Be Careful With Words

Bruce Cotterill, the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, has been voicing his opinions again; this time on the popular news website, Stuff. I haven’t spoken to Cotterill since the collapse of West Auckland Aquatics, four years ago. Although that whole thing turned out badly for me and the club, Cotterill’s handling of a difficult situation seemed to be honest enough.

Sadly I cannot say the same for his handling of events that have occurred since then. The manner in which he has played cat and mouse with the complaints made about my coaching and the Marris Report into the complaints has been shameful. He has ignored a strong recommendation of the Privacy Commissioner. In my opinion he has lied to a Stuff journalist. He has encouraged Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) to fight a case before the Human Rights Review Tribunal. And through it all he has never spoken to me or communicated in any other way. Four years of silence is all Cotterill has delivered. And from his subordinate, Steve Johns, I have received two lawyer’s letters and one email – in four years, unbelievable, especially when there is a claim for quarter of a million dollars at stake. Good management? I don’t think so.

It is possibly off the point but I did think Cotterill got an easy ride from an investigating Stuff journalist. Now I discover Cotterill is an opinion writer for the same website. Fake news to benefit one of their own? Sure looks that way.

Let’s compare what Cotterill wrote on Stuff with my experience of his actual behaviour. There seems to be a serious disconnect between what Cotterill says and what he does. Here are three quotes taken from his Stuff report.

For all the right reasons, it’s now OK okay to speak up. If you’re a victim of someone else’s bad behaviour you can speak out. In fact, you now have permission to. And in a world driven by social media, you will get an audience too, and that’s OK.

Cotterill says, “For all the right reasons, it’s now OK okay to speak up. If you’re a victim of someone else’s bad behavior you can speak out. In fact, you now have permission to.” Why doesn’t he add the qualification, “But if you do I will fight you through the Privacy Commissioner. I’ll defy the Privacy Commissioner decision when he finds me in the wrong. Then I’ll fight you through the Human Rights Review Tribunal.” There is something Cotterill and SNZ are trying to hide in that Report and I’m going to find out what it is. You see, Cotterill has told me, “It’s now OK to speak up.” So, with his permission, that is exactly what I intend to do.

Iconic corporate titans from around the world are experiencing equally iconic downfalls. And all because they did something wrong that would once have gone unnoticed,

I have included this quote, not because it has any specific relevance to my privacy case, but because of its stunning lack of morality. What on earth does it say about Cotterill when he complains that the downfall of his corporate mates is not because they did something wrong, but because they got caught. How dare Cotterill complain that improved detection methods are to blame for making executive crime more difficult. If that is his attitude I pray to God he is never responsible for any organisation that has my money. I’m guessing the corporate crimes of the current Trump organisation get a Cotterill pass, because they haven’t been caught yet. Wells Fargo Bank, on the other hand, is bad because they got caught with 500,000 fake credit card accounts and had to pay a huge fine. Getting caught is no one’s measure of morality.

Cotterill may have worded this badly. I hope that’s the reason. Because if it is not there is no way he should be President of New Zealand’s national swimming organization.

As leaders, we don’t have much choice. When you think about it, irrespective of the issue, it is usually best dealt with promptly, firmly and fairly.

Over the years I have seen plenty of these instances. And my advice is always the same.

When your organisation is confronted with such a complaint or accusation, move forward proactively and respond.

Make sure the issue is treated with an appropriate level of priority. Get all the facts, and agree a response with your affected people. Don’t risk leaving it to others.

If you don’t have time to attend to every step yourself, check in with those charged with doing so every day; or twice a day if necessary. Ensure that you do what you say you will do. And most importantly of all, ensure that people on all sides are treated fairly.

This bout of Cotterill blather does affect my privacy case. Consider some of the claims Cotterill makes.

First, “best dealt with promptly, firmly and fairly.”

That is what he says. The reality of his actions is a four year legal fight, open defiance of the Privacy Commissioner, violation of SNZ Rules and decisions condemned by the law of the land. Cotterill’s words are well divorced from the reality of his organization’s actions.

Second, “move forward proactively and respond.”

Can you believe it? Cotterill says, “Move forward proactively and respond,” and the reality is that this saga has dragged on for three years and in that time I have had no response from Cotterill ever – not a phone call, email or letter. If that’s Cotterill’s idea of “move forward proactively and respond.” I’d hate to see what would happen if he decided to drag his feet, to take his time.

Third, “Don’t risk leaving it to others. If you don’t have time to attend to every step yourself, check in with those charged with doing so every day; or twice a day if necessary.”

If I’m reading this right Cotterill is telling me he has checked with Steve Johns about the progress of my complaint “every day; or twice a day if necessary.” Over four years that means my complaint has been discussed between 1460 and 2920 times. At least that is what Cotterill is telling 68,000 Stuff readers has happened. Let me apologise in advance but seriously Cotterill, I don’t believe you. And if a complaint that has found your organisation guilty of breaching my privacy has been discussed 2920 times nothing much has happened. It looks to me like you should be doing something about a 2920 times problem CEO.

Fourth, “ensure that people on all sides are treated fairly.”

This final hot air claim makes me angry. The Privacy Commissioner told Cotterill I was not being treated fairly. The law says I am not being treated fairly. The Report’s author says I am not being treated fairly. SNZ rules say I am not being treated fairly. And still Cotterill makes a public claim that fair treatment is high on his list of priorities – not if this case is anything to go by, it is not.

If my case is any measure of Cotterill’s behaviour, everything he says needs to be taken with considerable caution. There is not much here that links Cotterill’s words with the reality of his behavior.

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