In July 2013, Limited Statutory Manager Peter Macdonald had a problem.
The NZ School Trustees Association and school lawyer Diccon Sim were instructed not to progress the historic complaint against Marlene Campbell. Nonetheless, Macdonald unilaterally decided the complaint was valid and should be upheld.
This was the first public sign of cracks appearing in the relationship between Gallaway Cook Adam partner Mr Sim and Macdonald.
As an ex-Ministry staffer told CQAE, Macdonald likes to be the ‘boss’. Mr Sim, on the other hand, was employed to offer legal advice and it seems Macdonald didn’t like the advice he was getting.
“You have to remember at this time, Prue Taylor was resigning after being reinstated at Christchurch GHS,” the Man from the Ministry says. “That debacle was a massive kick in the guts for Macdonald and the Ministry. He was determined that he would not have a similar embarrassment at Salford. The feeling at the Ministry at the time was that he was replacing Sim with someone who would do what he was told.”
Enter Gallaway Cook Adam ‘consultant’ Geoff Bevan.
Mr Bevan’s actions ended up being crucial to Campbell winning her case in the Employment Court. But back to the timeline. By the end of September 2013, Mr Sim was back to being a skilled and reasonable advocate for other clients while the Limited Statutory Manager and his new legal advisor had moved on to yet another investigation.
“There was some disquiet at head office about the never-ending round of investigations,” the Man from the Ministry says. “Some of us felt that eventually they would have to stop, but we had other fish to fry and stopped getting updates. It became something that was being handled by a tight group at the regional level and a few in Wellington.”
The investigation continued, collecting corpses on the way. The Board of Trustees chair resigned on October 25, followed closely by another Board member.
On Friday November 1, Marlene Campbell and her family were on their way to a family reunion at Kaka Point. Just before they drove out of cellphone coverage, she received a call from her solicitors telling her that Bevan had sent a letter suspending her. She was instructed not to report to work on Monday.
The family reunion was an important one, and her solicitor advised her to go to it as there was a telephone conference between them and Bevan at 8.30am on Monday to discuss the “proposed” suspension.
“The whole weekend was a nightmare,” Campbell says. “I couldn’t relax, or sleep, and what should have been a rare chance to catch up with family became a disaster.”
It got worse.
Just after 6.00am on Monday, two hours before Campbell and her lawyers were to discuss the proposed suspension, the school administrator (yes, the one who wanted to know if it was OK to disregard bits of an Official Information Act request) emailed all Salford staff to tell them Macdonald had suspended Campbell.
“I was absolutely gobsmacked,” Campbell says. “So much for a ‘proposed’ suspension, which we were going to fight.”
“I remember reading it in the news,” the ex-Ministry man says. “By then the wagons had been circled at head office and the word was Macdonald was going to be given a very strong message.”
It was a clear breach of process and showed a lack of fairness which would come back to bite Macdonald and Bevan at the Employment Court. But Macdonald was on his way out. One week later, on November 11 2013, he was dropped and replaced by Commissioner Nicola Hornsey.
Any hope Campbell and her team had of a new set of eyes seeing a different resolution were quickly dashed.
…to be continued….