Hug off

Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has resigned as chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

I am disgusted, totally disgusted at Roger Sutton being pressured to resign. This could have been handled in house and sorted quickly but instead he has been pilloried.

It is clear from the article that he treated everyone the same way and that the only problem this time was that she didn’t like it. Well buck up sweetie, you are a big girl now. Use your words. How hard would it have been to say Roger, I know you like to hug everyone but I am not a huggie kind of person and it makes me feel uncomfortable please don’t hug me? Same goes for being called Sweetie.

I worked with a guy who insisted on calling me Juanita instead of my actual name which is Juana. I asked him politely to stop and was told that if he wanted to call me Juanita he would, because he liked it. I then replied that I liked the name Bob and that I would call him that until he addressed me by my given name. Bob caved in a day. It isn’t rocket science. Costing someone their job because of your lack of assertiveness is over the top. If she was that much of a wimp she could have asked someone else to speak to him on her behalf. We are talking about a grown woman, a senior staffer not a kid fresh out of high school. I have been called darling and sweetheart by shop assistants. I don’t particularly like it but they mean well and it seems clear to me that so did Roger. This was not sexual harassment it was a man who probably didn’t have a good memory for names. My Dad for example calls everyone mate, which saves him having to remember names. On a couple of occasions a person has objected so he stopped.

As for the hugs, if she was the only one getting them then she would have cause for concern. If he hugs everyone male and female then it is clearly just him.


State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said the commission had carried out an investigation into Mr Sutton’s conduct following a complaint from a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) staff member.

The allegations, which surfaced at the weekend, accused Mr Sutton of harassing a senior female staffer.

Sutton is alleged to have made inappropriate jokes and comments towards the woman, as well as giving her a hug.

At a press conference at Cera’s central city offices today, Mr Sutton, 50, said he would resign, effective from January 31, next year.

The father-of-three walked in to the press conference hand-in-hand with wife Jo to face the waiting media.
He said he was leaving “of my own free choice”, but admits his actions were hurtful.

Hugs, jokes … I do do those things, and I’ve hurt somebody with that behaviour and I’m very, very sorry about that,” Mr Sutton said.

“I may also have offended other women through my actions and I’m really sorry to them as well. I never meant any harm. I’ve never meant any harm to anybody.”

He said he had “worked my guts out” for the last three-and-a-half years and was “very upset that I have hurt people”.

But I am who I am. I have called women honey and sweetie, and that is wrong. That’s a sexist thing to do, and I’m really sorry, I should not do that, and I and will stop doing that.”

Sutton said it was a “hard job” and the last eight weeks had been “the straw that has broken the camel’s back”.

He said he was exhausted, and wanted to spend more time with his family.

“I’m not a victim. I take responsibility for my own actions,” he said.

He has been seeing a psychologist and believes he will be a better person because of the incident.

Mr Sutton said he had not had time to reflect on what his next move may be.

After the press conference, Mr Sutton’s wife Jo was struggling to come to terms with what has led to her husband’s resignation.

“It’s been pretty awful actually. It’s been hideous. He’s a really good man. Why his hugs and jokes have been misinterpreted? I have no idea. But he’s a touchy-feely person. In Christchurch, we hug everybody and I can’t understand it.

“We’ve had so many calls over the weekend from people saying, ‘We love you Roger, we love your hugs’.

“I’m just really shocked actually, really shocked.

“He’s a really good man – he’s far nicer than I am. He’s far more compassionate than I am, but he’s also really silly. And that’s kind of what I love about him.

“I think he kind of forgot that he was the leader of the public service and he’s too informal, he’s too relaxed … but that’s who he is. That’s what makes him amazing, and why his staff, the Cera staff, love him.

She said she was an advocate of men and women being safe in the workplace, but added: “I just wish this could have been done in a less public, less hideous way.”

I just wish there could have processes that prevented it from being so ugly in public.”

Jo supported his decision to resign.

“I want him to be with us. I’ve been raising my boys on my own,” she said.

“I feel really sad for Christchurch people who are gutted. He’s not a victim.”

While the report found Mr Sutton’s conduct did not always meet the standard expected of public service leaders, it did not recommend dismissal.

Although not called on to make any decision in relation to the report, the commissioner was very likely to have followed the recommendation not to dismiss Mr Sutton.
The employee who raised the complaint is still with Cera.

Mr Rennie met her today to apologise for the “hurt and distress” she experienced.

“I respect Mr Sutton’s decision and acknowledge that this was a very difficult call to make for someone who is so committed to the Canterbury community,” Mr Rennie said.

“Mr Sutton has made an outstanding contribution to Canterbury as chief executive of Cera since 2011 and he leaves a strong legacy to his successor. His visible and engaged leadership during challenging times will be remembered well for many years.

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