[If you missed it, Part 2 here]
If the 150 chairs in the hall at the Premier Hotel had been filled, it’d have been one of the most successful meeting of Tourism members. Instead, it got halfway…not only a terrible disappointment considering the importance of the meeting but because there are over 600 members. Of that, no more than a dozen asked questions whilst many muttered their approval or disapproval to those alongside them rather than to all. It was as if members were waiting to decide where to align themselves rather than wanting to encourage debate for the betterment of Knysna Tourism. Overall, their ‘participation’ was a letdown but i will mention some of the questions raised by the strong minority further into this blog.
A presentation had been prepared by the Board and staff. It was shown on a big screen with pauses for clarification made by Tourism Board Chairman, Greg Vogt, and the labour consultants, Willie Kruger and Leigh Cole. Henceforth, i mix quote and paraphrase:
As a Tourism Board, they are the employer of the CEO of a Section 21 company. They are responsible for his actions on our behalf as Tourism members. They could not account for various governance processes. When attempting to take an in depth look, they were met with resistance by the then CEO, Shaun van Eck. Consequently, the CEO was suspended. He asked for this to be termed as “special leave” which the Board agreed to. The CEO was repeatedly granted the opportunity to address the Board in writing but chose not to. He requested the laptop he’d been using so as to assist him in preparation of his defense. This was granted.
The presiding officer of the disciplinary inquiry found that all allegations were proven. All the matters were found to be serious and the sanction was accordingly.
K&S, the labour consultants, tried to reach an amicable settlement between both parties. This included Shaun being offered 3 months salary. Van Eck refused.
A disciplinary hearing was undertaken, rather than an arbitration, as the CEO was found to have failed to fill his role and to have committed gross misconduct. The disciplinary process also accorded van Eck the right to approach the CCMA if he was still unhappy.
Complaints from Members
The repeated complaint, emphasizing what had occurred in the press briefing, was that all we’d heard was procedure instead of details of the allegations themselves. Greg Vogt’s response was that the Board represents its members and that if they didn’t follow procedure they would not fulfill their roles but, instead, later incur the dissatisfaction of their members. Willie Kruger stated, “That once the matter has been concluded, there will be no restriction on information.”
It was brought up that van Eck had been a good marketer so why should he be dismissed. The response was that he was hired to be a CEO, not a marketer, and that he’d failed to perform according to his contract.
Lidy van Leent, the head of the KAA (Knysna Accommodation Association) expressed her support for action, saying that Shaun van Eck had not responded to her organization’s queries in the past 18 months. My many unanswered questions have waited for a similar length of time. It will be interesting to discover if the Board intends addressing them soon.
What have we learned from this situation?
- The Tourism Board, that has in the past been fractious, rose in union for the common goal of dismissing Shaun van Eck. They embraced responsibility. Not only will they have gained experience in procedure and a better understanding of the inner workings of Knysna Tourism but will have hopefully realized the gravity of their job and the results that can be achieved by working together.
- Knysna Tourism is a Section 21 company. Greg Vogt said that this episode will result in a serious restructuring.
- The Board includes Deputy Mayor Michelle Wasserman, Councillor Stephen De Vries and Councillor Esmé Edge. With their approval of this action, the doors have been left open for the municipality’s support of Tourism. The importance of this cannot be underestimated as negotiations will soon begin regarding the renewal of the Service Level Agreement that expires in June 2013. In the past this has comprised at least half of Tourism’s budget.
Where to now?
- Conciliation meeting with the CCMA will be held on December 18 2012. If no agreement is reached, it then goes to arbitration which could delay a result until April. It is not expected to but heaven forbid that it then go to labour court as that could take years.
- That the case has gone tot he CCMA is an irretrievable relationship breakdown between the Board and CEO i.e. a new CEO has to be chosen. The Board meets on Friday, December 7 2012, to decide how next to proceed.
- In the day to day runnings of Knysna Tourism, if a staff member can’t answer a question, the query gets passed to the Chairman of the Board. He then passes it onto the appropriate Board member as responsibilities have been split between them.
The KAA and Lizemari Hooker, manager of the Russel Hotel, stated their support for the Board. When Vogt asked if the Board had the support of the Knysna Municipality, Deputy Mayor Michelle Wasserman and Councillor Stephen de Vries nodded yes. I’ve been very critical of the Board in the past. The proof will be in many puddings but i find myself supporting them too. It is a laudable action that they’ve undertaken. It shows leadership, an attribute Knysna has sorely lacked.
Vogt was emphatic in that the Board had been unanimous in everything they’d done. In itself, that’s remarkable considering the Board was handpicked by Shaun van Eck. Besides my own experience with Shaun van Eck, that says more to me about the validity of the charges than anything else.