Snow as sparse as good mayoral candidates

Snow in Dunedin! Well, a very light smattering on some of the hills. There’s a few sparse patches here at home, at about 100 metres. There’s  very cold wind, and it’s 3.2 degrees outside at present (up a degree from an hour ago). But it isn’t unusual to get cold snaps here at this time year. The high for today is predicted to be 11, but up to 16 tomorrow and 19 on Saturday. Variety is normal.

The northern motorway has been affected with trucks stopped on the Leith Saddle at 300m.

(Update – traffic was moving by 7:15 am)

And where people live there’s barely a smattering.

The snow there is as sparse as good candidates in the local body elections.

There are 14 people standing for mayor with none standing out as a good prospect.

The two apparent front runners, multi-term councillors may or may not be the best of an uninspiring lot.

Aaron Hawkins seems to have been a hard working councillor and I think deserves getting back on council, but is fairly hard left and is standing officially as a Green party candidate. He’s been a strong promoter of the grossly underused cycle lanes tacked onto the side of the busiest streets in the city (the state highway), and on other cycle lanes it’s unusual to see cycles.

He was recently accused by first term councillors as treating them as juniors – Race heats up as mud flies online

Cr Hawkins triggered the exchange by publicly questioning Cr O’Malley’s decision to endorse Cr Lee Vandervis, during a candidates’ meeting in Opoho last week, as his second pick for the mayoralty.

Cr O’Malley hit back on Sunday, accusing Cr Hawkins of attempting “character assassination” during an election campaign.

He went further, claiming Cr Hawkins had “blocked or sabotaged” every one of Cr O’Malley’s attempts at progressive initiatives over three years.

“He is part of a bullying and controlling group which have frozen out all the new councillors that came on in the last election and even referred to us as junior councillors for the first two years.”

Cr Hawkins denied the claims and fired back, accusing his colleague of promoting “baseless suspicion”.

The exchange divided supporters, as Cr David Benson-Pope weighed in to accuse Cr O’Malley of being motivated by securing a committee chairman role if Cr Vandervis won the mayoralty.

Others – including Cr Andrew Whiley and candidates Mandy Mayhem-Bullock, Scout Barbour-Evans and Richard Seagar – all backed Cr O’Malley.

Scout Barbour-Evans went further, contacting the Otago Daily Times to say Cr Hawkins’ bullying behaviour was one of the reasons the candidate resigned from the Green Party in April.

“Hawkins being a bully goes much further than within council … His signature move is the cackle every time certain people speak. Within the party I was one of those people.”

Lee Vandervis was second in the last mayoral election so must rate a chance, but he is best known for opposing things and getting into trouble for allegedly abusive and bullying behaviour. I know from personal experience he gets agitated easily. Working together with a council would seem to be out of character for him. He’s just clocked up the 12th complaint against him this term.

ODT: Complaint made against Vandervis

Dunedin city councillor and mayoral candidate Lee Vandervis is the subject of a fresh complaint, after becoming embroiled in another verbal altercation with a Dunedin City Council staff member.

The councillor already has 11 complaints against him this term.

The Otago Daily Times has been told by several sources Cr Vandervis received a parking ticket last week, and went to the council’s customer services reception to complain it was unfair.

While he was there, an exchange with a female staff member descended into shouting by Cr Vandervis, the ODT was told.

Voting may be as sparse as the snow, with ‘who the hell do I vote for?’ probably being the most common question asked.

It seems to be a real problem with both local body and national politics these days. It’s something that seems to attract more and more career politicians, and less quality candidates.

 

City Council surge of secret meetings

The Dunedin City Council is having a lot of ‘workshops’, or meetings with the public not only excluded but also not advised about. They avoid public notification saying no decisions are made at the ‘workshops’ so they are not classified as meetings, but decisions councillors make must be informed by these secret meetings.

And this move towards secrecy is a common council problem around the country.

ODT:  What goes on behind closed doors? More DCC ‘workshops’

Dunedin’s elected officials are increasingly discussing major issues behind closed doors.

Since October 2016 the Dunedin City Council has held 48 workshops, none of which have been publicly advertised.

Figures released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show they are also being held more often.

In the year to July 31 this year the council held 31 more workshops  than in the previous two years combined.

Subjects covered included the council’s $860 million 10-year plan, the $15.8 million Mosgiel pool project, the central city plan and freedom camping.

Under the Local Government Act, councils need to publicise all official meetings and make agendas publicly available.

But as no decisions are made during the informal workshops, they are not classified as meetings.

Other local councils publicise  workshops and some  open them to the public, but many do  not.

Mayor Dave Cull has campaigned on transparency and public engagement, but seems to be doing the opposite. This looks like deliberate avoidance of open democracy.

Cull is also president of Local Government New Zealand.

A leading local government academic says the informal meetings, also known as workshops, exacerbate the disconnect between councils and the public.

Massey University senior lecturer Dr Andy Asquith said secrecy was bad for local democracy and when someone stood for public office they should expect to be scrutinised.

When the public and media were excluded, people had no way of knowing what their council was doing, he said.

“The fundamental problem with local government is people don’t know what councils do, or what councillors do or who they are and they turn off,” Dr Asquith  said.

The use of workshops was widespread across councils and there would only be a change if the Government decided to make  changes to the Local Government Act, something it had been hesitant to do, he said.

So this isn’t just a Dunedin problem.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said councillors were presented with such a large amount of complex information, it would be impractical to try to absorb all of it during one council meeting.

There was no risk public debate would be stifled because of the increasing use of workshops, he said.

That’s a remarkable claim.

If the public doesn’t know what councillors are discussing and being told then public debate must be at risk – the public can’t debate what has been kept secret from them.

Cr Lee Vandervis said while some workshops were valuable, others were a “muzzling exercise” and he had stopped attending many.

“Some of them are good but many are being used to stifle debate and a lot of decisions are precariously close to being made or certainly coming to consensus, as Mayor Cull likes to say.”

He has often clashed with Cull, being a rare Dunedin councillor prepared to publicly challenge the mayor and council.

Media commentator and University of Auckland academic Gavin Ellis said the effect of workshops was to reduce the level of public debate of issues which were of public interest, whether it was intended or not.

There were already sufficient provisions in the Local Government Act safeguards which protected sensitive information discussed by councillors, so there was no need for the increasing use of the meetings.

Mr Ellis said the Dunedin City Council was not the worst offender, but the increase should worry anybody who cared about accountability and open government.

Unfortunately it isn’t unusual for politicians to do the opposite of what they say they will do on transparency, but that doesn’t excuse a surge in secrecy.

The default position should be that meetings or workshops be notified and to held in public.

This surge in secrecy sucks.

Defamation: councillor v mayor

The acrimonious relationship between Dunedin City councillor Lee Vandervis and mayor Dave Cull continues with Cull being served legal papers on a Dunedin Street yesterday in  defamation proceedings.

This is a further sign of the degree of dysfunction in the Dunedin council.

ODT: $500,000 claim against Cull

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is vowing to defend a $500,000 defamation claim, after being served with legal papers while walking down the street yesterday.

Mr Cull was handed the documents by private investigator Wayne Idour near the corner of Bath and lower Stuart Sts yesterday morning.

The documents related to a defamation claim filed against him in the High Court at Dunedin by Cr Lee Vandervis earlier this month.

Mr Cull and Cr Vandervis were both reluctant to comment in detail when contacted, but both expressed regret the step had been taken.

But one or the other must have not been reluctant to go to the media over the serving of papers, unless a reporter just happened to have witnessed it. It’s likely that someone went public deliberately.

Mr Idour said when contacted he had planned to serve the papers on Mr Cull in the council’s Civic Centre building, but had seen the mayor passing by while sitting in Sugar Cafe.

“I was in there, having a coffee and talking, where I go most mornings, and he was walking rather fast down Stuart St. I saw him and shot out.

“I just took the time to explain what they were and handed them discreetly to him. He looked a wee bit shocked.”

Mr Idour said he was acting as “process server”, under a barrister’s instructions, and not working for Cr Vandervis.

Just a chance serving is possible but seems a bit unlikely. Serving the papers in public and then the media finding out seems a bit suspicious to me.

The serving of legal papers was followed last night by Cr Vandervis’ decision to release a copy of his statement of claim to media.

The document confirmed Cr Vandervis was seeking $250,000 in “general damages” and another $250,000 in “exemplary damages”, plus costs.

The claim followed a heated exchange during a Dunedin City Council meeting last year, when Cr Vandervis claimed to have paid a backhander to secure a council contract in the 1980s.

He was labelled “a liar” by Mr Cull and ejected from the meeting after suggesting he had given Mr Cull “personal evidence” to back his claim.

In May, both men claimed a report by internal auditor Crowe Horwath, examining the backhander claims, backed their positions.

Cr Vandervis then threatened to “double the damages” after Mr Cull stood by calling him a liar in the wake of the report.

And this is where it has ended up, serving papers in public.

The ODT understands the council had insurance to protect ratepayers from the cost of claims against elected representatives in their council duties, although it was not yet clear if a claim resulting from Mr Cull’s comments would be covered.

Ratepayers could still be left to pick up the bill for associated costs, including legal bills, should Mr Cull lose, the ODT understands.

Ratepayers pay in two ways – picking up some of the bill for this spat, and continuing to have a dysfunctional and acrimonious council.

Both Cull and Vandervis have indicated they will be standing for mayor and for council again this year.

But this reflects very poorly on both of them and on the Dunedin City Council.

I think that this obvious and ongoing inability to work together raises serious doubts about the suitability of either for serving the public on council in either capacity.

It’s time voters looked for elected representatives who don’t allow personal animosities to dominate their work for council and for Dunedin.

Disillusioned with city council

One term Dunedin City councillor Hilary Calvert is disillusioned with what she claims are undemocratic agenda driven practices in Dunedin City and won’t be standing again. She also took a shot at mayor Dave Cull.

Calvert was an ACT MP for about a year, taking over from David Garrett when he resigned in 2010.  She stood for Dunedin mayor and council in 2013 and was elected a councillor.

ODT: Disillusioned with council

Dunedin city councillor Hilary Calvert announced yesterday she will not stand in this year’s elections, but not before taking parting shots at some of her colleagues and Mayor Dave Cull.

She said she was unable to make a difference in a council dominated by councillors “whose focus is on carrying out activities for the benefit of the planet and on advising central government on how they may go about their business, not ours”.

I think that one of the best ways to make a difference is as an elected councillor, and standing for mayor again would give her the opportunity to highlight the problems as she saw them, but she has chosen not to do that. She also chose not to stand again for Parliament in 2011.

“This preoccupation has been at the expense of the proper and transparent governance of the city.”

She took aim at what she said were “covert meetings” of councillors and staff before councillors went through “the role play of consulting ratepayers, only to ignore their views”.

“The council meetings held in public are therefore largely irrelevant.”

Cr Calvert (61) said the big issues for ratepayers – cycleways, fraud, what council-owned companies were doing, and maintenance of mud-tanks – were “never on the agenda of council meetings until a rearguard action happens after the problems are identified by others”.

“Unfortunately, I cannot foresee this changing. For me enduring council as some kind of disingenuous spectator sport is unsustainable.”

Unfortunately if no one stands up to undemocratic processes then they are likely to continue.

If Calvert had stood again she would have had a very good chance of being re-elected as councillor. She was the highest polling candidate for council and came second to Cull in the mayoralty.

There is a danger that the Green influence in council in Dunedin will be strengthened this year if strong candidates with alternate views don’t stand, and an existing public profile is almost a necessity.

On her allegations of covert meetings, Cr Calvert said the sharing of thoughts and understanding of issues often happened at workshops and briefings that were not public.

For example, the second generation district plan process went to workshops, and if councillors had concerns they would tell staff. If something was going “where some councillors would not like it to go” that discussion was not public.

Councillors with other views did not have the opportunity to discuss them in public.

Once a public council meeting took place, such policies were “fairly much in completed form” or could not be challenged.

“By that stage it’s almost a done deal.”

If that is true – and from what I’ve observed there may well be some basis to her claims – then claims by the mayor and some elected councillors of adequate consultation in the last campaign ring hollow.

I have seen a number of examples of jacked up apparent public support for things that the council does.

Asked if having green-leaning councillors was the will of voters, Cr Calvert said green concerns were the focus at the expense of local concerns “which we are not short of”.

Voters chose the current mayor and council, but it can be debated whether the council put the will of voters ahead of their own agendas.

The issue of parking space losses because of cycleways was one example, where residents took a petition to the council “but we didn’t take a blind bit of notice of them”.

“I don’t think when people voted the current council in that’s what they were anticipating.

There has been a lot of angst about the preference given to more cycleways and less car parks, especially when existing cycleways are not well utilised.

For example car parks were converted into cycle ways on both sides on Anzac Avenue. I travel there frequently, and cyclists don’t. It is unusual to spot a cyclist.

It will be interesting to see how much of an issue this is this election.

Calvert also had words for Mayor Cull.

Cr Calvert also took aim at Mr Cull, saying it was “quite clearly not a good position to be disagreeing with him”.

“You could find yourself discouraged from continuing, either quite actively or passively, to ask questions”.

Disagreements between Cull and another councillor, Lee Vandervis, have raged throughout this term to the extent that disciplinary action has been taken against Vandervis (whose city heart is in the right place but can be a bit hot headed at times).

Cull stood for the mayoralty last election and won easily (Calvert came second, Vandervis came third) and intends to stand again both for the mayoralty and for council this year.

I stood for both council and mayor in 2013 to see how things worked and yeah, I have some major concerns, but the reality is that without an existing public profile or a political party to promote you,  it’s difficult to attract media attention or votes amongst a crowd of candidates.

Most voters know little about the council or candidates.

It will be interesting to see whether there’s a backlash against ‘green-leaning’ voters or whether they strengthen their grip on Dunedin.

Dunedin Citifleece report confirms gobsmacking laxity

The Deloitte report on the vehicle 9and other) fraud at Dunedin City Council confirms a gobsmacking laxity in the council financial systems and staffing oversight.

$1.5 million of taxpayers money stolen. Perhaps significantly more – they say it’s too hard to check the full extent.

Questions have been asked for years about questionable practices, and they were fobbed off. The council was beyond reproach.

It is hard to get a resource consent from the council. They have a well known reputation for stifling business development, and proposals to rezone land struggle against intransigent bureaucrats. Talk of fiefdoms and agendas within the council are common.

But when it came to systems and oversight within the council was unforgivably lax.

The blame is all being aimed at one person, the ‘Citifleet Team Leader” (perhaps that should be Citifleece) Brent Bachop, who died suddenly just days after being confronted. No suspicious circumstances regarding his death, many suspicious circumstances regarding his dealings within the DCC.

DCCDeloiite1Well over a hundred vehicles still on the Council asset register had been sold over the previous ten years. Too a variety of people who knew they were getting a bargain, and many of home paid cash or check directly to Bachop or paid into his own bank account.

This fraud didn’t happen without a willing market, at the very least.

DCCDeloitte2A number of gobsmacking control failings allowed Bachop to get away with this. And that’s just the vehicles. Able to sell over a hundred vehicles (the ‘high risk’ number was 152) without anyone else noticing anything wrong with the asset register. Over a ten year period.

And that wasn’t all.

Use of an unrestricted fuel card to purchase personal items including soft drinks, packets of chips, milk, chocolate biscuits,  bread and petrol for personal use – $102,908.

He bought a trail bike for $7,333.33 with council money that never appeared on the asset register and was never registered as owned by the council.

Cash withdrawals for topping up car park pay stations – $104,800 unaccounted for.

An un-named person was given a parking ticket in 2007 using a Council vehicle. Reported and no known follow up. Staff regularly observed person in Council vehicles during Council work hours. Person had use of Council car for the six months up until discovery of the fraud in May, and petrol and $3020 of repairs were paid by council in that period.

The openness of some of the abuses are as gobsmacking as the lack of systems, oversight or checking the many ‘red flags’.

As a Dunedin ratepayer throughout this period I’m appalled.

A number of changes have taken place and we have been assured that nothing like this will happen again. But no one has yet been held to account.

A dead man looks like being responsible in a big way. But he was allowed to get away with it by many others.

DCC: Deloitte Report Released

Redacted report: www.dunedin.govt.nz/deloittereport

Radio NZ:

ODT: $1.5m fraud: ‘Red flags were ignored’

ODT: Fraud: Weak council culture cited

ODT: Bachop at ‘centre of’ other issues

ODT editorial: DCC fraud: a salutary lesson

ODT Councillors waffle: Findings disappoint most councillors

What if? Dunedin: Vandervis: Deloitte and Police Citifleet investigations

Received from (councillor) Lee Vandervis
Fri, 19 Dec 2014 at 11:54 a.m.

Deloitte and Police Citifleet Investigations – information I believe should be public in the public interest.

What if? Dunedin: DCC: Deloitte report released on Citifleet #whitewash

I knew Brent personally and was shattered when he [died]. Whilst I am disappointed he was clearly guilty I cannot believe he was the only person involved. His death seems to be the opportunity for Council to draw a line under this matter and move on. One wonders what would have happened had Brent been held to account in a court of law. It is hard to believe that a few Council employees and purchasers of these vehicles would not have gone down with him. From what I am reading the whole fraud was committed by Brent and basically no-one else knew a thing about it. Even the most naïve of us knows that cannot be true. It is clear that if you were in the know and wanted a cheap car, Brent was the man to talk to. In conclusion, spare a thought for Brent’s family, his wife, his children, his parents. For them this nightmare goes on, they have lost Brent and yet the pain, grief and search for answers to why continues.

Radio NZ: Council under fire after fraud report

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the only employee involved in the fraud was Mr Bachop.

“Deloitte have concluded that there was no other staff member that benefited financially from the fraud,” he said.

“There were control failures and responsibilities but it was clear there was only one perpetrator in the council.”

Deloiittes didn’t establish that at all.

Deloitte also found severe failings at the city council over the 11-year period, saying a number of aspects of the council’s culture allowed long-term fraud.

It said the processes for accounting for and monitoring fixed assets were severely deficient and there was little oversight of Mr Bachop.

Mr Cull admitted there were serious failings.

“Deloitte’s review has identified control failures – lamentable ones, appalling ones – and anything that was detected, anything any of those control failures that were identified are either being dealt with or have been dealt with now.”

Dunedin City Councillor Lee Vandervis said he tried to blow the whistle on the scam years ago.

“Most of the issues in the Deloitte report had been known about for many years. Certainly as far back as 2011 and nothing was done about it.”

Lies and the Dunedin mayoralty

In a televised mayoral forum current mayor Dave Cull accused me or councillors of lying about claims of Greater Dunedin councillors working together.

I believe the evidence shows that Cull is trying to blatantly mislead the public about his Greater Dunedin ‘group’, about their motives and what they have done during the current term – in other words, he appears to be the one who is lying.

Dave Gooselink asked the forum:

To Dave Cull firstly, you’re leading the Greater Dunedin team in council and also standing in this election, do you think it would be good for council to be under the majority control of one political grouping?

Dave Cull:

I need to make it clear that Greater Dunedin’s only purpose is to get good people on to council, we don’t have a role the rest of the time, we don’t exercise a role the rest of the time, this term I’ve run a united collegial council inclusive of everyone, and the ticket we run on is for the election and not for the term.

This term, after one term as councillor, Cull was elected mayor standing for Greater Dunedin. That’s democracy. But it’s worth noting that his Greater Dunedin colleague Chris Staynes was appointed deputy mayor after one term as councillor, ahead of councillors with far more experience.

The Greater Dunedin website home page contradicts itself and Cull.

Greater Dunedin is not a political party and our elected councillors are not bound to vote together.  They are free to vote according to their own best judgement on each Council issue.  They do, however, work cooperatively to make the best decisions for the future of the city.

That clearly states they work cooperatively.

Our candidates see six key priorities for the city as we head into the next trienniun.

And that spells out common policies. Ironically their first priority is contradicted by their

We’re focused on engaging with residents proactively, openly and transparent.

Dave Cull has blogged on the ODT election page: Dave Cull: Only the best is good enough

In the 2007 elections I came onto Council with fellow Greater Dunedin candidates Kate Wilson and Chris Staynes.

We three were the only new Councillors elected. In the 2010 elections, when I became Mayor, Jinty MacTavish and Richard Thomson, again Greater Dunedin candidates, were the only new faces.

During this term, all five of us have delivered on the promises we made in 2010: financial prudence, more transparency, constrained rate rises, controlled debt, accountability, a vision of a sustainable city: the list goes on.

We have led the Council in turning around the way it operates.

The collective ‘we’ being prominent. ‘If it quacks like a party it’s a party.’

Back to the Dunedin Television forum. Hilary Calvert said:

I think it’s sort of an oxymoron to say that we’re standing on a ticket but once we get we will no longer have a ticket connecting is.

Either you’re a group, or you’re not a group, and if you support independent good people, who ever’s standing you want good people, they don’t support any of the rest of the people that are standing, they only support their ticket.

Cull:

They weren’t good enough.

Cull doesn’t think the rest of the candidates were good enough to be considered for his group. His blog post again:

It’s imperative that the current Greater Dunedin Councillors are all re-elected to maintain continuity of positive effort.

It is also critically important for the city, that the new faces around the table are the very best quality candidates available.

For the sake of Dunedin, please support Greater Dunedin candidates and our belief that only the best Councillors and candidates are good enough to guide our city forward.

If he is returned as mayor does that mean he will think no other councillors but his Greater Dunedin Councillors are good enough to be considered for the top jobs and most important committees?

Greater Dunedin’s sole purpose is to identify, promote and support good candidates onto Council.Greater Dunedin is promoting four new candidates for Council at this election: Mike Lord in the Mosgiel-Taieri Ward, and Irene Mosley, Letisha Nicholas and Ali Copeman in the Central Ward.

Each of them has carefully and thoughtfully signed up to Greater Dunedin’s principles of transparency, respect and a future-focused vision.

Each of them supports the progress made in this past term and the need to maintain the positive momentum.

Signed up to Greater Dunedin’s principles. Cull’s claim that ‘They are free to vote according to their own best judgement on each Council issue’ is totally at odds with published joint principles.

More from Cull at the forum:

I endorse these people because they’re good, it’s very difficult , It’s Greater Dunedin’s ambition to promote good people. It’s very difficult for people to get onto council. It is Greater Dunedin’s ambition to promote good people, to give them some profile, to give them a leg up into council.

After that, they’re independent.

Of course we consult with each other around the council table, decisions have to be made by a majority and you want to do it on the right grounds…

According to Greater Dunedin principles and policies?

…but that’s the end of it.

This all sounds duplicitous to me. They’re supposedly independent but they have common principles and they work together, and they owe their place in council to the ‘group’ that selected them and promoted them.

Why can’t they just be honest about what looks obvious? Why do they try claim something in one breath and deny it in the next?

I said next:

An outgoing councillor told me he’d seen Greater Dunedin caucusing in the current council..

Cull interjected:

That’s a lie in that case, because we don’t and never have.

Someone else closely involved with council confirmed with me that “confirm on number cases GD members  appear to frequent locations together that look like caucusing/meeting”. And yesterday yet another person said the same thing.

At the second of the televised forums candidate Andrew Whiley:

It was interesting at Opoho Church the other night [a council candidate forum] where one of the Greater Dunedin councillors turned around and said he looks forward to working with like minded people.

Cr Lee Vandervis:

They claim independence. They operate basically how the mayor wants them to, mostly in terms of voting.

They do vote individually on some items, especially some of them. There are several councillors, the deputy mayor would be a classic example, who I can’t ever remember voting against whatever the mayor said even if he was arguing the opposite the minute before.

Who is lying?

Should Dunedin have a mayor that accuses councillors of lying but is the one who seems to be deliberately misleading the public?

It’s worth repeating…

In the 2007 elections I came onto Council with fellow Greater Dunedin candidates Kate Wilson and Chris Staynes.

We three were the only new Councillors elected. In the 2010 elections, when I became Mayor, Jinty MacTavish and Richard Thomson, again Greater Dunedin candidates, were the only new faces.

This election Greater Dunedin is standing nine candidates. A majority in council is eight, with the mayor having the casting vote.

It should be noted that next term new rules take effect that give the mayor greater power:

(APNZ) Mayors throughout the country will become more powerful under new law changes set to come into action after October’s local elections. The changes will allow mayors to appoint their own deputies, set the structure of committees and appoint committee chairpeople.

I have asked on Dave Cull’s Facebook page:

Dave, can you pledge that if re-elected mayor that you will select a deputy mayor and committee chairs purely on merit without favour for your own group of councillors?

And please explain how this would work considering you have said:
“For the sake of Dunedin, please support Greater Dunedin candidates and our belief that only the best Councillors and candidates are good enough to guide our city forward.”

I await his openness and transparency.