Two mayors under SFO investigation over donations

The Serious Fraud Office, already prosecuting four people including MP Jami-Lee Ross over donations made to the National Party and investigating  donations made to the NZ First Foundation, has announced two more investigations, one into Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel, the other into Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

Stuff: Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel under scrutiny as expenses complaint referred to Serious Fraud Office

Pressure is mounting on Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel after police referred a complaint about her election expenses to the Serious Fraud Office.

The SFO said police passed on the matter of Dalziel’s expenses on Tuesday, the organisation receiving the file on Friday.

Dalziel, who defeated Darryll Park and John Minto in October to win her third term as mayor, was criticised for failing to identify donors who made significant contributions to her campaign.

Minto made the complaint to electoral officer Jo Daly in December after Dalziel’s election return listed only her husband, lawyer Rob Davidson, as a donor at a campaign fundraiser in July.

But after coming under public pressure she revealed the names of six people who donated more than $1500 at the dinner by buying auctioned wine for prices higher than market value.

All six have connections with Davidson, and many have links to China.

The mayor has also previously declined to release details of her 2016 election campaign donations, despite the timeframe for any prosecution having expired.

Dalziel is not the first mayor to have difficulties with election expenses. This month the SFO revealed it has seen a 40 per cent increase in cases involving public officials, central and local government, in the past five years.

Stuff: Auckland Mayor Phil Goff referred to Serious Fraud Office over election expenses

The Serious Fraud Office has received a referral from police in relation to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s election expenses.

The SFO said it would be assessing the matter and had no further comment at this time.

Electoral law dictates candidates can accept anonymous donations under $1500, but must disclose the names of donors who contribute more than that sum.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said he had “no knowledge of a complaint being referred to the SFO nor of any irregularities”.

In September, Auckland’s electoral officer, Dale Ofsoske, passed on to police a complaint about Auckland mayor Phil Goff’s 2016 election expense declaration.

Goff’s $366,000 fundraising auction declaration did not specify individual donations or purchases, which included the sale at an auction of a book for $150,000. The book had belonged to Goff, a former minister of foreign affairs, and had been signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Police made “a number of inquiries” before the timeframe for any prosecution expired in December, rendering them unable to progress the matter.

Ofsoske told Stuff at the time the complaint was under section 112D of the Local Electoral Act 2001, ‘Filing a false return of electoral donations and expenses’.

Pressure is increasing on changing electoral laws on donations. The problem is, the parties who benefit the most from donations decide on what the rules should be.

The Press Editorial:  It’s time to end the secrecy over political donations

There are now questions over the funding of two of our major political parties, including one that is in Government, and the mayors of our two largest cities, both of whom are former Cabinet ministers.

Even if the process is not corrupt, the secrecy and the manipulation of the rules risks eroding public trust in our democracy.

Is there a better way to fund elections? Dalziel’s mayoral challenger, John Minto, who brought the complaint about Dalziel’s donations to the electoral officer, has suggested an overhaul of donation rules within wider electoral law reform. Minto argues that all donors giving over $50 should be identified, individuals should be named rather than companies and donors should be identified at least one week before the election.

Informed voters could make their choices accordingly.

But in Christchurch, neither Dalziel nor candidate Darryll Park was prepared to do the same. Minto volunteered that he had just one donation over $1500, from the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa.

Banning donations and publicly funding candidates and parties instead is not the answer. Rather, New Zealand voters must now start to demand greater transparency.

Listener editorial: A simple way to clean up the political donations mess

The Greens have an idea for cleaning up political donations, starting with “an independent citizens’ assembly” because, they say, “it’s clear that Parliament is incapable of [making] meaningful reforms to itself”.

Here’s a different idea for cleaning up political donations, which is simpler and more cost-effective than the Greens’ proposal: obey the law. Everyone else must, whatever their line of work, and political parties should, too.

Just because parties and individuals sometimes fall foul of electoral law does not automatically mean the law needs “reform”…

Good call. It just means that the current laws need to be applied.

The current prosecutions and investigations are likely to have a significant impact on potential donors as well as parties and politicians. They have been warned.

A robust democracy needs political parties to be sufficiently funded to actively participate in elections. That is not cheap and parties rely on donations to foot it in an election campaign. If the $15,000 limit above which a single donation must be declared – and the $40,000 from one donor in a year – is considered the wrong level, then parties can make a case to set it higher or lower. Whatever the limit, the incentive to give just under the cut-off point will always apply to those who would prefer, for whatever reason, not to have their names disclosed.

The ability to solicit donations is a reasonable way for parties to pay for their activities, and the ability to donate is, equally, a reasonable way for New Zealanders to support their preferred party. The alternative is state funding. Nothing suggests that would find favour with the public.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigations involving National and NZ First, perhaps all parties need to reconsider the training they provide to MPs, staff, officers and volunteers about the laws affecting donations.

I think the biggest problems seem to be at the top of parties and campaigns.

It’s hard to know whether the sudden splurge of SFO investigations is a sign of more questionable donation dealings, or more complaints, or more response to complaints by the SFO. It should at least serve as a warning too parties and candidates in this year’s election.

Applying the current laws may be all that is needed to ensure far better compliance.

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.

 

Tamihere/Fletcher Auckland mayoralty bid: “Shake it up and sort it out”

As widely indicated since yesterday, John Tamihere has launched a bid for the Auckland mayoralty, alongside current councillor Christine Fletcher. If Phil Goff stands for re-election this will be a challenge to him, especially if it splits the left leaning vote and a credible centre or right leaning candidate also contests the election.

Stuff:  John Tamihere and Christine Fletcher team up to challenge Auckland Mayor Phil Goff

Two-term Labour MP, former talkback host, and social agency leader John Tamihere has launched his bid for the Auckland mayoralty.

Tamihere has teamed up with former National MP and Auckland City Mayor, and current councillor, Christine Fletcher, in an unusual move to campaign with a ready-made deputy-mayor.

Tamihere pledged to “open the books and clean the house”, and said it’s not clear how ratepayers money is being spent.

Tamihere has called for more democratic control over public assets and wants to appoint councillors to the boards of all council-controlled-organisations such as Auckland Transport. That would require a law change.

The only endorsement so far on the campaign website, is from Tamihere’s running mate Christine Fletcher.

After promising yesterday…

There is nothing more on twitter yet, but he has a presence on Facebook:

The launch:

The campaign website: JT For Mayor


1. Open the Books and Clean the House

Aucklanders pay billions in rates and charges, but where does all that money go? Auckland has ended up with the most council staff ever, the biggest wage bill ever – and yet the most out of touch and secretive management ever. I will open all the doors and open all the books. We will find out who the billions are being paid to, what it’s being spent on, and why.

2. Return Democracy to Neighbourhoods

Too much power in our city is controlled by faceless managers in central Auckland. Control of the city must go back into the hands of the people. I will return local resources and decisions to local elected boards and their communities.

3. Bring Public Assets back under Democratic Control

Three quarters of Auckland Council’s assets are controlled by bureaucrats with no accountability. I want all Council owned organisations under democratic control. As a first step I will appoint elected councillors on every Council business board to ensure openness and oversight.

4. Crack down on Waste and Incompetence

Aucklanders deserve accountability and high performance from their Council. I will establish an Integrity Unit to investigate corruption, unacceptable conduct, and incompetence. This unit will report directly to me as your mayor. Aucklanders can be confident that their serious complaints will come to my desk for action.

5. Proper Partnership with Central Government

Aucklanders pay a huge part of the government’s costs. So why are Aucklanders forced to pay an extra fuel tax when no other region does? The present mayor should never have agreed to that. The huge infrastructure pressure on Auckland is the direct outcome of Central Government’s unplanned immigration, and Auckland ratepayers shouldn’t have to pick up the entire bill. As the new mayor representing a third of the country, I will expect a more equal partnership especially with transport and housing.

Goff intervenes, Auckland venue banned, speaking tour canned

Two Canadians reported to be promoters of controversial far right views planned on visiting and speaking in New Zealand, but after mayor Phil Goff banned them from an Auckland city venue they canned the tour.

I haven’t heard of them or seen or heard anything they’ve said, so can’t judge them on their views.

NZH: Mayor bans controversial Canadian pair from talking in Auckland Council venues

The promoter of a controversial Canadian pair accused of hate speech has cancelled their tour of New Zealand after Auckland Mayor Phil Goff denied them access to city venues.

Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux hold far-right views on topics ranging from feminism and immigration to Islam.

The Canadian couple had been due to speak next month at the council-owned Bruce Mason centre on Auckland’s North Shore.

Pressure had been mounting on Immigration NZ to deny the pair entry with members of New Zealand’s Muslim community and the Auckland Peace Action publicly among those expressing concern.

This seems to be a growing problem around the world – campaigns to block non-liked views or peoeple with particular reputations.

This could well be a slippery slope against free speech.

But promoter David Pellowe said the tour was instead cancelled when Goff moved to bar the pair access to Auckland Council venues.

So Goff decides who should not be able to speak at Council venues?

Free speech isn’t an absolute right. Private venues can choose who hire their facilities and speak at them.

It’s a bit different with publicly owned and managed facilities. And especially with mayors deciding who can’t use them.

This makes them too vulnerable to speech bans by pressure group and adverse publicity – politicians too often do what they think is best for themselves, rather than for the greater good and fundamental speech rights..

Shadbolt, Southland Times no guilty of defamation

Invercargill mayor says that a defamation case in which he was found not guilty the local government equivalent of the David Lange defamation case.

The case pitted a city councillor against her mayor (and the local newspaper).

RNZ – Defamation trial: Not guilty verdict good for councils – Shadbolt

A jury on Friday found Mr Shadbolt and the Southland Times newspaper not guilty of defaming Karen Arnold in a series of columns in 2014 and 2015.

Ms Arnold had argued she was portrayed by the mayor in the columns as unprofessional and a leaker of confidential documents.

Mr Shadbolt said the verdict was highly significant for freedom of speech.

“If we really want to criticise our mayors or if our mayors want to cristicise their councillors, it certainly gives a lot more room for them to do that and I think as a result it will lead to much healthier debate around the council table.”

Mr Shadbolt said his case was the local government equivalent of the David Lange defamation case 20 years ago.

Stuff (which includes the Southland Times): Defamation proceedings against Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt and Stuff fail

Invercargill City councillor Karen Arnold had sued Shadbolt and Stuff, formerly Fairfax Media, for defamation over comments made by Shadbolt in four columns published in The Southland Times in 2014 and 2015.

She claimed a number of defamatory meanings could be drawn from the columns, which discussed her position on council matters, including the council’s trading company Holdco and a proposed kākāpō display.

The meanings alleged by Arnold included that she was dishonest, had leaked confidential documents, had colluded with a defunct ratepayers group and had acted inappropriately by engaging in debate about the “kākāpōrium” after declaring a conflict of interest.

The jury found Arnold had proved some of the alleged meanings, but did not find any of these to be defamatory. However, after the verdict, the judge granted her lawyers’ request to make a court application to determine whether the verdicts for the first three columns were legally sound.

Arnold is considering whether to appeal.

Stuff editorial director Mark Stevens said he was pleased with the jury’s decision.

“We always felt that at the heart of this case was the very important editorial principle of freedom of expression and it’s great for the industry and the craft of journalism to have this outcome”.

Speaking outside the courthouse Shadbolt said he was “absolutely relieved” by the decision, which came three years after the statements in question.

During the trial his lawyer had warned a decision against his client could have a chilling effect on political speech, however Shadbolt said the jury had sided with “freedom of speech and freedom of expression”.

“It’s a landmark case and it’s also a defence not just of sincere conversation, but of satire, humour, being able to enjoy politics, which I’ve always tried to do.”

Shadbolt said the decision had confirmed those in local government could “express ourselves”, but rejected the working relationship between him and Arnold would be strained as a result: “I think both parties will be very keen to get back … to work”

That working relationship must have changed after this.

In his closing address, Stuff’s lawyer Robert Stewart asked the jury if the meanings alleged would be evident to a reasonable reader or to someone “who sees conspiracies that don’t exist”.

Arnold’s lawyer Peter McKnight said the meanings were clear. He told the court Shadbolt “loathed” his client, that there was no factual basis for his statements and he was simply “out to give Karen Arnold some decent swipes”.

The sentiment was denied by the Shadbolt camp. His lawyer Felix Geiringer said that while it was true the pair did not “get on”, he was within his rights to criticise her and otherwise he was giving his opinion on local political matters.

Some big name out of town lawyers there. It won’t have been a cheap trial for any of the parties.

Arnold alleged Stuff was irresponsible and reckless in the way it published the columns, in part because only one staff member – long-term Southland Times features editor Mike Fallow – checked them without referral to editor Natasha Holland or a lawyer.

This, in McKnight’s reckoning, was “totally irresponsible”. However, Stuff’s chief executive Sinead Boucher said she would have personally published the columns and the checking process they went through was appropriate for a modern news organisation.

Geiringer told the jury freedom of speech was particularly important in this case. He argued there would be a chilling effect on political speech and publishers’ willingness to provide a platform if the jury found against his client.

Their decision would have, he said, a “substantial impact on the society we live in”, whereas McKnight contended it was “very important that we as a society protect the reputations of politicians from unwarranted attack”.

There is a well known precedent that specifically applies to criticism of politicians.

The case provided a basis for the Lange defence – a legal precedent that allowed news organisations to report harsh criticism of politicians, provided they were not reckless or motivated by malice – to apply not just to parliamentarians, but local body politicians.

TEARA: David Lange, defamation and media freedom

In the October 1995 issue of North and South magazine, political scientist Joe Atkinson suggested that former Prime Minister David Lange had been too lazy to take on the difficult aspects of that job. The accompanying cartoon played with the article’s suggestion that Lange suffered from ‘false-memory syndrome’ in his portrayal of himself as prime minister – as well as his comments about hotel breakfasts in New Zealand.

David Lange, defamation and media freedom

Lange considered the article (and cartoon) to be defamatory and took Atkinson to court in 1996.

After the case went through a series of courts, the Court of Appeal eventually decided that journalists had a defence of ‘qualified privilege’ – meaning that they could criticise politicians on the basis of their ‘honest belief’. The findings in the case have given New Zealand media greater freedom to comment on the performance of politicians.

The Southland case is different in that it was a councillor versus the mayor.

 

Local Body deserters

There’s been a number of people who have only recently been elected to local body councils talking about putting themselves forward to stand in the general election.

Apart from the cost any by-elections will impose on the councils, this shows either a shoddy lack of commitment to a three year term they sought from voters less than half a year ago, or a cynical using of their positions as a stepping stone to national politics.

here are some I have heard of just over the last couple of weeks.

Auckland: Denise Lee seeking Maungakiekie MP nomination

Maungakiekie-Tamaki Councillor Denise Lee hopes to bag a National Party nomination and replace outgoing Maungakiekie MP Peseta Sam Lotu-liga when he retires later this year.

Lotu-liga announced in December he would not be seeking re-election of the Auckland seat prompting Lee to jump at the opportunity.

She was re-elected as Maungakiekie-Tamaki Councillor last year after securing the majority of votes.

“When you get selected twice as councillor, and the last time with the majority of votes, it is a good sign that you’re a good representative to serve the people well,” Lee said.

A good representative doesn’t jump off their three year council gig after a few months just because of political opportunism.

Hastings’ mayor Lawrence Yule to seek Tukituki nomination

On Friday he announced he was planning to seek the National Party’s nomination for the Tukituki electorate, after 15 years as mayor or Hastings.

A large number of locals, along with members of the National Party had encouraged him to run, he said.

“I did not expect Craig Foss to resign, now I have to deal with that opportunity. I have been pretty humbled by the number of people who have approached me to stand.  I think I can make a difference in Wellington, for the people of Tukituki, and for the National Party,” he said.

Deal with an opportunity for himself and stuff the people who voted him as mayor, and will have to fund his ship jumping if he succeeds.

Wellington:  Paul Eagle looks at running in Rongotai as Annette King heads for list

Less than three months after becoming Wellington’s deputy mayor, Paul Eagle is eyeing up a seat in Parliament.

Eagle said he was considering calls from Labour Party members to contest Rongotai, the Wellington electorate seat long held by the party’s deputy leader, Annette King.

If he did contest Rongotai, he would stay on as deputy mayor  – though he may drop some portfolios – but said there would be “a resignation immediately” if he won the seat.

So he would ditch some of his council responsibilities to suit his own ambitions, essentially using his deputy mayor salary to tide himself through a national election campaign and only resign if how won the seat.

How convenient for him – and inconvenient and expensive for his council.

And there’s two Green councillors here: Nelson byelection could be parting gift from councillors bound for Beehive

An $80,000 byelection could be on the cards for Nelson if two city councillors buzz off to the Beehive.

Second-term councillor Matt Lawrey is the Green Party candidate for Nelson in this year’s general election, while third-term councillor Kate Fulton is still waiting to hear if she’ll win her bid for the West Coast-Tasman candidacy.

If either win the electoral seats, or are placed in Parliament as Green Party List MPs, Nelson City Council will foot the bill for an $80,000 by-election.

So Lawrey is already committed to being a part time councillor, part time general election campaigner.

Councillor Matt Lawrey said it might be time to revisit the legislation that governs how city councillors are replaced.

“[It] does raise questions, and maybe it’s time we looked at changing the system so in the event of a councillor dying or having to leave the role, the next highest polling candidate gets a seat at the table,” Lawrey said.

“That would certainly be a cheaper and more efficient way of doing things.”

But Lawrey is not “having to leave the role”, he is trying to switch jobs mid term because it suits him. A cheaper way of replacing councillors might help him justify his lack of commitment, but it’s not good practice.

But Chief Electoral Officer at electionz.com Warwick Lampp said the legislation ensured fair process in cases where the next highest polling candidate received significantly fewer votes than the winning candidate.

“I think you could legitimately argue that the community didn’t want that person and then they’ve [been given] them… It has to go back to the democratic function with a completely new election, where anyone can stand,” Lampp said.

The highest polling failed candidate could have got hardly any votes.

And it’s not very fair on candidates who put time and money into standing in the local body elections and just miss out for successful candidates to desert at their convenience.

Are there any others who have announced their wish to desert their elected position just  a few months in to a three year term?

Choosing a pig-like mayor?

Chinese born former Labour MP Raymond Huo (2008-2014) tweeted:

@RaymondHuo

Is this real? “Not afraid of divine opponents but a mayor like a pig. Choose wisely…” (Not a verbatim translation)

PalinoChineseHoarding.jpg

Keith Ng picked up on this and did some further translating.

Keith Ng Retweeted Raymond Huo

More verbatim translation: “Not afraid of a god-like opponent, most afraid of choosing a pig-like mayor make a smart choice; vote mayor, vote John Palino”

There’s not really any room for misinterpretation on the “god-like opponent” or “pig-like mayor”.

I don’t see how you can accidentally mistranslate something into god-like or pig-like.

I suspect he has a Chinese copywriter with very weird ideas, or a fairly weird sense of humour.

Weird for sure.

Wellington mayoralty

What’s up with Celia Wade-Brown pulling out of the Wellington mayoralty? Was she ever in it this year?

One the Celia for Mayor website:

Celia moving on after twenty years in local government
POSTED BY ON AUGUST 05, 2016

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has announced today that she will not be standing for election in the upcoming local body elections.

 “After 20 years of successful local government service, 6 years as Mayor and 14 years as a councillor prior to that, I am ready to move on and contribute to the community in a different capacity,” said Ms Wade-Brown.

She then goes on to praise herself and Wellington City.

After which there are a number of praising endorsements from a variety people that are more the sort of thing you would expect from someone campaigning for office.

This seems late for the incumbent mayor of a major city to decide not to stand for re-election.

Cosgrove to work for Mayor Goff

Duncan Garner tweeted this morning:

Hat tip; Clayton Cosgrove to work for Phil Goff when he becomes Mayor of Akld. 

I heard that somewhere a while ago too, so maybe this is a thing.

In April Cosgrove announced he wouldn’t stand again at the next election. He lost the Waimakariri electoratein 2011 and has been a list MP since.

RNZ in April: Labour’s Clayton Cosgrove to leave politics

He said he wanted to take on new challenges and opportunities and was looking for opportunities in the business sector. He did not rule out resigning his seat before the election.

Working for a mayor is not in the business sector. Working for an ex-fellow MP sounds like jobs for mates.

I’m not aware of Cosgrove having much of a connection with Auckland.

Lining Cosgrove up alongside Goff makes it look less like the independent bid for the mayoralty that Goff has tried to portray, and more like an attempted Labour Party takeover.

Goff is probably still hot favourite to win the Auckland mayoralty but Goff + Cosgrove gives his opponents more of a shot.

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.