New city boss promises to carry on ethical leadership
It was “tumultuous, exciting, daunting, challenging, but I have learnt to survive”. These were the words of new city boss Johann Mettler in describing his past year at the helm of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.
As he prepares to lead the administration of the Eastern Cape’s economic heartbeat for the next five years, he has learnt a few valuable lessons, the most important being that when you are in charge of an R11-billion operation, everybody wants to be your friend.
“Nothing could have prepared me for this year . . . It was also frightening sometimes because I would have to sit and make decisions that affect not only many people, but it involves a lot of money,” Mettler said in an interview on Friday.
“This place was actually sick. It was a case of you have to fix something – you’re going after a lot of people. There are a lot of interests that you are threatening and, as an administrator, to be set up is very easy.
“I just need one deviation not to be approved – just one – and it ruins you and it can happen so easily.
“I learnt during this year to survive. It’s treacherous.
“Everyone wants to meet you. Everyone wants to go out for lunch or dinner with you.
“I would then say ‘I pay’, or I would have tap water, or I will just watch people eat and say, ‘Talk, I’m not having anything’.
“Once you’re in a position like this, people just want to say ‘I’ve met him’, or ‘We’ve had lunch or dinner’.
“The name dropping is probably the worst,” Mettler said.
He was appointed by the council on Thursday after it backtracked on its previous decision to hire Vuyo Mlokothi for the coveted post.
Taking up the position as the metro’s sixth permanent accounting officer since 1994, the municipality is in a much better position than it was a year ago when Mettler inherited a workforce that covered their backs, refused to sign anything and were susceptible to instructions from the outside.
“This city needed good, solid leadership, consistent and ethical leadership in order to bring it where it is now, and we have come a long way,” he said.
But it is not the big, headline-grabbing projects that excite the former municipal manager of Drakenstein Municipality in Paarl.
It is instituting a culture of getting the basics right which he marks as a highlight for him over the past year.
He recalls how something as basic as painting intersections was a painful exercise as officials would often give a litany of reasons as to why they could not do their jobs.
As an ex-rugby player at university, Mettler says he is not afraid to use his lessons in the sport – particularly intimidation – to get his staff to perform.
Owing perhaps to his intimidating character, plus his confidence or his straightforward nature, he rarely has politicians turning up at his office to order him around.
“When I do see them, I tell them I’m an administrator – I can’t sort out your stuff,” he said.
Mettler often sends them to the portfolio heads or encourages them to raise motions in council.
He, however, stresses that he enjoys a fantastic relationship with mayor Athol Trollip as he did with former mayor Danny Jordaan.
So will the father of two be the first administrator to last a full five-year term?
“Certainly, I intend to do what I’ve always done which is to run a tight ship, a clean ship, to deal with matters as they come,” he said.
“Obviously, we all make mistakes, but if you do make a mistake, own up to it and be open about it, and say how you are going to deal with it.
“If it’s a really serious thing, you should’ve known better, but still, you own up to it.
“So, if I say I look forward to five years, I say it within that context.”
Mettler plans to move out of his rental apartment and invest in property.
And although he has yet to set foot on one of Port Elizabeth’s beaches – a revelation he concedes is shocking – he has grown to love the city.