A life-time interest in politics has taken Ken Spagnolo from a career in IT into the bowels of Parliament as chief of staff of the Green Party, a role he took up last December. For the previous three years, Spagnolo had been CIO and group general manager of information and communication services at Archives New Zealand. Before that, he was director of information services at the Open Polytechnic.
“I was always interested in politics, even before IT,” he says. “I grew up in Baltimore on the east coast of the US and I’ve been hooked on politics ever since the 1972 election. I was 11 at the time.
“My partner and I came to New Zealand 20 years ago to go tramping. We didn’t leave other than for a brief period back in the US in the mid-90s. We came back in 1998. We had found that New Zealand was for us.”
Spagnolo was already a member of the Green Party when the chief of staff’s job became vacant. The previous incumbent, Beth Watkins, held the role for 18 months.
The role has two parts, he says, “a normal CEO kind of role, which is reasonably straightforward” then “the exciting bit is the political management”.
“Having a management background helps, plus a feel for politics,” he notes. “I bring a systems background to the role, which you can apply in so many contexts. It’s probably the most challenging job I’ve ever had, but also the most fun. I think I was ready for this.”
Spagnolo has a staff of 20 reporting to him at Parliament — a mixture of MPs’ and leaders’ staff — and 25 others around the country. His actual employer is Parliamentary Services through funding provided to all of the parties. It was only last year that this funding was increased, which Spagnolo says was desperately needed.
It’s his job to direct the staff at a macro level. He also works closely with the party’s two leaders, Jeanette Fitzsimons and Russel Norman, as well as with the Government over various issues.
“I also deal with the chiefs of staff of the other parties.” Their roles are similar he says, with size being the major difference between the parties.
Given his background, Spagnolo has also contributed to the Green Party’s IT policy. Though it’s fair to say, he says, that IT is not the biggest area the party is involved in.
However, he says “The party is very pro-IT and wants to see it used positively to the benefit of society.
“For example, technology enables people to travel less these days. The party wants to see policies like these exploited to the full.
“The Greens have been accused of being Luddites but, in fact, we use IT in very creative ways. Our website has won several awards.”
The party communicates with its constituency primarily through its website, but has recently extended its reach through online forums, blogs and a channel on YouTube. “Facebook and those types of technologies are pretty much also in use,” says Spagnolo.
“The Green Party also has an open source focus. The party would like to see the Government do even more with that. We think it would lead to a cheaper IT experience for many people.”
So given his lifetime interest in politics, can he see himself standing for Parliament at a later election? “I’ve never seriously considered standing for Parliament. This is a really interesting role I’ve got. You get to see everything that’s going on.
“So far, the job has gone really well.”
Fairfax Business Media
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