutton played games, got on with doing what Christchurch businesses urgently need: building buildings.

Driver’s drive illustrates the different between the central planning and private enterprise.

More than anyone else, Diver has been disrupting the tidy plans of the bureaucrats by throwing up buildings faster than they can blink. They had this lumbering Blueprint plan for the city core. But Diver has raced ahead, populating Victoria St with 10 office developments in quick succession - half of them now open, half on the go - creating his own alternative CBD on the city's northern corner… It is going to be a proper community. The cool corner of the city to be in. And it is halfway there already. While the central city? The only office workers going into the official rebuild area are government employees and the major banks, says Diver

Victoria St is becoming the place for business to be in Christchurch. Mind you, it could have been elsewhere…

Walking down Victoria St, it is marked just how advanced it looks. Then to discover that Diver had tried to be a first mover in the Blueprint's City Mall, and now is being stymied in the health precinct as well, it does raise some questions.

It sure does…and some folk I know were saying this would happen soon after the quakes…but then they were just ideologues - apparently.

Predictably, people like

Diver soon became a problem for the “official rebuild” - the Blueprint masterplan drafted by the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU), the specially set-up arm of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA)…. the grumble became that Victoria St was being allowed to run riot, siphoning money away from where the government plan wanted it to go.

“Planners” wanna plan. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs get on with delivering what folk actually want – often with the “planners” like Sutton and Brownlee as a major impediment.

So I don’t care what happened in CERA’s offices, except perhaps that it reveals the sort of egos who make it to the top of the bureaucratic tree.

Not long before [CERA/CCDU/CCC/Uncle Gerry Brownlee and all] issued their "blueprint" a group of out-of-town media were invited by Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee to see the progress [writes Herald journalist John Roughan]. 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 scene and 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 ... " …


… 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.

As Hayek once observed, in a bureaucratic system “the worst get on top” – and they lack all conviction. [UPDATE: But see a contrary opinion on Sutton in the comments.]

While making things difficult for those getting out and doing things, Sutton’s CERA itself is all at sea, says Hugh Pavletich.

This organisation is filled to the gunwales with redundant Wellington bureaucrats and a large contingent of wordsmiths manufacturing progress fiction.
    Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee ran the show … badly … with Roger Sutton playing very much a subservient “Yes Minister” role….
    Tedious (John Lennon style … “All you need is love”) and time wasting policy papers and public relations fiction do not build affordable housing and repair broken cities.
    Mr Sutton was never interested to learn why Christchurch housing is internationally rated “severely unaffordable.” Hardly a sexy subject of course. Not surprisingly … he made it clear he wasn’t interested in what I had to say !
    As former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Tip O'Neill said …  “Perception is reality in politics.”
    Roger Sutton had learnt that much. But only that much.

The real issue .. the long-term dysfunctional Christchurch Council
The real issues … being a long-term
dysfunctional Council …  meaning that the earthquake costs will likely be in the order of a staggering $40 - $50 billion, when they should have been somewhere between $15 - $20 billion, have been ignored to date.
    This was clearly all beyond Sutton’s comprehension.
    Brownlee proved incapable of learning anything either … as Chair of Parliaments 2007 / 2008 Commerce Committee Housing Affordability Inquiry, as I explained late 2012 within
Housing: Mr Key – Get on the Programme .
    Not surprisingly, Brownlee is being jettisoned as Recovery Minister. “Can-kicker” Key has even had more than he can stand. That’s how bad it is.
    I had written on these serious issue back June 2011 (soon after Sutton’s appointment at CERA) for Interest Co with
OPINION: Hugh Pavletich accuses Christchurch City Council of blindness, blunders and chain dragging; calls for effective leadership, 'open land' policy and bendy zoning.
    What did these realities have to do with a broad governance and management leadership more interested in perception ... and masking constant failure ?
    “Image” has been what it’s all about.
    This was helped in no small measure by a docile gullible and infantile local mainstream media. ….

The CCC’s Dalziel and Edwards ineptly protect Sutton
Remarkably … the Christchurch City Council still appears to have learnt nothing.
    Mayor Lianne Dalziel and Chief Executive Dr Karleen Edwards clearly participated in the Sutton “snow job”, with a “convenient” media release Monday 17 November (the day of the media fiasco) …
'Statement from Christchurch Mayor and City Council CEO' .
    It is useful to read the Dalziel/Edwards drivel in full, to illustrate the extent of inept media manipulation and what lengths the Authorities at central and local level went to, in vainly attempting to protect the bureaucrats and in masking the real problems and issues.
    Talk about dumb…

Christchurch’s problems and solutions are well known
What needs to happen in Christchurch was clearly spelt out at the
4000+ strong Peoples Protest 1 February 2012 and amplified a few months later with ‘Christchurch: The Way Forward.’
    These are issues Dalziel and Edwards chose to ignore since taking office, simply because they are not prepared to take on the bureaucrats…
    At central level,  there has been an urgent need for political leadership, to start us on the path of progressively de-risking New Zealand’s metros.
    This is essentially making them increasingly affordable and mobile, as Alain Bertaud, former Principal Urban Planner with the World Bank makes clear within the introduction to
this years Annual Demographia Survey.
    Mr Bertaud (with his delightful wife and fellow researcher Marie-Agnes) spoke to them at the Christchurch City Council late July, as part of a hugely successful 3 city New Zealand speaking tour. Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Labour’s Housing Spokesman Phil Twyford met with the Bertauds as well.
    Unfortunately Dalziel and Edwards still appear more interested in constantly masking political and bureaucratic failure … and ignoring the issues that really matter…
    Generally, bureaucratic bungling … with its associated poverty creation and economic destruction … is a rather boring exercise.
   It is quite some job to get the public excited and energised about it. People getting increasingly angry and frustrated is about as far as it goes. They feel powerless and ignored by those in authority.
    The bureaucrats interests always seem to prevail … constantly protected by weak politicians across the spectrum.  

The Monday media circus
This week’s Sutton / CERA saga was different.
    It was pure theatre.
    Theatrical incompetence on a truly epic scale. 
     The only thing State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie failed to do in putting together the Monday media circus, was the appropriate theme music …
FREDDIE MERCURY: The Great Pretender – YouTube .
    John Cleese of the BBC sitcom 
Fawlty Towers and his pals certainly have serious competition in New Zealand. 
    Yet public opinion swiftly changed, as the truth bubbled to the surface soon after Mondays media fiasco.
    There is much more to come.
    Sutton was finished within 48 hours of it, due to the backlash.
    It was expected Iain Rennie, the State Services Commissioner would be gone by the Friday. He should have. But ‘can-kicker” Prime Minister John Key is not known for his decisiveness…
    Let’s be clear, Roger “Goldilocks” Sutton wasn’t all bad… It’s just that Sutton’s skills begin and end as a ‘public communicator.” That’s what his proper role should have been. 
President Harry Truman, had this to say on leadership

        “In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves...
        self-discipline with all of them came first.”

Roger Sutton … and too, others involved …. do not pass the “Truman Test.”

So why should we care about Sutton?  “What needs to be understood,” says Hugh Pavletich for example, “is that this complaint against Sutton has potentially huge political consequences … on many fronts.”

Sutton going down in this fashion is just another illustration of the serious political and bureaucratic blunders and failures surrounding the Christchurch recovery. It could not be worse for both the Government and the Christchurch City Council. (Check out Hugh’s recent writings on the Christchurch situation at his Scoop Infopage.)
    Wasn’t it extremely odd last Monday with the media conference circus that
Dalziel and Edwards at the Chch City Council released this drivel pretty much at the same time.
    Why exactly was Brownlee jettisoned ? Why is it under the control of the PMs office ? What skills / capabilities are in the PMs office to control Central Government involvement ? Isn’t that odd ? What problems / cost blowouts don’t we know about ?
    My sense at this stage (and I could be wrong) is that the whole Monday media circus was orchestrated in fine detail by the PMs office (including the Sutton speech / Hollywood ramble and the Jo Malcolm show) so that Sutton was shown in the best possible light as he exited and Rennie did as he was told. The damage to the complainant, and too, the independence of the office of the CSS were likely judged by the PMs office to be “acceptable costs.”
    These are high costs. It sure makes me even more curious !
    But it has backfired on the lot of them …  big time. The wider media has an enormous amount of work to do, in getting to the bottom of this political and bureaucratic nonsense.

What would make anyone think they’re up to it?

UPDATE:  A fellow called Mark T makes this great comment on the great story about the great work done by Richard Diver in the face of CERA bungling and stupidity

First and foremost, achieving anything 'great' requires the bureaucrats to get out of the way and let something happen, rather than stifle it with complex rules that few can negotiate.
Secondly, the idea that a planner holding a gun to the head of property owners can create the 'great' would be laughable if the consequences weren't so tragic. Great cities develop organically, in response to trial and error, and changing market forces. It's not a matter of how good the planner is; the point is that no central planning can possibly co-ordinate the different needs and wants of thousands of individuals in a constantly changing environment and marketplace. The planners immunity to price signals makes good central planning literally impossible, regardless of how skilled they are or how good their intentions.
The planners utopian version of 'great' has become the enemy of property rights, and of progress. It's not only the enemy of the good, but also the genuinely great.
This has always been the way, but the aftermath of the earthquake have now made it particularly clear. If you don't get that now after reading articles like this, then you never will. Fortunately however more and more are now waking up to the reality.

1 comment:

  1. Great post PC. However I think there are two stories in the Sutton saga, and in interpreting one of those stories we differ.

    Firstly there is the dysfunction of the entire regulatory system, and how CERA have stymied rather than enabled development. The intention in forming CERA was supposedly to cut through the Council bureaucracy and enable development. But instead they have just added another layer of bureaucracy, with the predictable and obvious results.

    However I don't put that down to any failings on Sutton's part. I put it down to the impossible task he took on. I don't know Sutton personally, but I do know several people who know him, some very well. My judgement is that he's generally a capable, logical and honest man. His background was he ran the Council owned lines company Orion very well, and got the power back on following the quakes in very quick time. Yes it's a public company, but it's an organisation that has to deliver something real (electricity). Put a capable man like that, someone who can get things done, at the head of an organisation that (in Hugh's words) is "filled to the gunwales with redundant Wellington bureaucrats and a large contingent of wordsmiths manufacturing progress fiction", then you're going to get tension and personal conflict within that organisation.

    Combine that tension with the modern PC hyper-sensitivity to "sexual harassment", and it's easy to envisage a scenario whereby the less able and less reality oriented want to take him down, and see an opportunity to do so by exploiting his personality quirks and playing the "sexual harassment" card. I don't know for a fact that this is what happened, but it is my strong suspicion.

    I'm reminded of the recent words from Robert Tracinki on a different subject, in summarising what he calls "feminist grievance mongering". Without being completely certain, I think this is a good summary of what is most likely at play here too:

    "To be so sensitive that everything sets you off is a sign of weakness. But it is also a perverse attempt to convert that weakness into strength. If no one can really know what will set off the feminist offense brigade or who will find himself reduced to a blubbering apology on television, then everyone had better be on guard and seek to protect himself by preemptively making obeisance to the powers that be."

    "Which is to say that this is a power play. It reminds me of what Shelby Steele has written about the phenomenon of "white guilt": the presumption that all white people are complicit in the crimes of slavery and segregation and are therefore guilty until they prove themselves innocent. And they can prove their innocence by embracing whatever political agenda the guardians of racial grievance choose to decree."

    "So call this new system "male guilt." Every man is presumed sexist until proven otherwise, and his only hope is appease the self-appointed arbiters of offensiveness."

    So in conclusion, I agree with everything that's being said about CERA's dysfunction. But I don't agree that Sutton is an example of the worst rising to the top. To the contrary, I think Sutton was an anathema in that organisation, and was in fact probably the best you could hope for, if someone had to be there. This may not be typical for the public sector, but I think it's exactly for that reason his departure was also untypical, and dramatic.

    To me, Sutton's departure illustrates again why central planning, regardless of the skills and ethics of those in charge (in this case high) can never work. Let's acknowledge that, but let's also not encourage more feminist grievance mongering by throwing Sutton to the wolves.


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