ODT 2012.2

Editorial, photos and pictures of persons related to articles are those published by the ODT and available from its online content at the links provided. Break out quotes and voting information amended in table format are my tweaks.

Council tight-lipped over leaky home settlement


By Chris Morris on Fri, 27 Jul 2012

The owners of a more than half-million-dollar leaky home in North Dunedin have reached a settlement with the Dunedin City Council after more than a year fighting for “a way out”.

Council staff have declined to discuss details of the agreement, including whether a mistake has been acknowledged or if public money was spent on the deal.

Deborah Wai Kapohe, husband Michael Beazley and their two daughters had been seeking a settlement since discovering flaws in their $550,000 house at 36 Leithton Close, Glenleith, in late 2010.

Their house was declared a leaky home in April last year, following an inspection by a Weathertight Homes Resolution Service assessor.

The couple bought the house after checking it had a code of compliance certificate issued by the council, certifying it met Building Code requirements.

They blamed council staff for signing off on the home, despite design flaws the couple believed should have been picked up.

Their fight for a resolution has dragged on since, but council chief building control officer Neil McLeod yesterday confirmed a settlement had been reached at mediation talks held in Dunedin last week.

The talks involved Mr McLeod, Ms Wai Kapohe and Mr Beazley, representatives from other parties involved in the claim, and “lots of lawyers”, Mr McLeod said.

He declined to divulge any details, saying a confidentiality agreement prevented discussion of the deal by any of the parties.

Cr Lee Vandervis said he believed the refusal to release details might be to protect the council from further claims.

“If we have made a serious mistake, and have had to pay serious money as a result, I certainly want to find out what that amount is.

“I want to make sure that we have learnt appropriately from what sounds like possibly an expensive education.”

In 2010, Mr McLeod confirmed the council had reached settlements totalling $182,000 with two other leaky home owners after council building inspectors failed to pick up on faults that led to leaky-home problems.

Asked yesterday why the latest settlement could not be made public, Mr McLeod would only say: ‘This one is confidential. That is the difference. I simply cannot speak about it.”

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who met the family to discuss their concerns last year, was unaware, until contacted yesterday, a settlement had been reached, but said he was “delighted” it had been resolved for the family.

Ms Wai Kapohe and Mr Beazley, who are understood to be living in the North Island, did not respond to calls or emails.

Mayor backs extra powers plans


By Chris Morris on Thu, 26 Jul 2012

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is backing plans to grant New Zealand mayors extra powers and financial clout.

The proposal was among the Better Local Government reforms proposed by the Government, now before a select committee and being considered by councils across New Zealand.

The changes would see mayors granted new powers to appoint deputy mayors, create committees and appoint their chairmen.

They would also be explicitly expected to lead policy, plan and budget development initiatives, and would receive new financial resources to fund the work.

The new powers, if approved, would be in force from the 2013 local body elections.

Mr Cull told the Otago Daily Times he supported the changes, which would promote better governance and give mayors the power to match public expectations.

Mayors ran on a platform, but once in office were “just one more vote”, he said.

“I get emails from people saying ‘you need to control your councillors’ … At the moment there is no enhanced ability on the part of the mayor to do anything, really.

“You’re on a hiding to nothing, really. You’re all expectation and no ability.”

At present, Mr Cull could recommend candidates for deputy mayor and committee chairmen, but councillors voted on whether to accept his suggestions.

The proposed changes could see Mr Cull acting more as an “executive mayor”, backed by a “cabinet” of committee chairmen he would appoint.

The new powers were among changes considered by Dunedin city councillors as they signed off on the council’s submission on the reforms at yesterday’s finance, strategy and development committee meeting.

The submission noted councillors “in general” supported granting Mr Cull the power to appoint his deputy mayor and lead policy, plan and budget development.

However, opposition from councillors meant the submission was “silent” on whether he should also have the power to appoint committee chairmen.

“There are councillors who feel that the ability to set up committees and appoint chairs could be misused by an autocratic mayor, and I understand that concern,” Mr Cull said.

“They might feel the mayor might only appoint cronies.”

Mr Cull said the issues needed to be considered as one package, as the extra powers were needed to lead the development of plans, projects and budgets.

“The enhanced powers are the enablers to do that. There’s no point in having one without the other.”

Asked if the community should also have a say, Mr Cull said anyone could make a submission on the local government reforms.

The council’s submission also raised concerns the reforms’ attempt to control council spending and debt levels would instead worry lenders, meaning councils would face higher interest rates for new loans.

Councillors at yesterday’s meeting were also worried by proposed changes designed to streamline council amalgamations.

Existing rules required 10% of voters in an area to petition for change to trigger the process, and most councillors agreed that was too high.

However, Cr Jinty MacTavish worried the suggested change – allowing any body or group with an interest to apply to start the process – went too far the other way.

“I can think of one person around this table who would do it rapidly,” she said, looking at Cr Lee Vandervis.

Cr Vandervis, who has repeatedly called for the Otago Regional Council to be absorbed by the city council, said that was exactly what was needed.

“What we need is a revolution in local government … [or] the citizens of Dunedin will pay an absolutely terrible price.

“Why would you want to make it difficult?”

Councillors included in the submission a request for a more specific trigger for amalgamations – such as a 5% threshold – noting 10% was too high.

Water upgrade brings out annoyance at Government


By Debbie Porteous on Thu, 26 Jul 2012

Being forced to spend $600,000 to make perfectly good water comply with national standards while the Government criticises councils for overspending illustrates the contradiction of proposed local government reforms, Dunedin city councillors say.

They said the requirement to upgrade drinking water at Outram – water that made no-one sick now – was a perfect example of a lack of understanding on the part of the Government about local government spending and the sorts of financial decisions councils were forced to make every day.

The comments were made as councillors at this week’s infrastructure services committee meeting considered a report on the upgrade from the council’s water department, in the context of the Government pushing reforms aimed at controlling local government debt levels and limiting rates increases.

The report said water from the plant sometimes did not meet drinking-water standards because it was too cloudy and the required amount of UV light could not penetrate it.

The preferred option was to upgrade the plant to a level where the water satisfied the standard most of the time, which, at a cost of $577,900 from the existing budget, was much cheaper than completely upgrading the plant so it complied with the standard 100% of the time.

The level of upgrade chosen meant Outram water would be non-compliant, requiring a boil-water notice to be issued, no more than 14 days a year.

Acting water and waste services manage Laura McElhone confirmed the water that would be produced during the “boil-water days” would be as good as, or better than, what was being supplied from the existing plant, so presented no increased health risk.

So, rather than it being a health issue, the reason for a boil water notice being issued would simply be non-compliance with the drinking standards.

Cr Kate Wilson said she could not see the sense in having to meet a standard when it was not going to increase people’s health, and she was concerned that people throughout New Zealand were being made to pay for expensive systems that provided no real benefit.

Council general manager operations Tony Avery said the same argument came up every time upgrades or reticulated systems were considered, but reticulation was better from a public health point of view and provided surety for water users.

Cr Staynes argued the council was effectively upgrading something that did not need it.

“The thing that sticks in my craw is that here’s a water supply that’s not causing a problem, but because the Government changes the standard, we are being forced to pay an extra $500,000. And what does the Government say to us?

That we are spending too much.”

Cr Jinty MacTavish wondered if Mayor Dave Cull would consider writing to Local Government Minister David Carter to show him how councils were forced every day to make decisions, such as this one, that their communities did not necessarily need or want.

But Mr Cull said he intended to present the council’s submission on the proposed reforms to the select committee, and would use this case as one example illustrating the contradiction in the proposals.

Cr Lee Vandervis said he did not disagree with upgrading the plant, but if the council had not extended reticulated systems beyond the city’s urban boundaries, it would not be in this position.

Finance boost for stadium operating firm


By Chris Morris on Thu, 26 Jul 2012

The finances of the company running Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium look set to improve after cost-cutting and a cash injection from the Dunedin City Council.

Dunedin Venues Management Ltd’s revised statement of intent – setting the company’s objectives for three years to June 2015 – were presented to councillors at yesterday’s finance, strategy and development committee meeting.

The document showed the company was still expecting to make annual losses throughout the period, but of much smaller amounts than forecast earlier this year.

In May, when DVML revealed a $1.9 million loss for the first six months of the 2011-12 year, the company also projected losses totalling $3.3 million for the period.

The revised document, accepted by councillors yesterday, now forecast losses in those years totalling $873,000.

In part, that was due to a review of operating costs carried out by the company in recent weeks, as well as expectations of growing revenue, DVML chief executive David Davies said.

However, the improvement also largely reflected the decision by councillors to contribute another $750,000 a year to the DVML budget, council finance and resources general manager Athol Stephens told yesterday’s meeting.

That decision came during the council’s budget deliberations earlier this year, after details of DVML’s financial position were revealed, and DVML had also been reviewing its own budget, Mr Stephens said.

The decision to revise DVML’s original statement of intent was made after revelations of the company’s losses, future forecasts, and the need to increase council funding to offset the company’s deficits earlier this year.

Statements of intent were supposed to be approved by June 30, but Audit New Zealand had supported an extended timeframe for DVML – together with Dunedin Venues Ltd, which held the stadium assets and debt – to allow revised documents to be prepared.

However, the new documents could be short-lived, with another revision needed once a review of DVML and the stadium operation was completed by Dunedin City Holdings Ltd later this year.

Committee chairman Cr Syd Brown said the review was expected to lead to a “new model”, requiring new statements of intent.

Cr Lee Vandervis asked Mr Davies whether it was likely large losses would continue under the new model.

Mr Davies said it was difficult to preempt the results of the DCHL review, and it would be more appropriate to answer that question once the review was completed.

“I don’t know what they [DCHL] have in mind at the moment,” he told the meeting.

However, use of the stadium would change as DVML staff became more familiar with it and were in a better position to tailor its operation to the needs of its users, he said.

Councillors, with the exception of Cr Vandervis, voted to accept the revised statements of intent, following the discussion.

DCC backs fracking moratorium


By Chris Morris on Wed, 25 Jul 2012

The Dunedin City Council fractured into two camps before narrowly deciding to join calls for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, yesterday.

Councillors at yesterday’s planning and environment committee meeting voted 7-6 to support calls for a moratorium on the controversial oil and gas extraction process.

A moratorium would result in a freeze on new fracking in New Zealand until the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, completed an investigation into the practice later this year.

The decision by councillors meant Dunedin would add its voice to calls from the Christchurch City Council and four regional and district councils covering Hawkes Bay, Waimakariri, Kaikoura and Selwyn.

A report by council sustainability adviser Maria Ioannou to yesterday’s meeting said fracking was used in some parts of New Zealand, including Taranaki and Waikato, but not in Otago.

The practice involves drilling deep wells and injecting high-pressure quantities of water, fine sediment – usually sand – and chemicals into rock, causing them to crack open and release hydrocarbons stored within.

Use of the practice in the United States had soared since 2005, and spread to other countries including New Zealand, but had since been banned in countries including France, Bulgaria and South Africa, the report said.

Environmentalists worried about the potential for toxic fluids, or the hydrocarbons, to escape and contaminate underground water aquifers.

Speaking yesterday, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said he supported calls for a moratorium, given the geological volatility of the country.

Shell representatives, on a recent trip to Dunedin, had acknowledged the potential to use fracking effectively in some parts of the world, but also the risks associated with the practice in other areas.

“I think a precautionary approach is the only sensible one,” he said.

Cr Jinty MacTavish said residents in Taranaki, where the technique was already used, were among those expressing “fairly significant concerns”, and Dunedin would be right to join calls for a moratorium.

The call would mean more than just supporting a short-term moratorium, she believed.

“It’s an indication to the Government that this is something that we as a community have some concerns about and would like them to take seriously.

“We value our water resources very highly here.”

Cr Richard Thomson said there were sufficient concerns about fracking to justify the council taking a “precautionary approach”, despite some “extreme” claims on both sides of the argument.

His views also won support from deputy mayor Chris Staynes and Cr Teresa Stevenson, while Cr Kate Wilson said the effort invested in extracting dwindling fossil fuels should instead be used to develop renewable energy sources.

Other councillors were not convinced, with Cr John Bezett arguing a moratorium would not happen anyway, while Cr Lee Vandervis worried a moratorium would “kill stone dead” the use of fracking in areas in which it had been successful for years.

Farmers given go-ahead on study


By Debbie Porteous on Wed, 25 Jul 2012

A group of farmers has gained the Dunedin City Council’s support to undertake a pre-feasibility study on using water otherwise wasted from the town supply to irrigate their farms, despite council staff being opposed to the idea.

“We’ve got to have a council that says how can we do this, rather than no we can’t,” Cr Neil Collins said, directing his comments at a council water department staff report discussed at the infrastructure services committee meeting yesterday.

Staff recommended councillors not support an information-gathering exercise by the group of Rocklands and Hindon farmers, who want to investigate if water in excess of the city’s requirements could be run off from the Deep Stream and Deep Creek water pipes running through their properties, and stored for irrigation.

Asset strategy team leader Tom Osborn said the staff recommendation was because experience told them they could not see the idea feasibly happening, so could not justify council costs for investigating it.

Their experience was the aged pipes did not react well to changes in pressure, which could cause cracks in the line, acting water and waste services manager Laura McElhone said.

Asked by Cr Lee Vandervis if an irrigation take could be feasible when better valve systems were in place in the future, she said there would probably still be other vulnerabilities in the pipeline.

Cr Teresa Stevenson was concerned about setting a precedent with the consent, and asked if there were other options for using the excess water, to which Ms McElhone said staff were looking into it, but preferred not to take unneeded water.

Moving a new recommendation to support the study at no cost to the council, with no promise on future action, and a direction for staff to provide the information the group required, Cr Syd Brown said the study presented no threat to the council or its operations.

“.. . [the farmers] think there is an opportunity, they’re happy to pick up the tab, to do the investigation to satisfy themselves and to see whether the opportunity is there or not. We should be enabling our citizens to grow their economic base.”

Cr Chris Staynes agreed saying it was an opportunity to carry out some early investigation into whether a renewed pipeline in the future might be able to supply town and farmers in a private-public partnership.

Cr Richard Thomson said he supported the study and was disappointed with the staff’s paper on the matter, which he felt presented reasons why the study should not happen, instead of talking through possible solutions.

Mayor Dave Cull said the city needed to change its view on the potential of water and as long as the investigation took into account the effects on current infrastructure and supply it should go ahead.

Crs Stevenson and Jinty MacTavish supported the initial study, but called for a high-level report from staff on other ways the excess water supply could be used.

Councillors were spilt six-all on staff drafting an options report, after Cr Vandervis abstained, but the vote was lost after committee chairman Cr Andrew Noone used his casting vote against it, as it was an additional cost that could not be justified.

Farmer Marty Deans said the group was pleased the council had seen the potential.

“Now, we can get the information out of council we need, which was not forthcoming before.”


Dunedin ‘a mini Greece’


By Ellie Constantine on Wed, 11 Jul 2012

Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis was accused of “electioneering” when he faced up to the Mosgiel Taieri Community Board yesterday.

After the publication of an opinion piece in the Otago Daily Times in May, in which Cr Vandervis called board meetings a “charade”, some chairmen “seatwarmers”, and the paperwork they generated only fit for his log burner, the board invited him to a meeting to gain an understanding of what it did.

Cr Vandervis accepted the invitation, but spent the meeting checking emails and searching the internet on his computer.

He told the ODT he was glad to have brought it because the meeting was not worthwhile, although the informal chat he had with the board afterwards was, as the parties “covered a bit of ground”.

Cr Vandervis told members his view was “widely held by councillors”.

The community board structure, in which members had no delegated authority, was a “straitjacket” and the money paid to boards would be better spent on community projects.

“I’m sorry that I’ve upset people in playing to the media … at least this way we get the issue in the public arena. We are facing a crisis in the city council; it’s a mini Greece in terms of what we spend and what we can afford.

“At some point, we’ve got to realise we can’t afford 15 councillors; we need seven.

“We can’t afford a regional council; we need to absorb it.

“We can’t afford community boards; we need community committees.

“I’m trying to get a situation where Dunedin city can actually pay its councillors … at a level where they can actually serve as full-time councillors, and the reason we can’t do it here is because we are paying 36 members of community boards out of the same pot. If the city was flush, this wouldn’t be an issue,” Cr Vandervis said.

Deputy chairman Barry Barbour agreed boards were “muzzled”, but accused Cr Vandervis of “electioneering through the media”, as the board had no control over how much it was paid and the work it could do.

Other members argued their role was an important link between community and council.


Letter to the Editor,

Dear Murray,
I am grateful for any coverage of DCC issues and the ODT distinguishes itself in providing wide DCC coverage.
I would be even more grateful if the following letter might be printed to add the reasons I gave for my opinions.
Kind regards,


The ODT ‘Dunedin a mini-Greece’ article [p4 11/7/12] correctly quotes some of my opinions, but leaves out important reasons and facts. Like the fact that poor Greece spent squillions building stadiums for the 2004 Olympics which currently have weeds growing through them highlighting the madness that now sees Greece broke. The fact that the Mosgiel/Taieri Community Board takes $57,000 in payments for board members but distributes only $10,000 toward Community Projects, the fact that there are 6 such boards around Dunedin doing the same, all maintaining an unaffordable hangover from the 1989 Amalgamation. The fact that Council could devolve power and decision-making to our Community Boards but doesn’t see value in doing this, and the fact that Community Boards are an extra link in a too-long-chain of DCC decision-making.

A newspaper article can’t fit everything in, but some of these presented reasons for my opinions would have been informative.

Cr. Lee Vandervis


Community boards seen as good conduits of information


By Debbie Porteous on Sat, 7 Jul 2012

When Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis publicly opined paid community boards should be scrapped in Dunedin and the salaries paid instead to councillors, his words were largely met with a roar of disapproval.

Board members were not held accountable, Cr Vandervis said.

Apart from a few motivated chairmen who provided “a little useful feedback”, members were simply “warming seats”, were bogged down by regulations, created needless paperwork, and what they did could just as effectively be done by motivated members of the community, free of charge.

In the Clutha district, he said, volunteer community committees did the same job as the community boards.

Coincidentally, the two boards in the Clutha district recently narrowly survived the chop during a review of representation, after intense debate among councillors divided over their existence.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said both arrangements seemed to work well. What was important was those communities’ issues were brought to the council.

“It’s horses for courses.”

The only difference between the two was boards were legislated and more structured and committees were more driven by individuals, so their activity fluctuated.

The council listened to both equally and considered both to be excellent conduits of information to and from the council, he said.

He had no personal preference as to which was better, and communities were entitled to have what they wanted, provided it did not take any money from the council’s budget.

“Hey, if they want to pay for it, they should go for it.”

Clutha communities that have boards pay for them through ward rates.

Mr Cadogan thought the cost to each ratepayer in the relevant wards was roughly $80 a year.

It was possible that extra rate made the community more interested in what the board was doing as well.

In Dunedin, the city council receives from the remuneration authority a total annual wages pool of about $835,000 for elected members. From that, community board members are paid a total of about $350,000.

Board chairmen are paid an annual salary of about $16,332, and members about $8166.

Unsurprisingly, those directly involved with Dunedin’s community boards disagreed with Cr Vandervis’ opinion.

Of course some elected representatives would be more active than others, longtime community board member and Dunedin city councillor Colin Weatherall said. That was the nature of democracy and the case on every local authority.

With regard to the pay, it was unlikely anyone was in it for the money, he said.

He estimated for each item on a board meeting agenda, the more active members would spend another 10 hours on board business. Chairmen probably did about double that.

It translated into “a pretty poor hourly pay rate, really”.

As far as the value a community board added, that came down to their passion and how far they were willing to push for what their community needed.

At present, five of Dunedin’s six boards have no decision-making power other than the distribution annually of $10,000 in discretionary grants.

The Otago Peninsula Community Board has some decision-making power on roading and reserve matters.

Boards would be even more effective if they were delegated more power, albeit in a well-managed manner that did not result in too much localisation of decisions, Cr Weatherall said.

“They have the ability to dance lightly and don’t have the same constraints as council.

They can have an adversarial approach, if that’s the way they want to go. They are basically legalised agitation groups.”

Local representation could be reviewed at any time in a poll of electors, but he believed community board arrangements would be better dealt with as part of the next wider review of representation, which is to happen before the 2016 local elections.

Personally, he would like to see the city head towards a supercity-style structure with councillors voted in at large, and community boards retained with increased delegations, similar to the Christchurch or Auckland models.

Whatever people chose, legislated representation should stay, Cr Weatherall said.

Pay aside, being legislated for gave a weight to matters community boards brought to the council table that they would otherwise not have.

They should not be constrained by the limits of their delegations.

“Boards have a guaranteed voice at council and I sincerely believe [the Dunedin City Council] genuinely listens to the information and requests it receives from community boards.”

Cr Vandervis is to attend the meeting of the Mosgiel-Taieri Community Board next week, at which he can expect some frank responses from members to his position.

Deputy chairman Barry Barbour said it was obvious the minimal pay rate for being a community board member did not cover the costs people had for taking the time off work or away from their families, but it at least recognised the work they did.

As for deregulating boards, it was hard for community boards to get something on the council’s agenda, let alone for groups that had no legislation backing them up.

One Otago community board that has significant delegated decision-making powers is the Wanaka Community Board.

It can make decisions on everything from car parking, street lighting and trees on council-owned land, to street names, public toilets, and recreation and reserve areas.

If the board’s statutory standing was to be removed, that would counter what it was trying to achieve using its “extremely good” delegation and relationship with the council, its chairman, Lyall Cocks said.

He believed the amount of value a community board could add was directly related to its delegations.

“It comes down to how much councils put into the relationship. It’s about getting the best use out of [community boards], and the best way to do that is give them some delegations.”

Boards meet eight times a year for about two hours a time.

A perusal of the minutes of recent Dunedin community board meetings showed boards discussed topics ranging from street names to dump beautification.

They considered requests for funding, proofed new visitor information boards for their areas, asked council staff to investigate everything from the installation of signs and seating to the maintenance of a wharf, and agreed to send letters and submissions on various plans and policies.

They heard from members of the public concerned about issues ranging from drains to mobility scooters, and requested reports and action from the council on everything from the felling and trimming of trees to roading.

They also requested information from the council on matters ranging from road widening and pedestrian safety to the supply of ultrafast broadband to their areas, and dealt with reports received.

But board members’ roles went well beyond what appeared in the formal minutes, another longtime community board member, Cr Andrew Noone, told last month’s meeting of the city council.

They spent long hours networking and dealing with individuals, organisations and groups in their communities. He noted the Chalmers Community Board had recently started recording in its minutes some of the various activities of members since the last meeting.

Boards also had important roles in retaining essential services such as primary health care and adequate policing in their areas, and were trained to assist in civil defence emergencies.

They also spent a good deal of time forming and cultivating relationships with council staff members as they dealt with many issues that never had to end up on the council table.

“So I just want to say we do value community boards and what they are doing. We do rely really heavily on boards and what they do, particularly in the outlying regions.”

Cr Kate Wilson, who has been involved with the Strath-Taieri Community Board for 15 years, added boards saved the council much money by getting things done more quickly and cheaply than the council could.

Change for community boards may be on the horizon whether they like it or not, as the Government encourages moves towards unitary councils by legislating to streamline the process for creating them.

The Dunedin City Council has already started investigating the “implications and opportunities” of merging with the Otago Regional Council.

A report from the city council’s chief executive is imminent, but regional council chairman Stephen Woodhead says he doubts the drivers for change exist yet in the lower South Island.

That may also apply to changes to community boards in Dunedin.

Cr Vandervis might be keen, but it is not clear there is any real interest from the voting public in changing Dunedin’s representation system.

At the last review of Dunedin’s representational arrangements, three years ago, the local government commission did not recommend any changes to community boards.

In fact, of those who responded to public consultation on the review, only four people suggested abolition of all or particular community boards.

Three people wanted to increase the powers of community boards.

That led the commission to observe that “there seemed to be no strong desire among the survey respondents to change the number and composition of community boards”.

It also noted it was “advised by the council that, in the main, the boards are working effectively”.


Toitu official after mayor casts vote


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 26 Jun 2012

Comments from Dunedin residents deemed as “ignorant” and “thinly veiled racism” were swept aside yesterday as Mayor Dave Cull used his casting vote to break a councillor deadlock on the addition of a Maori name to the Otago Settlers Museum’s title.

Mr Cull’s vote means it will now be known as “Toitu Otago Settlers Museum”, rather than the name being referred back to the community development committee for further consideration.

“Toitu” was gifted to the city by the museum’s Maori advisory group, to be used in conjunction with the name chosen earlier from a poll of shortlisted names, which were selected from a competition seeking a new name for the museum.

The poll found most people preferred the museum’s name to remain “Otago Settlers Museum”.

After a passionate, 20-minute debate at yesterday’s full council meeting, councillors were tied six-all in the vote on Cr John Bezett’s motion to refer the matter back to the committee for workshopping.

Cr Bezett said the issue was not the name, but the process by which it was decided. The public had come up with a clear favourite, and there was “a touch of arrogance” in the council simply changing it to another name.

Subsequent emails to councillors revealed much ill-feeling over the process of how the new name was selected, he said.

Cr Neil Collins agreed and said he felt the “whole situation” had been handled unfortunately, as did Cr Bill Acklin, who said rubber-stamping the name, given the feedback from the public, would be “quite wrong”.

But Cr Richard Thomson argued, while it was made “very clear” the most popular name in the poll might not necessarily be chosen, the committee had done so and then chosen to append another name to it.

“We have not consigned it [the name Otago Settlers Museum] to ‘the dustbin of history’, as one person suggested to me.”

“One or two” people had told him they would not like a Maori name for anything.

“In fact, a number of views presented to me were thinly veiled racism,” he said.

Cr Lee Vandervis asked if sending the matter back to the committee was just a way of trying to get a different result, while Cr Kate Wilson agreed the process was not the best, but said it was “about time we got over ourselves and allowed ourselves to acknowledge our Maori heritage”.

Cr Chris Staynes said councillors needed to step up and make a decision.

A new settlers museum deserved a new name and something that tied it to Otago, and “Toitu” did that.

“It recognises the past, it rolls off the tongue and it will bring the visitors to the museum because they want to learn about our history – our European history and our Maori history.”

He did not think the feedback councillors had received represented the majority of Dunedin residents’ views.

“In this city’s history, we [the council] have allowed a few small-minded conservative individuals to influence us in our decision-making. That should not continue.”

Mr Cull described the emails he received about the new name as “at best ignorant” and at worst “just plain bigoted”.

Using the two names recognised a more inclusive contribution to the naming process and celebrated all of the people who had settled the community, and people could use whichever name they preferred, he said.

Crs Acklin, Collins, Bezett, Syd Brown, Andrew Noone and Colin Weatherall voted to return the matter to committee and Crs Wilson, Thomson, Teresa Stevenson, Vandervis, Staynes and Mr Cull voted against, forcing Mr Cull to use his casting vote.

Cr Paul Hudson abstained as he had not attended the committee meeting.

Crs Fliss Butcher and Jinty MacTavish were absent.

Contacted after the meeting, museum board chairwoman Dr Dorothy Page said it was “lovely” the two names were going to be incorporated in the title.

“I like the word toitu, but I would never give up the Otago Settlers Museum.”

  • Voted against returning the matter to committee [6]: Crs Kate Wilson, Richard Thomson, Teresa Stevenson, Lee Vandervis, Chris Staynes and Mayor Dave Cull.
  • Voted to return the matter to committee [6]: Crs Bill Acklin, Neil Collins, John Bezett, Syd Brown, Andrew Noone and Colin Weatherall.
  • Casting vote: Mayor Dave Cull.
  • Abstained: Cr Paul Hudson.
  • Absent: Crs Fliss Butcher and Jinty MacTavish.

Plan, rates rise adopted


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 26 Jun 2012

A 4.9% rates increase was confirmed at a Dunedin City Council meeting yesterday.

The council adopted its long-term plan 2012-13 to 2021-22 and confirmed rates for the next financial year, after a consultation process that attracted nearly 1000 people wanting to have their say on the future of the city.

Crs Paul Hudson and Lee Vandervis voted against adopting the plan, the latter saying he could not support the extra $43 million net debt the council planned to borrow in 2012-13, mainly for large capital projects, including the upgrade of the Dunedin Centre and the Tahuna wastewater plant.

Mortgages to staff worth $4.5 million


By Chris Morris on Tue, 19 Jun 2012

Staff across the Dunedin City Council group have been granted millions of dollars worth of home loans sourced by the council’s financial services arm, the Dunedin City Treasury.

Figures released to the Otago Daily Times showed DCT had granted 43 loans to staff across the council and its council-controlled organisations (CCOs).

The loans stretched back 14 years and were together estimated to be worth between $4.5 million and $5 million.

DCT chief executive John Knight confirmed most had since been repaid, and the policy of granting loans ceased last year, but 13 loans – together worth $1.1 million – were still active.

Staff qualifying for the loans were offered up to 80% of the valuation of their house, based on market rates and with repayment terms capped at 20 years.

Available records for the past 12 years showed the average loan was $114,000. Many were for much smaller sums and the largest individual loan was believed to have been about $300,000.

Mr Knight defended the loans, saying they did not cost the council or ratepayers anything and any suggestion of impropriety was “absolute nonsense”.

“There’s absolutely nothing smelly about it at all. Absolutely nothing.”

Instead, the loan scheme was designed to create enough work with DCT to justify employing a part-time worker to support Mr Knight, he confirmed.

DCT was part of the group of companies under the umbrella of the council’s holding company, Dunedin City Holdings Ltd, and provided funding and financial services across the group.

Cr Lee Vandervis told the ODT he accepted the loans did not cost the council anything, but criticised the scheme anyway as “misconceived”.

“It’s just not a wise thing for the DCC to be doing, because of the perception that you are giving your own employees some kind of perks.

“It could be perceived as being part of a perk culture,” he said.

Cr Syd Brown, chairman of the council’s finance, strategy and development committee, disagreed.

He questioned the scheme after first learning of its existence earlier this year, but had been reassured when details were explained to him and he “didn’t have an issue” with it.

Neither did Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who said if staff were paying market rates, and DCT was making a margin, then “I don’t see what’s wrong with it, and I certainly don’t see it as a perk”.

Mr Knight said the scheme was offered to staff in Dunedin, and those working for CCOs buying homes elsewhere, including Queenstown.

DCT was “in the business of lending money” to other DCHL companies, and it “just seemed sensible to expand that”.

DCT’s directors wanted a second staff member to support Mr Knight because he was then the company’s sole employee, and the directors “felt quite vulnerable” about what would happen if Mr Knight fell ill, he said.

It had been hoped the loan scheme would have the part-time employee handling up to $5 million in loans at a time, but the total only ever rose to $2 million, he said.

That generated a small surplus of several thousand dollars a year for DCHL, but not enough to justify continuing the scheme.

A policy change in May last year meant no new loans would be approved, but the increased workload associated with stadium debt meant DCT’s part-time employee remained in their job, he said.

Mr Knight said he thought staff opting to take loans were attracted by having payments deducted directly from their wages and by being able to discuss matters they might not want to raise with a bank manager.

“Some of our rates were cheaper than some banks, but they were never cheaper than everybody’s.

“I looked at all banks to make sure we were competitive, but not undercutting the market.”

Details had also been included in DCT’s financial statements for “years”, and were cleared by Audit New Zealand each year.

The company had been “pretty conservative” in lending, and not all staff who applied had qualified for loans.

Of those who did, none missed payments, he said.

“The last thing I wanted to do was have to go to a staff member and seize his house, so we were pretty cautious.”

It was not clear last week whether other councils offered their staff similar schemes.

A Wellington City Council spokesman said its staff did not have access to council home loans, but could opt for 0.25% off the “going rate” in a deal offered to the council’s staff by the National Bank.

Christchurch City Council staff were not aware of any similar home loan scheme being offered, while Auckland Council staff did not respond to questions.

Local Government New Zealand and Audit New Zealand staff had no information on any similar loan schemes offered by other councils.


Silent on DCHL debt-funded dividend claims


By Chris Morris on Mon, 18 Jun 2012

Dunedin City Holdings Ltd chief executive Bevan Dodds is refusing to confirm claims the holding company is still borrowing millions of dollars to pay dividend payments to the Dunedin City Council.

Cr Lee Vandervis raised the issue at last week’s finance, strategy and development committee, claiming DCHL was borrowing $6 million of the $15.7 million dividend it expected to pay to the council for the 2012-13 year.

That prompted a warning from Audit New Zealand audit director Ian Lothian to councillors the practice of debt-funded dividends was “not sustainable in the long term”.

His comments followed a similar warning by Warren Larsen, in his review of DCHL last year, and a letter published in the Otago Daily Times by council watchdog Calvin Oaten on Wednesday.

However, Mr Dodds would not confirm whether debt-funded dividends were continuing when contacted last week.

He said he was “not commenting on other people’s numbers” and was also “not offering you mine”, although he accepted Audit New Zealand’s views were correct.

That was despite telling the ODT in August last year loans would continue to be used to part-fund dividend payments, including in 2012-13.

“How much will need to be borrowed we can’t say,” he said at the time.

Exactly when the company would cease the practice would be dependent on “some future decisions”, he said last week.

Asked if that amounted to confirmation some debt-funding of dividends would continue, Mr Dodds said he was “not sure” that could be assumed.

That would only be confirmed when DCHL accounts were released in September, he said.

However, Mayor Dave Cull said when contacted it was “probably” true some borrowing for dividends was continuing.

The Larsen report had clearly identified DCHL was unable to sustain debt-funded dividend payments, which the new DCHL board had also accepted.

Rather than going “cold turkey”, DCHL had agreed to pay its dividend for 2012-13 even if more borrowing was required, but to change policy to cease the practice after that.

There were no guarantees that could be achieved, but the message to the council was clear, Mr Cull believed.

“We’ve just got to get off the addiction as fast as we can.”

Statements of intent for DCHL’s six companies also confirmed the amount companies could spend without approval had been reduced, in some cases by half.

Mr Dodds said the “tightening up” aimed to increase DCHL’s control over spending and debt levels, but was not a response to any one investment.

Bezett calls for feedback on museum name


By John Gibb on Sat, 16 Jun 2012

The Dunedin City Council should seek further community feedback before changing the Otago Settlers Museum’s name, city councillor John Bezett says.

A reasonable case could be made for the present title and also for the proposed “Toitu: Otago Settlers Museum” name, which was backed by the council’s community development committee at a meeting on Monday, Cr Bezett said.

But it was important to allow the public a chance to express their views given “Toitu” was not among the options put to them in a recent poll, Cr Bezett said.

The council is expected to vote on the issue on June 25.

The museum is due to reopen later this year after a $40 million redevelopment.

Submissions should be called for on which name the community supported, and particularly whether the current name or the proposed new name was preferred, Cr Bezett said.

“I think that the [consultation] process was flawed. To me it was unfortunate,” Cr Bezett said.

Many people had been “very disappointed” after taking part in a recent online poll only to find that a name not listed among the eight-strong short list could now be adopted by the council.

In an informal ODT online poll which closed yesterday afternoon, 76% of votes (537) were cast against the proposed new name, with 24% (173) supporting it.

Cr Bezett, a member of the museum board, backed the present name at the development committee.

He had since received a lot of feedback supporting “Otago Settlers Museum.”

Cr Lee Vandervis, a member of the museum’s board and the community development committee, told this week’s committee meeting Toitu had the potential to be “a really strong new brand” for the council-owned museum, but yesterday said nothing is “set in concrete”.

The council was likely to want to take the wider community concerns into account on June 25 rather than making a controversial and unpopular decision, he said.

Settlers Museum director Linda Wigley, when asked about the debate, said she was “really pleased people are taking so much interest in the museum”.

The museum had received some feedback against the proposed new name, but it had also been well supported, she said.

The museum opened in 1908 and was run by the Otago Settlers Association – formed in 1898 – until 1991, when it gifted most of the institution’s contents to the city.

Until 1994, it was known as the Otago Early Settlers Museum.

Asked whether members of the association had the chance to suggest a name outside the public consultation process, Ms Wigley said the museum and association worked closely together, the association had three representatives on the board, and a workshop had been held to consider views from the association.

Asked about whether the museum’s Maori advisory group Te Pae O Mahutonga could “gift” a name, she said she was pleased they had done so.

Audit NZ warns of risks from debt, stadium


By Chris Morris on Thu, 14 Jun 2012

Rates hikes, increased debt levels or cuts to services remain a risk for the Dunedin City Council as it grapples with uncertainty over the Forsyth Barr Stadium, Audit New Zealand warns.

The assessment came in two Audit NZ reports presented to the council’s finance, strategy and development committee yesterday.

One report studied the council’s draft long-term plan for the next decade, to 2022, while the other scrutinised the council’s performance in the year to June 30, 2011.

Audit director Ian Lothian, in his long-term report, said council assumptions the stadium would cover its own costs and ensure rates were not affected remained a “high financial risk” to the council’s plans.

Stadium revenue projections were “as yet unproven”, dependent on income from rentals and sponsorships, and “still … a big assumption”, he warned.

The near-liquidation of the Otago Rugby Football Union highlighted the risks inherent in the stadium investment, he said.

Mr Lothian’s report also noted the review of the stadium and Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, launched last month, but also uncertainty over what impact potential solutions might have on the council’s plans.

The warning was one of four key risks highlighted by the Audit NZ report, which also included debt levels and the need for further savings to meet self-imposed caps on rates increases of 4% in 2013-14 and 3% thereafter.

The council’s decision to self-insure $1.5 billion of above and below-ground assets – including reticulation networks, roads and bridges, but not buildings – presented another risk, should the city be struck by a major natural disaster.

“I’m not saying you can do much about it. I’m just saying it’s important to realise the kind of position you’re in,” he said.

Should any of the risks turn into reality, “the council would need to reduce levels of service, increase debt, and/or increase rates”, he warned.

The council’s list of capital spending, coupled with tight budgets and uncertainties, meant the council was already operating at – or in one case slightly beyond – self-imposed limits, one of which restricted interest costs to less than 8% of total revenue, he said.

The limit was conservative, and the breach a small one, but it highlighted the council was operating “pretty much at the edge of your limits”, he told councillors.

“[There’s] not much leeway if something went wrong.”

Committee chairman Cr Syd Brown, questioning Mr Lothian, asked if the council was responsibly managing its assets by opting for self-insurance.

“Reckless is not a word I would apply to any of your operations,” Mr Lothian replied.

Instead, the council was “steadily working through a number of major challenges”, he believed.

The self-imposed 8% limit was also “relatively conservative” compared with other councils, he added in response to a question from Cr John Bezett.

Cr Vandervis said the “very big assumption” the stadium could cover costs was actually a “fond hope”, given its performance to date.

“What possible chance is there this very big assumption can actually fly at all?” he asked.

Mr Lothian said he did not want to simplify the issue, but noted failure would mean “something’s got to give somewhere”.

“[The council] would have to look somewhere else to make up the shortfall,” he said.

The Audit NZ reports were a requirement under the Local Government Act for council annual and long-term plans, and would be followed by an audit of the council’s finalised long-term plan, once adopted.

Mr Lothian also recognised the council’s “considerable” efforts to set aspirational, but realistic, targets in a “challenging” environment.


Otago Settlers Museum to have ‘Toitu’ tag


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 12 Jun 2012

When the Otago Settlers Museum reopens its doors this year after a $40 million redevelopment, it is likely to be under the new name Toitu: Otago Settlers Museum.

The name was decided by the Dunedin City Council’s community development committee yesterday and will be recommended to the full council which will make a final decision on June 25.

The mana whenua name Toitu was given to the settlers’ museum board by the museum’s Ngai Tahu advisory group, which consists of mandated representatives from three Otago runanga and whanau groups.

It can be translated in various ways, including to be preserved forever, untouched, kept pure, also artistic pursuit (toi) and held on to forever (tu).

It is also the name of a small stream feeding into the Otago harbour at the original landing place of Dunedin at the top of Water St, which had cultural significance as a pure water spring and for providing a source of water.

Museum director Linda Wigley told councillors the name was given to the board after a competition seeking a new name for the museum was launched last month.

A poll of eight shortlisted names received 3334 responses from the public, with the overwhelming majority favouring the retention of the name Otago Settlers Museum.

Dunedin Heritage Museum was the second most popular choice.

Board chairwoman Dr Dorothy Page said the board now found itself in a “lovely situation” where it was “very fortunate” to have the gift of Toitu as well as a popular name chosen in competition and out of affection.

“We don’t throw that away lightly.”

Discussing which should come first in the title, Cr Richard Thomson said to have the shorter name first made more sense from a branding and marketing point of view.

“I like the word [Toitu]. I think it resonates.

” It’s short and I think it’s going to become remembered, even if it is not initially,” he said.

“It gives us an opportunity to remember our history and provide a better branding of a newly redeveloped museum.”

The use of the term being brought to the board as a gift was apt too, he said.

“It think we can make it work, and work well.”

Cr Kate Wilson agreed, but Cr John Bezett, who is on the board of the museum, said he thought it was wrong to run a competition and then change the name that won that competition “quite significantly”.

Cr Lee Vandervis said the Maori committee had given “a really good name” that would give a new look to the whole of the museum, as well as providing a steer on where the museum came from and where it was going.

“Toitu has potential to be a really strong new brand for the museum, in a way no other name could,” he said.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said he was convinced by the other speakers that Toitu should go first in the title of the museum.

The competition winner would be the entrant the board considered best explained why they suggested the highest polling original name – Dunedin Heritage Museum.

New name for renewed museum ‘important’


By John Gibb on Mon, 11 Jun 2012

Despite significant community backing for the status quo, the Dunedin City Council should seriously consider changing the Otago Settlers Museum’s name, city councillor Lee Vandervis says.

After citing the need to avoid potential “prejudice or disadvantage” to commercial activities, the settlers board excluded the public from discussion on the name issue at an extraordinary meeting late last week.

The name is being reviewed, and community views have been sought, as the museum’s extensive $39 million redevelopment nears completion.

During the closed-door discussion, the board considered a report on the issue and then recommended the current name be retained.

The issue will be considered again by the council community development committee today and a final decision is expected to be made at a council meeting later this month.

Retaining the name is strongly supported by members of the Otago Settlers Association, which founded the museum, brought together most of its treasures and has run the institution for most of its history.

In a recent online poll of eight possible museum names, 51% (1694) of the more than 3300 votes cast supported the “Otago Settlers Museum” name and a further 6% backed a shorter version: “The Settlers”.

Cr Vandervis, who is a member of the board, declined to discuss matters that had been discussed when the public was excluded.

The current name had been strongly supported in the community poll, but only about 3300 votes had been cast, he said.

This name summarised the museum’s “context and history”, and traditionalists and the Otago Settlers Association understandably supported that.

But instead of adopting a “business as usual” approach, he hoped the council would seize an “exciting” chance to try something different.

The council faced a very important decision because the name was “actually, very important for marketing” what was effectively a new museum.

Given the many millions spent on the redevelopment and the desire to nearly treble attendance to about 180,000 visitors, a new name might be more effective in attracting a new audience, he said in an interview.

If the community development committee decided to recommend a new name today, this should be immediately made public, enabling the community to consider it and respond before the council’s later vote.

Another board member, Dr Melville Carr, said there was “huge heritage” behind the current name, which was strongly supported by many people.

Fellow member Cr John Bezett said it was unlikely the council would opt for a “controversial” choice.

Asked if council would come under pressure to change the name because of the substantial redevelopment spending, Cr Bezett was confident that would not happen. Unless there was “very good reason”, it would be “silly” to change the name, he said.

Fellow board member Phil Dowsett, who arrived from England in 1978, said the term “settlers” included the country’s first Maori settlers and many others who had arrived much later.

Vandervis’ apologies placate Weatheralls


By Debbie Porteous on Fri, 8 Jun 2012

Written apologies from Cr Lee Vandervis following an email he sent fellow councillor Colin Weatherall and his son have resolved an issue that might otherwise have resulted in a formal complaint.

The three elected Dunedin City Council representatives hit the headlines last week when Cr Vandervis sent a public email to Cr Weatherall that said he could understand why Cr Weatherall, who was defending community boards against recent attacks from Cr Vandervis, wanted to protect son Scott Weatherall’s income derived from his membership of the Saddle Hill community board.

The email had also questioned the Weatheralls’ own dedication after they both did not attend a recent board meeting. Cr Weatherall is the ward councillor on the community board.

Cr Weatherall was at the time in hospital recovering from major surgery and his son was working a shift with St John.

The email outraged and offended not only the Weatheralls, but many of the city councillors and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who publicly chastised Cr Vandervis for the way he went about highlighting issues he thought should be canvassed, and using tactics like personal attacks and publicly belittling and questioning the integrity of fellow elected representatives.

He said that sort of behaviour only served to challenge the level of community respect for the council and was lamentable.

Cr Vandervis apologised in writing to Cr Weatherall the same day, and earlier this week also apologised in writing to Scott Weatherall.

Cr Weatherall said the apologies resolved the issue as far as he and his son were concerned and as a result he had decided not to make any formal Code of Conduct complaint against Cr Vandervis.

Mr Cull said while he had received numerous comments from other councillors about Cr Vandervis’ email, none reached the threshold of a formal complaint and if Cr Weatherall agreed the matter was resolved by the apologies, he was happy to let that be the end of the matter.

Community boards costly, unfair


Editorial on Mon, 4 Jun 2012

Commnunity boards of the Dunedin variety might be nice to have if time and money were not such a serious object these days.

Read their agendas, peruse their minutes and examine their worthy community plans and there is not much to reject specifically.

But on cost, resources and fairness across the city they cannot be justified.

While Cr Lee Vandervis, in his scathing attack on the “boreds” in a recent opinion article in this newspaper might have over-cooked his criticism – and becoming personal on the matter does his case no good – the boards are a luxury the city should not afford.

In some areas, like Central Otago, community boards are given significant powers to organise budgets and contribute to policy.

In Dunedin, however, the “role of the boards is to provide advice to the council on matters affecting their communities and to advocate for the interests of their communities.

Community boards may make submissions to the council and other organisations on matters affecting the community board.”

In other words, they are usually little more than talk shops.

Given the paucity of power, it is little wonder the boards’ plans are full of words like assist, promote, encourage, advocate, liaise, consult, identify.

Yet, the six Dunedin boards – Chalmers, Mosgiel-Taieri, Otago Peninsula, Saddle Hill, Strath Taieri and Waikouaiti Coast – draw (about $342,000) from the salary pool used also to pay councillors.

This money would be better not returned to be spread among councillors but instead diverted to general ratepayer funds.

Importantly, the boards also drain other resources, with the governance support officers and staff tied up in the meetings and the bureaucracy and paperwork.

If board work is so important, all parts of the city should have their own institutional advocacy group.

If the Strath Taieri Board at its last meeting needed to receive a verbal report from its chairman about overhanging trees in Gladbrook Rd then such reports on out-of-control vegetation – and there would be scores and scores – should go before elected members wherever they occur.

What, too, about all the basic day-to-day roading matters?

The city must have systems to respond to such concerns everywhere and on an even basis.

Additional pressure or information from the favoured board areas is either ineffective or unfair.

Similarly, each board has a small discretionary fund to allocate.

But why should the Waitati School PTA have access to grants ($1000 and $900 in the 2011-12 year) from the Waikouaiti Coast Board’s $10,000 a year when PTAs in most of the city do not?

To accentuate the partiality – although the amounts of money are relatively small – everyone pays for the privileges of board areas because their costs are funded across the whole city.

But would Strath Taieri, for example, be so keen on a community board if it added $120 to average rates bills?

Or how would some in Waikouaiti Coast feel at another $30 on the rates?

There are all sorts of communities of interests of various sizes around the city which do not coincide with community board boundaries and may, in fact, not even be geographic.

Waitati has relatively strong coherence and a group has emerged in North East Valley, for example.

Might it not be fairer, and perhaps more effective, if active local residents generate their own groups or own lobbying – outside of an official and costly structure – when needs arise?

Arrowtown and Queenstown Lakes are in the midst of a debate about a community board for that town.

Arrowtown has a history and a community spirit that might lend itself to an official distinct identity.

But where exactly would its boundaries be?

How many of the interests of the community really are different from those of fellow Wakatipu basin residents?

Would Arrowtown be better off with an active non-official voluntary ratepayer association?

Or would Arrowtown be better served by a ward councillor taking in the settlement and surrounding areas?

A good test for the desirability of community boards might be to consider whether the ratepayers of specific areas would be willing to pay themselves for all the costs of and associated with boards.

That certainly would be an excellent test for the Dunedin boards.


Weatherall mulls email complaint


By Debbie Porteous on Sun, 3 Jun 2012

An email from Cr Lee Vandervis attacking fellow city councillor Colin Weatherall for not attending a community board meeting at the time he was in hospital recovering from major surgery has not yet attracted any formal conduct complaints, although Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says there could still be some.

Mr Cull responded to the email, which was sent to all councillors, the Saddle Hill community board and media, by sending to the same group an email denouncing Cr Vandervis’ email as derogatory and destructive.

In the email Cr Vandervis also suggested Cr Weatherall was keen to defend the existence of community boards to protect his son Scott Weatherall’s income for being a member of a board.

Board members are paid about $8000 a year.

After being asked to by Cr Weatherall, Cr Vandervis publicly withdrew his comment and apologised to Cr Weatherall.

Mr Cull said canvassing issues was fine, but when an elected member repeatedly and baselessly questioned the integrity of, and belittled, other elected representatives, as Cr Vandervis did, it lessened people’s respect for the council.

Mr Cull said on friday “a number” of councillors had expressed concern to him by email about Cr Vandervis’ email, but none of those emails was officially a code of conduct complaint.

He could make a complaint himself, but felt he had expressed his opinion clearly already. He could still receive a complaint about it, he said.

Cr Weatherall said he was going to take a few days to think on it, before deciding if he would make a complaint.

The council’s standing orders include a code of conduct that requires members to conduct their dealings with each other in ways that avoid aggressive, offensive or abusive conduct.

It also says comments to media must observe the requirements of the code.

Cr Vandervis is the subject of several ongoing conduct complaints from September last year, made after he abused staff in emails and released confidential information about the Haka Peepshow public art project.

He also laid a complaint about Mr Cull about issues, including the mayor’s handling of points of order during council meetings.

The complaints had been in mediation and were still unresolved, Mr Cull said, but the affected parties were all aware of what was happening and he expected it would “play itself out”, although he was not sure how, or how long it would take.

Punishments for breaching the code range from apology to suspension from some posts of responsibility.

Council staff were instructed last year not to speak to Cr Vandervis directly after a series of what Mr Cull described as “abusive” emails, in which the councillor gave orders to some staff and told senior managers to “call the DCC dogs off” after parking wardens ticketed cars left in the central city after heavy snow.



Enmities boil over after councillor’s email attack


By Debbie Porteous on Fri, 1 Jun 2012

A public email attack by a Dunedin city councillor on a colleague has been described as offensive and destructive by Mayor Dave Cull, who says the councillor’s behaviour belittles elected representatives and brings the council into disrepute.

The email from Cr Lee Vandervis to Cr Colin Weatherall and the “derogatory” remarks it contained were “in keeping with [Cr Vandervis’] gratuitous and deliberately provocative personalising of the issues he has wanted to canvass in the public arena”, Mr Cull said last night.

“Given the widespread dissemination of this latest offensive statement, no apology, even if there were a possibility of it being genuine, can take back the hurt and damage caused by it.”

The email to Cr Weatherall, circulated by Cr Vandervis to the Saddle Hill Community Board, city councillors and media yesterday morning, said: “I can understand you wanting to protect your son’s income from the Saddle Hill Community Board, but wonder why barely half the board members showed up for the last Community Board meeting including you and your son. Not that you both missed much.”

The day of that meeting, Cr Weatherall was in Mercy Hospital recovering from the removal the previous day of a burst appendix and part of his lower bowel.

His son, Scott, could not attend the board meeting because he was working a shift as a paramedic for St John.

The latest incident follows an exchange of emails between councillors following Cr Vandervis’ recent public criticism of community boards.

In yesterday’s email, Cr Vandervis went on to say: “There has been a lot of huff about me needing to attend meetings to see what is going on. The meeting minutes tell the story, and note that attendance is not a priority even to members.”

Cr Weatherall said he took the email as a personal attack on his and his son’s credibility and had written to Cr Vandervis asking him to withdraw his comments and apologise in writing to both men.

Cr Vandervis last night sent an email to the same group apologising unreservedly to the Weatheralls, withdrawing in particular his comment about Cr Weatherall wanting to protect his son’s income.

“I now see that it can be seen in a much more negative light than I intended.

“Withdrawing and apologizing is the best I can do now, and I hope to do better in future.”

In an email circulated to the same group later last night, Mr Cull said that even with the apology, it would be impossible to take back the damage such a calculated dissemination of “hurtful” comments had caused.

“Such internecine attacks throw no light on the issues being raised, but bring council into disrepute by association.

“Canvassing issues is fine, but it challenges our community to retain respect for council when an elected member repeatedly and baselessly questions the integrity of, and belittles, other elected representatives.

“I very much lament that.”

Cr Vandervis responded by saying the mayor casting aspersions on the sincerity of his apology, using language “that is as unfortunate in its choice of words as my original ill-considered comment”, hardly seemed to be the action of a person endeavouring to ensure the community regarded the council with respect.

Mr Cull said there had been a “considerable amount of comment” from other councillors, who were “outraged” about Cr Vandervis’ original email.

He was out of town yesterday and was not sure last night if he had received a formal code of conduct complaint, but would investigate today.

Cr Weatherall said he would think overnight about whether to make a formal complaint.

Council staff were instructed not to talk to Cr Vandervis last year after a series of angry emails in which he gave orders to some council staff and described others as “dogs”.

Those emails prompted several formal complaints against the councillor.


Vandervis to be invited to meeting


By Ellie Constantine on Wed, 30 May 2012

The Mosgiel Taieri Community Board decided yesterday to invite Cr Lee Vandervis to its next meeting after denouncing his “defamatory” and “ridiculous” comments about the city’s community boards.

Cr Vandervis raised the ire of community board members after he suggested, in an opinion piece published in the Otago Daily Times last week, the boards were a waste of time and should be axed.

Mosgiel Taieri Community Board deputy chairman Barry Barbour moved to include discussion on what he called Cr Vandervis’ “defamatory remarks”, at his board’s meeting last night.

He said the comments were “an ongoing thing” with Cr Vandervis, which was “ridiculous”.

Cr Vandervis’ described community board meetings as a “charade” which generated paperwork he used to “light my log-burner”.

He also criticised the $342,000 spent each year paying board members, saying the boards were “job-creation schemes” for members who remained anonymous in their communities, and called some chairmen “seat-warmers”.

Board member Martin Dillon described the opinion piece as a “personal attack on our integrity as elected members of the council”, while fellow member Sandra Wilson questioned if he had ever attended a community board meeting.

Board chairman Bill Feather said Cr Vandervis “quite clearly … has no sense of community”.

“He clearly does not understand how this community operates and for that reason we should invite him into it.”

Board member Brian Miller pointed out Cr Vandervis’ right to free speech and said the board should “turn a negative into a positive”.

“I think there is probably quite a bit of truth in the angle that they don’t take any notice of us. I think we have all commented, at times, that we don’t believe we are being taken notice of. Should we ask council to review community boards?

“Are they prepared to give us any more say?

“Are we getting treated by the council as we should?”

Five of the board’s seven members approved the motion: “The board denounces Cr Vandervis’ personal attack on the integrity of the Mosgiel Taieri Community Board, as elected members of council, and invites Cr Vandervis to attend a board meeting to gain understanding of the work of the board”.

Mr Miller abstained and Cr Syd Brown withdrew from the discussion.

I sent this to Chris and Debbie and others on the 27th but have had no response. They don’t seem to want the positive suggestions.

From: Lee Vandervis <lee@vandervision.co.nz>
Date: Sun, 27 May 2012 13:15
To: Chris Morris <chris.morris@odt.co.nz>, Debbie Porteous <debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz>, EditorODT <editor@odt.co.nz>
Cc: Mayor Cull <mayor@dcc.govt.nz>, Paul Orders <porders@dcc.govt.nz>, Sue Bidrose <sbidrose@dcc.govt.nz>, Sandy Graham <sgraham@dcc.govt.nz>
Subject: Volunteer Community Boards

Dear Chris/Debbie,

A number of people have contacted me with regard to my questioning of costs of Community Boards, and although the majority of them agree that Community Board members should not get personal payments [including one ex- Community Board member] there is support for some work that Community boards do, especially with their $10,000 annual grant.

In support of giving Community Boards better Community resources [the lack of which apparently underlies current ineffectiveness], I will make an unreserved apology to all 36 Community board members if they are prepared to forego their personal payments in exchange for a tripling of each board’s $10,000 grant funding to $30,000 for each of the 6 Boards. This would mean that there is no longer any suggestion of Board Members just doing it for the money, and would give each of the Communities a sizable annual allocation for local projects.

My suggestion is that this $30,000 allocation could be carried forward if unspent to provide funding for some major Community projects that may take years to plan. There would be further savings for the City if the Community Boards could be freed from the bureaucratic paper-trail of the Local Government Act and conduct their meetings informally without DCC staff travel, agendas, minutes and associated costs.
In the interests of transparency all that would be required of each of the 6 Boards would be an annual  statement with receipts detailing what the $30,000 had been spent on.

If desired, as well as making  a full apology, I would be happy to visit these new volunteer Community Boards every month or when appropriate and bring back their Community concerns to Council by way of a report which I would write up for Councillors’ forums.

If changing to unpaid volunteer status on Community Boards with $30,000 per year grant funding was acceptable to existing members, they would have my full support and I believe the much wider support of their whole Community.

I have not yet had the opportunity to discuss this volunteer-plus-much-larger-grant proposal with the Mayor or staff, but I would welcome the Volunteer Community Boards proposal being floated publicly to see what reaction the public would have.
VCBs could give their Communities new purpose and direction.

Kindest regards,
Cr. Lee Vandervis


Boards angered by ‘insulting’ remarks


By Chris Morris on Sat, 26 May 2012

Angry and upset community board members are demanding an apology from Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis, after he suggested their boards were a waste of money and should be axed.

Several community board members have contacted Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull to voice their displeasure at Cr Vandervis’ comments, published in an Otago Daily Times opinion piece this week.

Saddle Hill community board members were also expected to pass a resolution at their meeting next week, calling on Cr Vandervis to apologise, board chairman Keith McFadyen confirmed yesterday.

Their anger came after Cr Vandervis described board meetings as a “charade”, saying members were distributing funding without scrutiny and generating paperwork he used to “light my log-burner”.

Cr Vandervis criticised the $342,000 spent each year paying board members, saying the boards were “job-creation schemes” for members who remained anonymous in their communities, and some chairmen were “seat-warmers”.

Otago Peninsula Community Board chairman John Bellamy yesterday said Cr Vandervis’ comments were “quite insulting” and showed “ignorance of the highest degree”.

Mr Bellamy took particular exception to any suggestion the minutes of board meetings were useful only for burning, saying they reflected community concerns passed on to boards and then the council.

“That’s not just insulting to me and my board. That’s insulting to every ratepayer in the city …

“He was giving the bird to the ratepayers of this city, because it’s their concerns that we’re forwarding, not ours.

“It’s a very, very careless attitude for a man in his position to be displaying, in my opinion.”

Mr Cull said questioning the value of community board representation was valid to raise, but debate about their future should be conducted appropriately.

He did not think Cr Vandervis’ comments were “productive or positive”, but any request for an apology was between board members and Cr Vandervis, Mr Cull said.

Mr McFadyen said Cr Vandervis appeared to have “no idea” how boards operated.

“He’s never, ever been to a community board meeting …

“He’d be better off to do something constructive, rather than negative.

“It would be nice if he had the courage to be able to apologise for what he doesn’t know about.”

Waikouaiti Coast Community Board chairman Gerard Collings agreed, saying some board members had found his comments “reasonably offensive”.

Cr Vandervis had the right to his opinion, “but he shouldn’t make comments in relation to other people’s efforts for the community when he’s not aware of what they’re actually doing”.

“Quite clearly, as chair of our board, I’m disappointed in the comments. I think they’re a slur on a lot of active community board members who do a lot within their community.”

Dunedin’s six community boards cost the council $342,000 a year. Board chairmen receive $16,400 a year, deputy chairmen $9000 and members $8000.

Each board also controls a $10,000 discretionary fund to distribute to community groups and projects in their areas.

Mr Bellamy said boards also acted as a conduit between local communities and the city council, raising residents’ concerns and advocating for larger work, such as improvements to Portobello Rd.

Cr Vandervis’ comments showed “absolutely no respect whatsoever” for that role, Mr Bellamy said.

“Community boards are the grassroots cornerstone of our democracy,” he said.

“I read [Cr Vandervis’ opinion piece] and I thought ‘is he getting around with his eyes totally closed and his brain shut?’

“It was insulting all the work of all the members who in my experience work very, very hard for what they do, and for very, very little.”

Most board members were community-minded, rather than political, and “sure as hell don’t do it for either their own interests or the money”, he added.

Cr Vandervis yesterday said he was “delighted” by the response and had no plans to apologise.

“It would be a shame not to get a bite out of at least a couple of the 36 `bored’ members on the payroll.”

Time to end community board seat-warming


Opinion • Thu, 24 May 2012

Lee Vandervis believes Dunedin’s community boards are a waste of space and money.

Despite liking almost everything community, I have repeatedly been forced to rethink the ideal of paid community boards (and the Otago Regional Council), because of their manifest lack of value for Dunedin citizens.

Community Bored meetings are almost invariably non-events requiring usually two Dunedin City Council staff members to transport themselves and equipment to outlying areas; organise, print and distribute agendas, take and write up and distribute meaningless minutes, and organise scores of community member salary payments and supply tens of thousands in rate-paid grants monies which the boards distribute without scrutiny.

The results of these charades are usually six community boards (totalling 36 paid members), meeting occasionally to trigger two pages of minutes (which I use to light my log-burner), recording such things as attendance (not linked to pay), apologies, and the community boards’ approval of continuing to pay their chairpersons $16,000+, deputies $9000+, and members $8000+.

This takes $342,000+ every year out of the council pay pot, and results in Dunedin councillors being paid near half what councillors are paid in other similar-sized cities.

Councillors generally privately do not welcome this, but are afraid to criticise anything with the words “community” or “trust” in it.

The stadium promotion process has had particular benefit from this fear.

I believe that the little useful feedback we get from community boards would come to the council anyway from those very few motivated chairpersons who currently endure the community board structure and paper trail.

The rest are seat-warmers, some of whom collect up to $300 per hour if they don’t put much time in.

Any number of Rotarians contribute much more to our communities – and for no financial return.

Like the Otago Regional Council, our community boards appear to be a job-creation-scheme courting respectability by being anonymous.

An experiment which I test often is to ask people like my children’s teachers, other parents, or any other “normal citizens” if they can name any regional councillor or community board member, or if they can list any function carried out by the ORC or a community board.

My responses have confirmed that nobody knows who their representatives are (unless they have some other personal dealing with them), and that nobody knows what these regional councillors or community board members actually do.

So much for democratic representation, or the usefulness of considerable public resources.

Dunedin community boards are a unique hangover from the messy decades-old amalgamation of many borough and county councils, when plenty of paid positions were a necessary compliance bribe for members of these tiny councils.

This amalgamation has been reviewed over the years but all the payments seem to have stuck. It is now time for a real review.

Our Dunedin city councillors are routinely criticised for many things, including being paid too much. Some of these criticisms are justified for many reasons, but excessive pay is not one of them.

Dunedin councillors currently get $44,000 per annum as a “self-employed” total, out of which 30% tax is immediately removed, leaving around $30,000, out of which home office expenses, transportation and electoral promotion expenses, accounting expenses, health insurance, superannuation, and legal defence expenses must be paid.

All other councillors with similar responsibilities elsewhere in New Zealand get $60,000-$80,000+ pa before tax and other self-employed costs, still barely enough to live on if you devote the full time required to be a useful elected representative.

Government legislative requirements and bureaucratic pressures have ensured that the job of councillor will never return to a few hours a week of civic service as it was many decades ago.

DCC councillors need to have supplementary income or other jobs to be able to afford to be a councillor, which severely limits the number and range of people who can afford to be councillors.

Many potentially excellent councillor candidates in Dunedin simply cannot afford to run because the pay won’t feed their families.

To get real representation, population balance and accountability, my suggestion is for just two wards, – our outlying rural communities to have a rural ward with one councillor, and six councillors representing the Dunedin/Mosgiel urban ward area.

Our regional council could shrink back to being a Clutha River catchment board.

Whatever council we end up with, why bother paying 36 community board members (or the regional council) for so little benefit?


Council moves to protect fund


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 22 May 2012

The way dividends are distributed from the Dunedin City Council’s Waipori Fund is to be reviewed to address repeated reductions of the capital value of the fund.

For the past two years, councillors setting the council’s annual budget have taken a distribution of about $4 million from the fund on the basis of an estimated surplus that has not actually occurred.

That meant money had to come off the principal of the fund, against council policy to protect the fund.

The fund was established in 1999 using proceeds from the sale of the Waipori electricity generation scheme. Its principal, which was $56.7 million when the fund was set up, stands at about $70 million.

Council general manager finance and resources Athol Stephens told councillors at last week’s annual plan deliberations staff sought agreement to use estimated cashflow as a more reliable basis for the distribution than the current policy of estimating the fund’s market value and distributing the difference to council.

Market value was less predictable than cashflow, he said.

Estimates were made well in advance of knowing the actual performance of the fund, and that was a flaw exposed over the past two years as the value of the fund fell below estimations.

Changing the policy should reduce the levels of uncertainty about the size of the distribution, he said.

A March report from Dunedin City Treasury Ltd to council recommended the same and suggested amending strict language in the fund’s original statement of objectives and policies about the requirement to protect the fund under all circumstances. At the time councillors voted to let that report lie on the table while they considered other uses of the fund.

Crs Lee Vandervis and Jinty MacTavish said on Friday they thought it would make more sense for council to wait a year and see how much the fund made before committing any money to the budget.

Mr Stephens said that would mean a shortfall for an annual council budget of about $3 million, which would have to be funded by debt or removed from the budget.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said it was clear waiting a year was the best way to progress, but the council could not afford to do it in 2012-13.

He preferred to leave things as they were.

The council had budgeted for a dividend of $1 million less than initially estimated for 2012-13, so it was more likely to be complying with the policy of not reducing the capital value of the fund anyway, he said.

He moved instead that councillors send a letter of comfort to Dunedin City Treasury (DCTL) and request, by September, a review of the policies governing the fund.

Cr Vandervis said he was “completely uncomfortable” with the ongoing “delayed pragmatism”, even though he recognised there was some sort of need for it.

The motion did not mean council was ignoring the matter, even though this had been an issue for three years, but the best way forward was to take the money this year and sort it out before next year, Cr Kate Wilson said.

Cr MacTavish said she would support the move with a “slightly heavy heart” because it was eating into the council’s reserves.

“But the reality is we have inherited a fiscal situation that is untenable, and we can’t deal with it any other way.”

The letter of comfort and request for a review was the right way out of the situation, deputy mayor Chris Staynes said.

It was not reasonable to expect City Treasury to make the disbursement in breach of the policy, but that could not be changed before the annual plan was finalised, he said.

“This gives us some breathing space and it gives DCTL some comfort that the council tales responsibility for any breach, and not them.”

Mr Cull said everyone around the table agreed breaching the policy was unacceptable and he hoped the situation would not rise again.

The motion was carried by a majority.

Councillors also resolved, as part of the motion, that a debt management strategy be prepared by staff together with DCTL and Dunedin City Holdings Ltd, for council to consider before the preparation of the next annual plan.

Lee Vandervis is a Dunedin City councillor


Next ‘Citytalk’ last after axing


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 22 May 2012

The next issue of the Dunedin City Council’s quarterly magazine Citytalk will be its last, after it received the chop in a review of council communications.

New council communications and marketing manager Graham McKerracher said the magazine would be replaced with some other form of communication from the council to the community, but exactly what that would be was yet to be determined.

He said the decision to cease producing Citytalk was part of an ongoing review of how the council communicated with Dunedin residents.

Mr McKerracher was appointed this year to lead a restructured council communications unit tasked with improving the council’s transparency and consistency with its messages and and ensuring the council better communicates with the community.

Citytalk was cut because the format was outdated and staff had no way of telling how many people actually read the magazine, Mr McKerracher said.

His team had about three months to report to senior management with options for replacing the magazine.

The council wanted to have more of an electronic presence, but also realised it needed to retain some way of getting the information to everyone in the city, including residents who might not use digital technology.

The future of the magazine, which is sent to all ratepayers, was raised during annual plan deliberations last week, when Cr Lee Vandervis, responding to a submission from Syd Adie which called Citytalk a “glorified staff magazine”, called for the magazine to be axed.

“It’s so out of touch with the world, it’s embarrassing … Let’s get rid of it,” Cr Vandervis said.

Savings of about $20,000 could be made “right now”, he said, but council strategy and development general manager Sue Bidrose advised councillors that removing the funds from the budget might leave them with no money for communicating with their constituents.

Citytalk was under review and the next issue would be the last anyway, she said.

Various options for replacing it were being considered, one idea being to run a few pages in local newspapers, as the Wellington City Council did in the Dominion Post, she said.

Mr McKerracher said the end of Citytalk did not mean anyone would lose their jobs, as there still had to be some form of communication.

Citytalk was funded in large part by advertising, and he would be looking to retain that support for whatever form the new communication took, he said.


Ocean drive access in spotlight again


By Debbie Porteous on Sat, 19 May 2012

The debate over access to Dunedin’s John Wilson Ocean Dr may be rekindled after city councillors resolved to look again at a barrier arm, after deciding last year it would be too expensive.

John Wilson Ocean Dr has been closed to vehicular traffic since 2006. After much debate on reopening it, including a two-day hearing on the issue, the council voted last year to open it to vehicles from 11am till 2pm on weekdays, subject to the installation of speed humps, the resealing of the road and a permanent 30kmh speed limit.

Work was not expected to start until the start of the 2012-13 financial year.

Councillors setting the city’s 2012-13 budget yesterday referred to submissions that offered various opinions on access and uses for the closed-off section of the road.

They included a submission from Ski Dogs NZ, which offered to pay for a strip of the road to be sealed for use in nordic-style country ski training, and one from Gerrard Liddell, representing the group John Wilson Promenaders, which proposed access by a swipe-card-operated latch on a gate across the road, which they believed could happen at a cost of $15,000.

Cr Kate Wilson moved that staff report to council on the implications of funding up to $15,000 to provide such limited access, using funding that would be removed from the speed hump budget, and that council accept Ski Dogs NZ’s offer of $10,000 towards the skiing strip, with conditions to be determined.

The topic raised ire around the council table, with Cr Lee Vandervis immediately indicating his opposition to the idea.

“We’ve been through the barrier arm discussion many more times than I wanted to, and it’s been shown to be dud.”

Cr Syd Brown said the council had already been through an extensive and exhaustive public process of consultation and the only reason the issue was coming up again was that the physical work agreed at the end of that process had not been done.

Once it was known that councillors were possibly changing their minds again, it would put them in a very poor light, he said.

“We’ve made a decision in public consultation.

“Let’s stick to it.”

Cr Dave Cull said he did not think the motion radically changed the intent of the previous decision, and it would be worth hearing what council staff had to say about it.

Cr Andrew Noone said he hoped that if access could not be gained for $15,000, it would not be. However, if it could be, it would be cheaper than what was already planned.

Council staff had noted that they had previously worked out the price of simply getting electricity to the barrier, and that was $60,000, which was not an option for the council. General manager operations Tony Avery said his opinion was that that advice was likely to remain the same.

The motion to investigate the options was passed by five votes to four.


Stadium loan term reduced


By Rosie Manins on Fri, 18 May 2012

Dunedin ratepayers have been spared paying about $100 million in additional interest on the city’s $117.6 million stadium debt after councillors voted to reduce the loan term from 40 years to 23.

Councillors considering the city’s annual and long-term budgets yesterday agreed, subject to final approval, to increase repayments by an extra $1 million each year, thereby reducing the repayment term by 17 years.

The extra $1 million to service debt was offset by savings in the 2012-13 financial year, councillors heard, but the ongoing annual cost would potentially result in a rates increase of about 1% each year thereafter.

That translates to an increase of a few dollars on the average household’s $69 stadium rate bill in 2012-13, and an annual increase of about $13 in following years.

Yesterday’s recommendation included allowance for the extra repayment to be included in the council’s long-term plan 2012-13 to 2021-22.

Of the total $146.6 million stadium debt, the private sector would pay $29 million over 10 years, leaving the council with $117.6 million.

If the debt balance was paid over 40 years, the total cost of interest would be between $201 million and $219 million.

The comparative amounts for repayment over 20 years were $88 million and $96 million.

The total rates bill in the 2012-13 year was expected to remain within the council’s targeted rates increase of 5%.

Councillors also discussed the merits of assessing whether ratepayers could pay their stadium contributions in bulk.

Although the idea was complex, it would provide a “win-win” for the council and ratepayers, Mayor Dave Cull said.

DCC financial planner Carolyn Howard told councillors the Local Government (Rating) Act allowed for lump-sum contributions.

“There’s a possibility there and it’s going to require consultation. We need to do this well in advance of our 2013-14 annual plan; the logistical side of this may be quite significant,” she said.

Cr Lee Vandervis did not object to staff spending a “brief” amount of time investigating the viability of bulk payments, but warned most ratepayers could not afford it.

“From what I see, it’s a financial nightmare and a minefield to look into.

“As a ratepayer, I would be very wary about whatever was proposed in terms of paying it off quickly,” he said.

The council voted to direct its rates and funding working party and appropriate staff to investigate and model the options for allowing ratepayers to make voluntary bulk payment of stadium debt, and for other funding options.

It also voted for the working party to investigate the possibility of council-funded rates affordability measures for ratepayers who could not afford to meet the increased cost of paying stadium debt earlier.

After yesterday’s meeting, Mr Cull told the Otago Daily Times he thought it would be an attractive option to ratepayers and it was “very gratifying” the council appeared to be able to include the reduced loan term without going over the 5% rates increase cap it had set for itself.

It had largely been achieved not at the cost of services, but by not including new projects in the budget.

The council could decide to further reduce the debt payment term in coming years, if it saw fit, he said.

Cycle way funding for 2015-16


By Allison Rudd on Thu, 17 May 2012

Money to expand Dunedin’s cycleways has been added to the budget from 2015-16.

In yet another discussion on the future of strategic cycle networks within the city and beyond, which began during the council’s deliberations on Tuesday, councillors yesterday decided to include $350,000 per annum in the long-term plan from 2015.

The money would be used to investigate, design and complete new networks such as Princes St, and the Dunedin-Lawrence link could become part of the national cycleway network, council transportation planning manager Sarah Connolly said.

Cycleways attract some government funding, which prompted several councillors to speculate on what the subsidies for Dunedin projects might be.

Cr Andrew Noone said putting any money in the long-term plan was “premature” without some security of government funding, which he described as “a movable feast”.

Cr Lee Vandervis said the funding was more like “a continental breakfast which we are already up too late for”.

Before putting any money into the long-term plan, the city should develop a comprehensive and costed cycle network plan which ratepayers could assess against other spending priorities, Cr Syd Brown said, while Cr Paul Hudson said the development of cycleways brought no financial return to ratepayers.

However, other councillors, and in particular Jinty MacTavish, John Bezett and Kate Wilson, all supported the inclusion of the money because of the safety and health benefits and because it indicated to citizens the city was serious about the long-term development of cycleways.


Erosion protection issues complex


By Debbie Porteous on Thu, 17 May 2012

It is back to the drawing board for a plan on how best to address Te Rauone’s erosion issues after Dunedin City councillors considering improvements to the reserve, and whether to invest in a breakwater rock wall to protect it and private properties against further erosion, resolved instead to discuss the issue further with affected parties.

Councillors considering what involvement the council might have in managing erosion at Te Rauone in Otago Harbour said they did not have enough information and the matter was confused by the split among submitters to the annual and long-term budget-setting process, who focused either on the reserve upgrade or the breakwater installation.

Councillors were considering whether to fund the $160,000 installation of a breakwater proposed and designed by Port Otago, of which the council would take ownership, or vote for a council staff suggestion to instead reinstate a suspended coastal dune conservation works programme at a cost of $90,000 over the next 10 years.

During a robust discussion among councillors, arguments swung between those who believed there was a moral obligation to get something done for Te Rauone residents after 20 years discussing the matter, and those who believed more information was needed before council embarked on a project that would essentially protect private properties, which was against council policy and might set an unwanted precedent.

Councillors had many questions about the financial implications and effectiveness of the breakwater, as well as what other erosion management work might be needed.

Council general manager operations Tony Avery said investing in the wall would be a departure from policy, which was not to protect private property, only council-owned reserves.

He agreed erosion management work at Ocean Beach and Middle Beach was related to the potential impact on the large mass of South Dunedin properties behind the reserves, but those reserves were part of a coastal defence mechanism.

Cr Paul Hudson said after 20 years of there being an issue, the council had a moral obligation to do as much as it could to help residents of Te Rauone.

Mr Avery said if such work was approved, many communities in other low-lying areas around Dunedin could potentially come to the council also seeking some sort of protection. There was significant risk in setting such a precedent, he said.

Cr Stevenson said she was also concerned about liability if it the breakwater did not work.

Cr Bill Acklin wanted the work to be done while the council had Port Otago’s support.

Others, including Crs Lee Vandervis and Richard Thomson, questioned Port Otago’s motives and while Cr Kate Wilson said she thought the port’s intentions were sincere, she agreed more information was needed.

“There is no need to rush in to an immediate decision on this one.”

Cr MacTavish also said she struggled with taking the council into new territory in terms of precedent and would be less nervous if there were more discussions around that and the potential implications of a breakwater scenario on future budgets.

Cr Cull questioned if a policy around erosion protection of private property could be developed to move things forward, but Cr Richard Thomson said the council would tie itself in knots trying to create a policy like that, as it would always come down to changing things for individuals.

Cr Andrew Noone summed up the situation by saying: “There is a general willingness to resolve the issue, but there are too many unknowns.”

Councillors decided not to fund anything in the draft long-term budget, and resolved to ask the Otago Peninsula Community Board to organise a meeting with the Te Rauone Coastal Care committee and the chairmen of the council’s community development, planning and environment and infrastructure services committees to search for and discuss potential solutions and funding options for them.

The Otago Regional Council and Port Otago should also be invited to attend the meeting.

Museum extras cost council $2.16m


By Allison Rudd on Thu, 17 May 2012

Ratepayers will fork out up to an extra $2.16 million to fund necessary work not included in original $39.2 million Otago Settlers Museum redevelopment project budget.

Dunedin City councillors agreed yesterday to allocate the museum the money it needed to complete exhibitions and other components in time for the reopening of the museum in November next year.

Many of the “Wow!” elements had been underfunded or not budgeted for, council general manager of city strategy development Dr Sue Bidrose and museum director Linda Wigley said.

If the full exhibition and educational potential of the museum was unrealised on opening day, it could lead to disappointment and criticism from key stakeholders and the public, they said.

They asked the council to effectively underwrite the completion of the items to ensure the museum opened with a high-quality experience which met expectations.

In 2009, museum consultant Rodney Wilson had said a realistic figure for the complete fit-out of the new museum would be $11.5 million to $13 million.

Staff were intending to do it for less than $6.9 million and still provide a world-class museum, they said.

The council contribution could be less than $2.16 million, the women said.

Ms Wigley said the museum’s fundraising committee was confident it could raise at least $1 million from sponsorship and naming rights.

“He said he could do $1 million easily, but $2 million would be a stretch,” Dr Bidrose added. Money raised by the committee would be paid back to the council, they said.

The request sparked spirited discussion about the museum’s finances, including why fixtures and fittings were not included as part of the $39.2 million redevelopment project.

Cr Lee Vandervis said the council had already allocated more than $30 million to the project and was now being asked to provide more.

The council already has $3 million in its 2012-13 budget for the final stage of the settlers museum project.

Dr Bidrose and Ms Wigley said that money had been for a tower which was no longer being built.

If the council funded the full $2.16 million for fixtures and fittings it would be able to shave $840,000 from the plan, Dr Bidrose said – and more later depending on how much money was raised by the museum’s fundraising committee.

Crs Vandervis and Teresa Stevenson both asked why the $3 million had not been removed from the draft annual plan when the tower plans were scrapped last year.

“Was it left in there, on the quiet assumption it could be used to pay for something else, like fixtures and fittings?” Cr Vandervis asked.

Dr Bidrose said there was no evidence for that. The “genuine thought” throughout, and a thought still held by some people, was that the tower could have and should have been built.

Several councillors asked if the museum would be able to manage with less than $2.16 million immediately for fitting-out.

An amendment was proposed by Crs Stevenson and Chris Staynes, that the council allocate $1.1 million for fixtures and fittings, on the assumption the rest would be raised elsewhere.

However, the amendment was lost. The motion to provide $2.16 million was carried 7-5.

Key unfunded items

  • Kai Tahu Wahi Pou Pou (decorative structure), Maori exhibition information station, digital projection display, and construction and display of mokihi (waka)
  • Interactive kiosks in Smith Portrait Gallery
  • Interactive wall to screen photographic images of 1870s Dunedin
  • Manuka walkway display
  • Military exhibition area
  • Display cases for 20th century timeline
  • Interactive display for NZR bus foyer
  • Dunedin scene exhibition
  • Temporary exhibitions gallery
  • Tiger Tea bus interactive experience
  • Mechanical interactive displays, labels, display case lighting, seating
  • Research centre
  • Retail shop

Source: Otago Settlers Museum

Artificial turf main casualty of cuts


By Chris Morris on Wed, 16 May 2012

A plan for new artificial turf at Logan Park was the major casualty after Dunedin city councillors sharpened their pencils at yesterday’s budget meetings.

However, other hotly contested projects survived the initial cost-cutting push as councillors began deliberations on the 2012-13 annual and long-term plans. These included funds for an office in Dunedin to co-ordinate digital literacy and access projects, which was reinstated at $60,000 a year for two years.

Funding of $750,000 for a Blueskin Bay library also survived the chop.

The decisions were subject to final approval later this week, but came after prolonged debate as councillors scrutinised lists of funded and unfunded items in the draft budgets at yesterday’s session.

The major casualty was the plan for new multipurpose artificial turf at Logan Park, after $1.1 million in funding was removed from the council’s draft budget following a narrow vote.

Football South supported developing an all-weather turf, which could be used under lights, and for up to 98 hours a week.

A grant of $634,000 might be available from Fifa if a football-specific turf was chosen, it said.

Cr Kate Wilson pushed for the council’s funding to be removed, with council support instead given to Football South to pursue its own artificial turf on council land, partly funded by the Fifa grant.

The push came after 400 people responded to a council question on the artificial turf, including in consultation on the council’s draft budgets, with 325 indicating council funding should be removed.

Despite that, Cr Bill Acklin, a member of the Logan Park working party, argued for the funding, saying Football South’s plans and those for the artificial turf at Logan Park were “quite different”.

The artificial turf at Logan Park would be widely supported by a variety of sports codes, not just football.

It would allow round-the-clock use and would turn the area into a true “sports hub” for the city, he said.

Taking the funding out would not save $1.1 million, as funding for the upgrade of other sports fields, removed in favour of the artificial turf, would have to be reinstated, he said.

“The artificial turf … is the next thing that needs to be done at Logan Park,” he said.

His arguments won backing from Cr John Bezett, who said the project had been “years” in the making.

Removing the funding would mean children’s sport suffered, as about 50% of their matches had been cancelled because of bad weather and poor playing surfaces last winter.

“That’s what you’re advocating … it’s very, very important for the youth of the city,” Cr Bezett said.

However, Cr Wilson said the stadium review should be completed before more council funding was committed to an artificial turf.

In the meantime, Football South’s plans provided the city and the council with “a really good win-win”, with the proposed facility available for other sports 30% of the time, she said.

Her views won support from other councillors, including Cr Richard Thomson and Jinty MacTavish, and councillors eventually voted 6-4 to remove the funding, with Crs Acklin, Bezett, Syd Brown and Andrew Noone opposed.

Earlier, funding for the Blueskin Bay library survived a push by Cr Lee Vandervis to remove it.

The community had fundraised about 90% of the $300,000 it was tasked with contributing.

Cr MacTavish said councillors and the community needed to be realistic given the council’s funding constraints, and it was “with sadness” she supported cutting funding.

However, cutting funding was opposed by some councillors, including Cr Bill Acklin and Cr Thomson, who believed it would send the wrong signal when the council was trying to encourage partnerships to help fund projects.

“I think the council would lose a lot of credibility if it did not follow this project through,” Cr Acklin said.

Mayor Dave Cull said he was “a bit torn”, but removing the funding could cost the council more, through lost future partnerships, in the long run.

“It could be one of those ones that comes back to bite us,” he said.

Councillors voted to retain the funding for the library after the debate.

Public to have say in stadium use


By Chris Morris on Tue, 15 May 2012

The public will have a say over future uses of the Forsyth Barr Stadium, after a feisty Dunedin City Council meeting yesterday.

The move came after about 30 protesters made their displeasure clear at the full council meeting, silently holding up signs calling for resignations whenever pro-stadium councillors spoke.

Mayor Dave Cull even had to call a brief halt and threaten to clear the packed public gallery, after one man decided to take more direct action.

The unidentified man walked on to the floor of the chamber and handed his sign directly to a still-seated Cr Syd Brown, who promptly dropped it as the man left the room.

The protest came as councillors considered reports detailing the stadium’s $8.4 million budget blow-out, and the $1.9 million six-month loss recorded by the company running it, first revealed last week.

Councillors were expected to confirm the transfer of Dunedin Venues Management Ltd’s governance responsibilities to Dunedin City Holdings Ltd, the company responsible for the city’s council-controlled organisations.

DCHL was then to review DVML and stadium operations and finances, including the future mix of commercial and community events inside the venue.

However, Mr Cull took that a step further yesterday by proposing the public be given a say on the venue’s future use as well.

A council subcommittee, with Mr Cull as chairman, would hear results of the DCHL review and create a forum to hear the public’s views.

The idea won support from councillors yesterday, with results expected to be back before councillors by November.

Councillors requested reports on ways of funding DVML’s six-month shortfall, as well as the projected full-year loss, of $2.4 million, and further losses totalling $3.3 million forecast for the following three years.

Councillors also authorised $7.5 million in new loans to cover the stadium blow-out, although other ways of covering the cost would be considered at draft budget deliberations which are beginning today.

Yesterday’s decisions came after more than three hours of debate and questioning directed at council staff, PricewaterhouseCoopers director Stephen Drain, DVML chief executive David Davies and board member Peter Hutchison.

Mr Hutchison, responding to questions, said savings were already being sought, with a review to study how far DVML could cut costs without damaging its ability to generate additional revenue.

Results were expected by the end of next month and “there will be savings”, he said.

However, holding more charitable or community events inside the stadium risked adding to DVML deficits, because the stadium could not be run at no cost, he said.

During the debate, councillors again divided into two camps over their support for, or opposition to, the roofed venue.

Cr Brown drew scoffing from the gallery as he urged people to focus on making the stadium work, after pointing out its cost overrun, at 4.2%, was within a 5% margin of error previously envisaged.

Cr Bill Acklin also believed it was time to move on, saying the continuing negativity “really goes against my grain”.

“I’m proud of it [the stadium],” he declared.

However, Cr Lee Vandervis drew applause as he described the project as “something of a disaster”, claiming ratepayers had been misled about the eventual cost to be incurred by the council, which also did not include other costs such as the realignment of State Highway 88.

Cr Jinty MacTavish said reading the PWC report was like “reliving a nightmare”, given the “litany of potholes” evident in the project’s management.

Mr Cull said there were lessons for the council in the report, but said the focus should now be on the challenges ahead.

“Our job is to face the future, not relitigate the past.”

Council chief executive Paul Orders again would not be drawn on who was to blame for $3.7 million in unauthorised spending on the stadium’s catering fit-out, saying he needed time to reflect on information from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Plan change will allow small harbourside zone


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 15 May 2012

After a decade and multiple appeals and changes to the original proposal, the Dunedin City Council has approved a district plan change that will allow the development of a small section of Dunedin’s harbourside.

The harbourside zone will permit cafes, bars, apartments and public open spaces on the south side of the Steamer Basin, in a much-reduced zone compared with the 2005 plan which resulted from discussions started in 2001.

Agreement with appellants to the Environment Court was reached last year allowing for the change, approved in 2009, and rezoning of the area from port and industrial to harbourside.

In April last year, the council agreed to drop much of stage 2 from the two-stage plan, and businesses agreed to accept stage 1, subject to negotiation.

Councillors approved the final plan change yesterday.

On behalf of Cr Colin Weatherall, who was involved with the mediation, Cr Kate Wilson said he was happy the project was concluded and matters resolved.

Cr Lee Vandervis, the only councillor to vote against the change, said it was a shadow of the original plan and it would be better to develop areas like Princes St.

The change takes effect from May 29. All new structures in the harbourside zone must comply with a harbourside design code.

Draft strategy for consultation


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 15 May 2012

A draft economic strategy for Dunedin’s future is a starting point and needs further work including thorough consultation with the public, but has generally been welcomed by city councillors who agreed yesterday to release it for public consultation.

A full meeting of the Dunedin City Council on Dunedin’s economic development strategy heard more than 5000 people had been consulted in the making of the draft strategy, which followed two years’ work by a steering committee and has been committed to by the Dunedin City Council, Otago Chamber of Commerce, Otago Southland Employers’ Association, Otago Polytechnic and University of Otago.

Before agreeing to release it for consultation, Crs Jinty MacTavish, Kate Wilson and Teresa Stevenson raised concerns about the consultation process, wanting to ensure there was a clear and responsive method planned.

Cr MacTavish asked if there would be a public hearing of submissions, but steering group member Philip Broughton, chairman of the Otago Southland Employers’ Association, said there were no such plans at this stage because there had been such wide consultation done already and the group felt there was enough input from an economic perspective.

Even if ideas raised in submissions were not adopted, it would be good to have a process that indicated the submissions could be “living strands” in ongoing discussions, Cr Wilson said.

Council economic development unit manager Peter Harris said the process could be considered.

He assured councillors there would be significant public consultation and open discussions and that had already started on Twitter.

To councillors’ concerns the actions outlined in the strategy were driven by the council alone, chief executive Paul Orders said it was early days. The actions needed to be worked through and finalised, and although the council was effectively the facilitator of the strategy, there was no intention it would lead all the actions.

While Cr Lee Vandervis called the strategy “positively aspirational” and said he felt like he had heard it all before, Cr Richard Thomson said he was pleased to finally see an economic vision that was different and not chasing one big thing.

He had lived through the pursuit of economic “mirages” in Dunedin before, from aluminum smelters to a nickel smelter, Fisher and Paykel and the stadium.

“Chasing after the big thing that’s going to solve our city’s problems has been a mirage and will continue to be a mirage.”

This draft strategy was built on Dunedin’s sense of place, its strengths and ethos, which was the right direction to go in, he said.

“The test for me is to be how are we going to use this as a reference point when we do start to allocate resources.”

Crs MacTavish, Stevenson and Chris Staynes said they looked forward to submissions from a wider range of people than just the business or economic sector.

One area that perhaps appeared not to have been addressed in the strategy strongly enough was the arts sector, Cr Staynes said.

“Having sat through annual plan hearings . . . it was an eye-opener how much economic activity and passion there is in that sector.”

The strategy was the “start of a journey”, and still needed to be worked through in a consultation process, he said.

“It’s a plan, but there’s an awful lot more to go with it.”

Submission forms on the strategy will be available online at www.dunedineconomy.co.nz from today, with submissions open until mid-June.


Redirect wages to council: Vandervis


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 15 May 2012

A simple signing off of the next year’s remuneration for Dunedin city council’s elected members turned into an attack on community boards yesterday when a councillor suggested they contributed “very little” to the running of the council and their wages should be given to councillors instead.

Community boards did nothing more than “produce a page or two of waffle” every few months, Cr Lee Vandervis told a council meeting in Dunedin yesterday.

The remuneration for community board members – chairmen just over $16,000 annually and members about $8000 – should be taken from them and split between the deputy mayor, council committee chairmen and councillors, he said.

He raised his point as councillors prepared to sign off on elected members’ rates of remuneration for 2012-13, which are set by the council from a remuneration pool allocated by the Remuneration Authority.

“Community boards are an expensive hangover from the past and we should look seriously at encouraging them, if not to disband, then to not to produce so much paper work.”

His idea was not supported by the other councillors, who voted to confirm the level of remuneration at the same as last year for community board members, the deputy mayor ($60,030), committee chairmen ($49,245) and councillors ($44,244.96).

Waikouaiti Coast-Chalmers community board chairman Gerard Collings said Cr Vandervis’ comments highlighted his lack of understanding of how local government worked and of the various facets that contributed to it.

“It seems strange that he feels he’s worth more than he’s already being paid.”

The mayor’s remuneration was also noted. Mayors’ salaries are determined separately from the remuneration pool by the authority, which indicated a salary for Cr Cull for 2012-13 of $144,600, an increase of $4400 from this year, a report to councillors said.


Artificial turf plan supported


By Allison Rudd on Sat, 12 May 2012

Football South, the governing body for football in the lower half of the South Island, strongly supports the Dunedin City Council installing a multipurpose artificial turf at Logan Park and says it might be able to help fund a turf, provided the correct pitch is chosen.

The council has budgeted $1.1 million for a turf between the former art gallery building and Butts Rd.

Floodlights would enable it to be used up to 98 hours a week.

Football South chairman Dougal McGowan and chief executive Bill Chisholm told the council yesterday Dunedin had a shortage of football grounds and players of all ages would use the turf for up to 52 hours a week.

The organisation’s “No 1 priority” would be for a football-specific G3 artificial turf which could become the home of football in Dunedin.

International and national games could be hosted there and the city would be able to attract players to training camps.

One of the major advantages of a football-specific turf was that Football South might be able to obtain a $US5000,000 ($NZ634,000) Fifa Goal Project grant, they said.

No grant had been applied for yet because council support was needed first, Mr McGowan said.

But he said Football South was “definitely in the running” for money, which, if obtained, would significantly reduce the contribution from the council.

Cr Lee Vandervis asked whether the artificial turf could be installed within the Forsyth Barr Stadium, which he said would save the council money on grounds staff and would enable the stadium to be used more. Rugby League officials had already indicated they could play on an artificial turf there, he said.

“The council would need to talk to the rugby union people about how they feel about that,” Mr McGowan said.

Football could be played on a suitable artificial turf wherever it was located, provided requirements such as warm-up space, high fencing at both ends, goal anchors, and lighting were met, he said.

Mr McGowan and Mr Chisholm also supported the council acting as host city and bidding for the Fifa Under 20 World Cup in 2015.

The council has earmarked $150,000 next year for pre-tournament expenses.

The event would bring economic benefits to Dunedin and allow the city to promote its “unique and magnificent environments”, they said.


ORFU unpaid bill ‘obscene’


By Chris Morris on Wed, 2 May 2012

An unpaid bill for $25,000 worth of food and drink, accrued at an Otago Rugby Football Union black-tie dinner just months before the union admitted facing liquidation, has been labelled “scandalous” and “obscene”.

It is understood Dunedin Venues Management Ltd was left with a $25,352 unpaid bill for food and drink after the ORFU’s Legends of Carisbrook fundraising dinner.

About 300 paying guests attended the black-tie event at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 5 last year. The ORFU, saddled with $2.2 million in debts, conceded in February it could not pay its bills.

The unpaid hospitality bill formed part of the nearly $80,000 owed by the ORFU to DVML, which was wiped by the Dunedin City Council as part of a rescue package agreed by councillors in March.

Stadium critic Bev Butler said yesterday it was “obscene” the unpaid bill for the black-tie event had been included in the bail-out.

“You would think when they [ORFU] have nothing in the bank, when they’re in debt, and if they’re throwing a party, that they’d cover the charges themselves and just charge people to come.”

ORFU chairman Wayne Graham defended the event when contacted yesterday, insisting it was organised before the union’s financial predicament was known.

“I can tell you it was well prior to the board being aware of the financial position.”

He was not aware an unpaid bill from the dinner had contributed to the debt owed to DVML, as ticket sales and a charity auction at the dinner meant it was supposed to be “a profitable event”.

“I’m a chairman of a board. I don’t know those sort of things.

“I was of the opinion it had more than covered its costs.”

Money raised had gone to the ORFU, but he could not say exactly what guests paid or what the proceeds were spent on.

“I honestly don’t know.”

ORFU change manager Jeremy Curragh – who arrived in Dunedin in January – was not familiar with details of the event.

Ms Butler obtained receipts for the event from DVML using the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.

Details of the spending were blacked out, but Ms Butler said other sources – whom she would not name – confirmed the unpaid bill was $25,352.

DVML chief executive David Davies would not confirm or deny the figures when contacted, but said the unpaid bill included food, soft drinks and all alcohol except wine, which was sponsored.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull told the ODT the union’s decision to host the event, given its financial position at the time, was “very unfortunate”.

Ms Butler also suggested councillors were not aware of the details of the bill before voting for March’s rescue package – a claim supported by Cr Lee Vandervis yesterday.

However, Mr Cull said that was incorrect.

“It was known that a substantial part of the debt the ORFU owed to DVML was for a fundraising dinner that wasn’t paid for,” he said.

Mr Cull also questioned whether the reason for the debt made any difference.

“It was a debt that wasn’t paid to DVML from ORFU. The fact that it was a dinner is neither here nor there. It is a debt.”

Cr Vandervis, who opposed the ORFU rescue package, yesterday said the unpaid bill was “scandalous”.

“I believe that the things the mayor has said about the ORFU, which they claim to be defamatory, are actually too light.”

Council observer for ORFU meetings


By Chris Morris on Fri, 27 Apr 2012

The Dunedin City Council will have a permanent presence at future Otago Rugby Football Union board meetings, after councillors yesterday appointed an observer to help avoid any future “train-wrecks”.

However, councillors also moved to de-politicise the appointment by agreeing the observer would be a council staff member selected by council chief executive Paul Orders.

The suggestion came from Cr Kate Wilson, who also nominated deputy mayor Chris Staynes as the council’s representative on the selection panel being created to form the next ORFU board.

The creation of both positions was part of a deal between the council and the union, which also resulted in the council writing off the $480,000 owed to it and Dunedin Venues Management Ltd by the ORFU.

Councillors voted 8-3 in favour of both moves at yesterday’s extraordinary council meeting.

Mayor Dave Cull said an observer would mean the council was in a better position to avoid “potential train-wrecks”.

“Certainly we can make no difference at all if we don’t have knowledge – that’s for sure,” he said.

The appointments would mean the council, through Cr Staynes, would have a say in who sat on the union’s next board.

Mr Orders told the meeting that board would be formed under a new constitution being drafted by the ORFU that placed new emphasis on “skills and competency”.

The council would also have a presence at all board meetings, even those dealing with sensitive topics, through its observer.

The observer would have access to all union papers and information, and the right to ask questions and report back to the council, councillors heard.

Crs Bill Acklin, Paul Hudson and Lee Vandervis all voted against the appointments.

Cr Hudson was worried the observer’s role needed clarifying and did not go far enough to protect ratepayers’ interests.

He believed observers would have a responsibility to act in the best interests of the board, and could be asked to leave meetings when debate turned to significant issues.

“Once we appoint someone to a board they are responsible to act as a board member,” he said.

“What we are doing here is not strong enough for what we, and I think the citizens of Dunedin, expect, going forward.”

Mr Cull disagreed, saying the observer would be “our observer”, with access to all information and the right to report back to the council, as a letter from ORFU change manager Jeremy Curragh made clear.

Mr Cull’s comments were backed by Mr Orders, who said the observer would report back regularly and would be able to raise any financial concerns.

“Our expectation would be the observer would be party to all matters, confidential or not … where they did impact on the council in any significant way, we would report that back,” Mr Orders said.

Cr Acklin questioned the choice of Cr Staynes for the ORFU selection panel, after Cr Staynes – at a speech to leisure marchers inside the Forsyth Barr Stadium – spent much of his speech “rubbishing” the facility.

Cr Staynes was not at yesterday’s meeting, but Cr Wilson and Mr Cull defended his selection, citing his qualifications and experience for the role.

Cr Richard Thomson voted for the appointments, but wanted assurances the observer would be able to act if they identified problems.

Mr Cull said the union’s new constitution – expected to be confirmed at the ORFU’s special general meeting on May 1 – would address “exactly those kind of matters”.

Debt clarification sought


By Chris Morris on Fri, 27 Apr 2012

The Dunedin City Council is to seek clarification over any liability for the Otago Rugby Football Union’s $1.2 million debt formerly owed to the Bank of New Zealand.

BNZ staff last month confirmed to the Otago Daily Times they had agreed to wipe the ORFU’s outstanding debt, in return for a commercial package negotiated with the New Zealand Rugby Union.

The write-off was part of the rescue package negotiated to save the ORFU from liquidation.

However, the issue re-emerged at yesterday’s council finance, strategy and development committee meeting, when Cr Lee Vandervis asked for clarification of the write-off.

He said some ratepayers had raised concerns “as recently as today” the council might still be liable for interest payments from the debt, as part of its agreement to underwrite ORFU debts for three years after the sale of Carisbrook.

In response, council finance and resources general manager Athol Stephens said he was not aware of arrangements between the bank and the union, but doubted any charges were coming.

Council chief executive Paul Orders said he had been assured by ORFU representatives the council was not liable, but he would seek confirmation from bank representatives.

Councillors allow easement use


By Debbie Porteous on Thu, 26 Apr 2012

City councillors have agreed in principle to allow two additional properties to have access over an existing right-of-way over part of Dunedin’s Town Belt, despite concerns from some councillors that it could lead to further development in the area.

Councillors at this week’s Dunedin City Council community development committee meeting considered the request for access to the easement from Lawson St, Belleknowes, across the Town Belt to 30 Lawson St and a property at 28 Lawson St/31 Bruce St.

Council staff reported their view was that an additional two or three users over the existing accessway, which one of the applicants had already been using informally for years, would have a negligible effect on the Town Belt.

Cr Kate Wilson said she was concerned about granting the easement because it would set a “dangerous precedent” as it encroached on to a reserve, while Crs Lee Vandervis and Theresa Stevenson said they were concerned it could lead to applications for consents to build more homes in the bush area.

“If I lived in Dawson St I wouldn’t be thanking the council for allowing an opening to more development,” Cr Vandervis said.

Cr Andrew Noone said the area was zoned residential and all the committee was doing was allowing those residents some practical access. Any consent applications would be considered in their own right, at such time as they were lodged, he said.

The recommendation to grant the application was passed eight votes to four. Crs MacTavish, Wilson, Vandervis and Stevenson voted against it.

Plan-change request to be notified


By Chris Morris on Wed, 25 Apr 2012

Two landowners who want a change to Dunedin’s district plan to allow their proposed 24-lot subdivision at Outram have cleared the first hurdle.

Councillors at yesterday’s Dunedin City Council planning and environment committee meeting voted to accept for processing the private plan-change request made by Balmoral Developments (Outram) Ltd and adjoining landowners Roger and Michelle Capil.

The landowners wanted to rezone 6.7ha of rural land as residential 6, which would allow residential homes to be developed on lots of 2000sq m or greater.

However, councillors and staff at yesterday’s meeting emphasised the decision to accept the request for processing was procedural, and not an indication of the merits of the proposal.

Instead, council city development manager Dr Anna Johnson said the council had no choice but to accept the application for processing, unless a reason existed under the Resource Management Act for not doing so.

“We’re basically forced to accept it [for processing],” she said.

“There’s no reasonable grounds to turn it down.”

The decision meant the plan-change request would soon be publicly notified, leading to two rounds of submissions followed by a public hearing in September, before a decision was released in October, a staff report said.

That gave council staff members time to discuss the proposal and work through the issues with the applicants, council senior policy planner Paul Freeland said.

“There are a number of issues at this location,” he said, including the site’s proximity to a state highway and flood banks.

What weight, if any, to give to the council’s draft spatial plan – which sought to limit residential expansion – when a hearing was held would also need to be considered, he said.

It would then eventually be up to the council’s hearings committee to determine whether to grant the plan change, Dr Johnson said.

Cr Lee Vandervis questioned whether the council, in accepting the plan-change request for processing, was opening itself up to extra costs, but was reassured by Mr Freeland all costs would be met by the applicants.

An application prepared by consultants Johnston Whitney said the development would meet growing demand for residential homes in Outram, and incorporate the historic Balmoral homestead, built in 1857.

The 6.7ha site was over two titles near State Highway 87, Holyhead Rd and Mountfort St. About 6.3ha was owned by Balmoral Developments (Outram) Ltd, headed by directors Cathrine and Neville Ferguson, of Omarama, and the rest by the Capils.


Choice suggested in bus shelter design


By Chris Morris on Wed, 25 Apr 2012

Dunedin residents may have a say in the design of new bus shelters coming to a street near them – but only at a cost.

The suggestion came at yesterday’s Dunedin City Council planning and environment committee meeting, as councillors considered final plans for 124 new glass bus shelters at existing bus stops around the city.

The shelters were to be added over the next year on behalf of the Otago Regional Council, which ran the city’s bus system and was responsible for the design and budget of the new shelters, councillors heard.

Several councillors said members of the public had raised concerns about the new glass design, and Cr Lee Vandervis wondered whether older-style wooden bus shelters could be considered instead.

Council transportation operations programme engineer Michael Harrison said the contract for the new bus shelters had already been let, and changing to a wooden shelter design would “approximately double” the $7000 cost of each one.

The glass shelters were also designed to address issues of personal safety and undesirable behaviour, by making people inside the shelters more visible, he said.

However, committee chairman Cr Kate Wilson asked whether it would be possible to change to an older-style shelter design at a particular stop, if residents or a group, such as the Dunedin Amenities Society, were prepared to pay extra.

Cr Vandervis labelled the suggestion “absolutely absurd”, but Mr Harrison said staff would “certainly consider it” if requests were made.

Any wooden shelters would have to fit the tight spaces identified for the new glass shelters, Mr Harrison said.

Anyone concerned about the design could make a submission to forthcoming DCC and ORC draft budget hearings, he said.

The discussion came after a council hearings committee last month considered public submissions on the proposed new shelters.

Plans for 86 of the shelters were accepted without opposition or after negotiations, nine were withdrawn by council staff and objections to another 29 sites were considered at last month’s hearing.

A written report by committee chairman Cr Colin Weatherall to yesterday’s meeting said all 29 had since been approved, but with conditions designed to minimise the impact for concerned neighbours.

The results did not satisfy Cr Vandervis, who was a member of last month’s hearings committee until he walked out in protest because of concerns about the consultation process.

He renewed his criticisms yesterday, prompting a testy exchange with fellow hearings committee member Cr Andrew Noone, followed by a point of order – later withdrawn – from Cr John Bezett, who accused Cr Vandervis of “wasting time”.

Councillors then voted to accept the report and note the hearings committee’s decisions.

Social housing policy options forum


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 24 Apr 2012

A social housing forum will consider a range of scenarios for dealing with a potentially significant increase in the demand for social housing in Dunedin over the next 20 years, and will then present a range of options for the Dunedin City Council to consider.

Councillors agreed to the establishment of the forum at yesterday’s community development committee meeting where they considered an analysis of the need for social housing provision up until the year 2031.

The report was commissioned from The Property Group Ltd as part of the Dunedin City Social Housing Strategy 2010-20.

It said that while social housing in Dunedin appeared to meet the need in the city at the moment, as many as 1000 extra social housing “solutions” would be required by 2031 as Housing New Zealand retreated from the sector and the population aged and became less able to afford their own homes or market-rate rentals.

The council is committed via its social housing strategy to be a lead provider of social housing for older people in Dunedin.

At present, there are 2736 social housing units in total in Dunedin, owned by various providers, the largest of which is Housing New Zealand.

The council has capped its social housing stock at 1000 units until 2016 when it will add five new units per year, but that will not be enough to meet the estimated needs in the future.

The needs assessment suggested a range of solutions for coping with demand for social housing: from doing nothing, to putting the stock of all social housing providers in the city into a single trust, which would be big enough to attract government funding and pay for the extra housing required.

It did not consider selling the council’s housing stock, as that would do the opposite of expanding the sector.

The Property Group Ltd senior strategic adviser on housing, Neil Gray, told councillors there was a strong interest in social housing in the city, substantial existing assets and established providers of the service, so a good plan could make the Dunedin sector resilient enough to sustain itself and grow in the future.

However, exactly how that would be achieved was something that needed to come from the sector itself, he said.

Cr Teresa Stevenson said the report was a good place to start discussions on a range of solutions, but Cr Lee Vandervis questioned the need to spend any more money or time “looking for solutions that are looking for a problem”.

“We’re doing very well with our housing as it is.”

Cr Richard Thomson responded he thought that was shortsighted.

“I do get cross at the comfortable middle class saying we don’t have any responsibility for those who don’t sit as comfortably as we do.”

It was important to plan ahead and the next stage of work was not about spending any money, it was about examining, at no extra cost to the council, the possibilities, after which the council would have to think about where it was going to spend money.

Cr Chris Staynes said the city was heading into a very difficult period if it did not consider how it was going to deal with the housing needs of an ageing population.

Cr Jinty McTavish said the report was a useful starting point for a lot of more detailed work.

Cr Kate Wilson moved that the recommendation council staff and the Dunedin social housing providers network work on solution scenarios and report back to the council, be amended to recommend forming a social housing forum that included planners and private developers as well as social housing providers and relevant council staff to look at solutions and report back options to council.

The amendment was made and councillors voted to approve the recommendation, except Cr Vandervis, who voted against it.

Council debt top concern


By Vaughan Elder on Fri, 13 Apr 2012

Concerns the Dunedin City Council has not done enough to cut spending in the wake of the debt taken on by spending on Forsyth Barr Stadium and other projects, were aired at a Dunedin Ratepayers and Householders Association meeting last night.

About 45 people attended the meeting at Burns Hall, where Mayor Dave Cull and council chief executive Paul Orders, along with Crs Lee Vandervis and Jinty MacTavish, spoke about the council’s draft annual plan and answered questions from the audience.

Association chairman Lyndon Weggery said the biggest issue facing the council was the level of debt, which had spiralled out of control to $602 million, when council company debts were included.

“It’s hard to believe it got so high,” Mr Weggery said.

He went on to say the council owed ratepayers an apology for the “long sad history” in the way it consulted the public over spending on the stadium.

“Such a gesture would go a long way,” he said.

He applauded the council for the spending reduction it had made in getting the projected 2012-13 rate rise down to 5%, but asked why further reductions and a 3% rate rise could not be achieved.

Mr Cull said the council had done a brilliant job in reducing the projected rate rise from 11.9% to 5%.

Mr Orders said the “crucial issue” for council was striving towards “operational efficiency”, which meant reviewing the provision of services.

Several audience members asked questions about the level of debt. One accused the council of taking on extra debt as a way of delivering smaller rate rises.

Mr Cull reminded the audience the council had inherited a difficult situation and was trying to turn that around.

Cr Vandervis told a questioner the council’s best cost-saving options were to become a unitary authority and amalgamate with other councils, slash staffing numbers and drastically reduce stadium costs.

Numbers down, but council still gets message


By Chris Morris on Wed, 11 Apr 2012

Dunedin City Council representatives outnumbered their audience, but empty chairs trumped them both, at last night’s budget roadshow meeting.

And that was after two more council managers realised their services would not be required and quietly slipped out the door.

Despite that, council chief executive Paul Orders said the message from ratepayers had come through loud and clear at public meetings around Dunedin in recent weeks.

Last night’s roadshow was the final in the council series to discuss its draft long-term plan, which detailed council spending intentions for the next decade.

Public submissions close on April 17.

Five people were at the St Martins Hall in Northeast Valley for the start of last night’s meeting, facing six council representatives led by Mr Orders and including Crs Andrew Noone, Lee Vandervis and Jinty MacTavish.

The five grilled the assembled panel on issues including the Caversham tunnel project, council debt and the merits of an eco-housing retrofit scheme.

Two more people arrived an hour late, and the scales tipped further when Cr Vandervis departed for “another meeting” moments later.

Mr Orders told the Otago Daily Times the turnout “wasn’t typical” and he had been impressed with public engagement over the last month.

“There are clearly some very relevant issues for the community that need to be discussed.”

There were 52 people at a roadshow meeting at the Pak’n Save supermarket in South Dunedin on March 22, and crowds of 96, 98 and 118 people at events in Portobello, Blueskin Bay and Mosgiel.

Another 95 people attended an Otago Chamber of Commerce-organised discussion, and 20 more were at a Sustainable Dunedin City-organised event, in recent weeks, council staff said.

The Dunedin Ratepayers and Householders Association has also organised tomorrow night’s meeting at Burns Hall to discuss the council’s draft annual plan, which Mr Orders and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull will attend.


A broken heart is better than none at all

Opinion – Mon, 2 Apr 2012

What do you get when you take the church out of Christchurch, Lee Vandervis asks.

What are they thinking? When they propose demolition, are they thinking at all? Cathedral Square is now the broken heart of Christchurch, but surely a broken heart is better than no heart at all.

A throng of tourists by day and some shady characters by night, Cathedral Square really is the heart of Christchurch. The Garden City is more fundamentally branded Christ’s Church, and the city council’s imagery reinforces this.

Local Christchurch boy come Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee has described heritage buildings as “old dungers” and “old stuff [that] needs to be got down and got out, because it’s dangerous and we don’t need it”.

He has also been quoted as saying most of Christchurch’s 1000 heritage buildings were a danger to lives and should be demolished.

In my opinion it is Mr Brownlee that should be demolished for his ignorance of heritage value and for his parochial failure to consider the long-term needs of Christchurch people and the whole South Island.

What is his master plan for a city without the soul of heritage buildings? Does he not know that most earthquake deaths occurred in relatively modern buildings? What is his plan for the majority of South Island exports if the Lyttelton tunnel collapses?

A brief look overseas shows how heritage buildings, and churches in particular, are valued worldwide, and Peter Entwisle has listed compelling examples in his [ODT, 19.3.12] grand opinion piece “Precedents exist for rebuilding cathedral”. From Coventry to Dresden to Santiago, Mr Entwisle shows how heritage value has been recognised, restored, and is rejoiced all over the world.

Why then do Christchurch leaders want to knock their cathedral down?

The cost of a reinforced rebuild is certainly a factor, with Bishop Matthews saying it would cost more than $100 million while other experts say it could be done for as little as $20 million. Whatever the figure, it pales when you consider that $240 million is being spent on airport improvements for an airport that saw a 35% drop in tourist numbers last year.

The Wizard has launched a campaign to save the cathedral, and the Unesco World Heritage Centre has just called for it to be saved.

My sense of it is that the real reason Christchurch leaders want the cathedral gone is because it is an iconic reminder of Christchurch’s underlying weakness – its seismic insecurity. The cathedral has been damaged by earthquakes throughout its history, in 1881, 1888, 1901, and 1922 before the recent spate of earthquakes destroyed its spire.

Christchurch leaders want to go on pretending that they have built on rock instead of shifting sands. The spire which defied gravity and invited all to look upwards to the sky and to spirit has fallen, and too many monetary hopes have fallen with it. Their crumbled cathedral is too much visible reality for city leaders to tolerate.

Christchurch has long branded itself as the Garden City, but is now trying to unbrand itself as the South Island epicentre, so the cathedral must go.

If you go to the Christchurch City Council website however, the first image you see is the out-of-date undamaged cathedral, misleading advertising at best.

The cathedral spire is central to the CCC logo as well as central to Christchurch people’s sense of permanence and place. In Dunedin shops have done a brisk trade in pillows and tea-towels featuring an embroidery-style image of Christchurch Cathedral – sold mostly to permanent or temporary Christchurch refugees here.

Has Mr Brownlee counted the cost of changing the CCC logo everywhere, and the attachment that most Christchurch people have to their city’s heart and name?

Christchurch is a city where it is money that matters. Long-term planning, resilient community, and ensuring that building was on stable land have taken a back seat.

Where is the money in saving the cathedral? Christchurch “haves” live in a different sphere to the bulk of Christchurch “have-nots”, and their view of the cathedral seems to be Mr Brownlee’s “we don’t need it”.

I believe that the people of Christchurch not only need the cathedral, but that they must have it because it is symbolic of their identity, their history, and it is their reality check.

Between rebuilding and demolition lies an even tougher option – that of stabilising and using the remaining structure as it is. Much tougher because it would mean moving beyond denial to acceptance of Christchurch’s earthquake proneness, acceptance that mistakes were made building monuments to the sky, and acceptance of the power of nature. It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

Christchurch should reflect on the great power of acceptance, as the people of Berlin did with the destruction of their Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the bombing of 1943. My most memorable experience of Berlin is of a choir singing in the remaining reinforced ruin of the church, their determination not to forget, and their love for their spiritual centre. Can Christchurch not similarly accept and see the value in its compromised cathedral?This tough option of preserving the ruin would be much more affordable.

With time, Cantabrians would realise a fascinating permanent cathedral ruin in the heart of Christchurch which people could continue to use, and learn through acceptance to love again. The preserved remains of the cathedral would be a much more interesting and informative focus for the square than anything new that could be built.

As you read this, the wrecking ball of denial is being hoisted to wipe out Christchurch Cathedral forever. The wrong people are ruining Christchurch by failing to preserve what remains of its truly iconic ruin. All options disappear in a few days …

Lee Vandervis is a Dunedin city councillor.