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Canterbury Museum’s ‘authoritarian’ leadership claims expected to be discussed at next board meeting

Claims of an “authoritarian” and “controlling” Canterbury Museum senior leadership are expected to be discussed by the museum’s board behind closed doors, the Herald understands.

The Herald this week revealed that long-serving museum director Anthony Wright and senior management were labelled by staff in a 2019 workplace report as being “micro-managing”, “old-style” and “very paternalistic”.

The report, leaked to the Herald, highlighted staff concerns over museum leadership, particularly Wright, a trained botanist who has led the museum since 1996, and his alleged “controlling” style.

The findings are supported by a number of former employees who told the Herald during its months-long investigation about their concerns, including the reported lack of a dedicated human resources (HR) department or HR manager at the museum.

The chairman of the Canterbury Museum Trust Board, a registered charitable trust that governs the museum, said Wright is an “outstanding” director who has given 25 years of “exemplary service” to the museum and has the board’s full support.

The chairman, former Waimakariri mayor David Ayers, said although the museum’s 2018 annual Investors in People (IiP) survey indicated”some areas where the museum could improve its people practices”, changes had since been made.

However, a current employee yesterday denied the museum’s claims that improvements are being made.

The staff member believes “it’s run the same way it’s always been … It doesn’t matter how many reports they do, nothing changes”.

“Everything has to go through the director,” they alleged.

When the Herald yesterday went back to Ayers with more questions, including whether the board would be making any fresh inquiries, he replied that the board had already sat for this month’s meeting.

He added: “Matters of the kind you have raised will always be discussed in public-excluded meeting under the terms of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, under which we conduct our meetings.”

Speaking under the condition of anonymity, the current staff member yesterday said there still was no HR department.

But the board says the museum has “HR capability in-house and uses specialist external advice as necessary”.

The museum is a stand-alone entity that receives funding from Christchurch City Council, as well as the Waimakariri, Hurunui and Selwyn district councils, for its operational budgets, as well as money from other funders and sponsors, including the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, Friends of Canterbury Museum, and other trusts and private estates.

The city council, which has four councillors on the trust board, yesterday refused to get involved.

A spokeswoman said: “It wouldn’t be appropriate for the council to comment on this, given the Canterbury Museum is an independent organisation reporting to its own board”.

Museums Aotearoa, a Wellington-based organisation that advocates and supports museums, galleries and heritage properties, was aware that Canterbury Museum had enlisted three senior staff members recently.

But executive director Phillipa Tocker said funding pressures are an increasing challenge for museums, especially in a global pandemic.

“It’s a real challenge across all our sectors to maintain the work we do without over-taxing staff,” Tocker said.

Wright was also approached for comment this week but said he had nothing more to add to what the board responded with.

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