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.
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- DCC Minutes, Agendas and Reports: http://www.dunedin.govt.nz/your-council/council-minutes
Vandervis’ access to staff reinstated
By Chris Morris on Sat, 22 Dec 2012
Outspoken city councillor Lee Vandervis has been given an early Christmas present – permission to talk to Dunedin City Council staff again.
Cr Vandervis had been banned from talking directly to most staff for more than a year, after giving orders to some – and describing others as ”dogs” – in a series of angry emails in September last year.
That prompted then-acting chief executive Athol Stephens to instruct council staff receiving phone calls or emails from Cr Vandervis to forward them to their general managers.
The council’s customer services agency staff were also told to divert Cr Vandervis’ phone calls to staff to general managers.
The ban lasted 15 months, until formally lifted by council chief executive Paul Orders yesterday.
Cr Vandervis said when contacted the move was ”hardly a present” and ”nothing to be congratulated on”.
”It was an absolutely unwarranted, illegal and unworkable suggestion anyway.”
Mr Orders, in an email to senior managers yesterday, said the decision was a ”matter of principle”.
It followed the decision by councillors earlier this month to abandon a code of conduct complaint by Cr Vandervis against Mayor Dave Cull without resolution, meaning all complaints were now resolved.
A copy of Mr Orders’ email was released to the Otago Daily Times following an official information request.
In it, he wrote the councillors’ decision to resolve outstanding complaints had ”prompted me to consider the restrictions” placed on Cr Vandervis.
”As a matter of principle, I have reservations about applying such an open-ended sanction on an elected member.
”I have reflected on this carefully and have taken the decision to rescind the restriction forthwith and I expect that Councillor Vandervis is given access to appropriate professional staff advice on the same basis as that of any other councillor.”
The most inflammatory of Cr Vandervis’ emails, on August 16 last year, was sent to Mr Stephens and four senior managers.
In it, Cr Vandervis expressed anger at council parking wardens ticketing vehicles in the central city after heavy snow.
”Staff of the DCC,” he wrote.
”Get our parking wardens off the streets IMMEDIATELY! NOW!!
”Failure to respond by return with the decision to call the DCC dogs off our hapless motorists WILL RESULT IN AN ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE PUBLIC ESCALATION.”
Cr Vandervis’ message – using capital letters, which typically indicated shouting – was followed hours later by an apology to any staff who felt ”personally abused”.
However, days later, Cr Vandervis emailed another staff member questioning the ”dysfunctional” management of council parking facilities and labelling the council ”a self-serving bureaucratic culture with little specific expertise”.
The emails prompted complaints from Crs Kate Wilson and Syd Brown. Cr Vandervis criticised the ban that followed as ”utterly draconian” and expressed hope Mr Orders would intervene.
Mixed reaction to axing plan hearings
By Chris Morris on Sun, 16 Dec 2012
An efficiency drive that could spell the end to days of public hearings on councils’ annual plans has drawn mixed responses from within the Dunedin City Council.
A recommendation to axe the requirement for councils to prepare and consult on annual plans was included in an independent report released this week by the Local Government Efficiency Taskforce.
The report recommended councils prepare long-term budgets – undertaken every three years – in the first year of their term, but then only annual budgets for the remainder of each term.
The annual budgets would not require consultation unless they triggered an amendment to long-term plans, the report suggested.
The proposals contained in the task force’s report were expected to feed into the Government’s Better Local Government reforms already under way, as part of a second Local Government Bill next year.
However, the suggestion public consultation needed to become more efficient drew a mixture of applause and criticism from within the Dunedin City Council on Thursday.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said providing a formal mechanism for the public to express their views on council plans each year could generate ”good, constructive conversations”, but could also be ”quite onerous”.
”We don’t have too little consultation … our annual plan submissions process gives everyone the opportunity to come and talk to us, but it’s an enormous demand on our staff and our councillors,” he said.
Changes to that process would not spell the end of consultation, as the council already sought feedback in a number of other ways – including the People’s Panel, stakeholder groups and a regular public forum, he said.
”I don’t think we’d necessarily lose a great deal … it’s not like we are not talking to the community.”
Council chief executive Paul Orders said the report’s recommendations contained ”a healthy dose of common sense”.
Existing arrangements were ”something of a curate’s egg – good in parts but also overly prescriptive”, he said.
”Robust dialogue between councils and communities is a pre-condition of healthy local government, and this needs to continue whatever the regulations.
”But current rules also lead to a tick-box regime that baffles the public with complexity.”
However, some councillors were divided by the proposals.
Cr Richard Thomson – a first-term councillor – said he had expected to ”absolutely hate” the council’s annual plan process, but instead had been pleasantly surprised by the quality of many submissions.
There was room for improvement, and axing the process would promote efficiency and save money, ”but I think you would lose some other things that I think are quite important”, he said.
Cr Jinty MacTavish agreed, saying reduced consultation would see councils ”moving backwards”.
”Democracy is only effective if it’s participatory … an annual discussion about priorities is a really useful thing.”
However, Cr Lee Vandervis welcomed the report, saying annual plans were an ”annual sham” and the suggested changes ”all sound very sensible to me”.
He continued to support consultation on long-term plans, but believed too much time and money was wasted consulting annually on ”every little detail”.
”They are accounting exercises to make everything look OK, when we know damn well it isn’t.”
The report said the Local Government Act was based on representative, rather than participatory, democracy.
However, that had become blurred, creating confusion and resulting in ”extensive consultation when it is not required”, the report said.
It recommended amending the Act to reaffirm the representative nature of local government, stressing decision-making remained with elected members, and giving councils more flexibility to decide when to consult their communities.
That should include axing annual plans and their consultation, which ”no longer has the relevance it had”.
”We consider that the annual plan in its current form is inefficient and ineffective,” the report said.
Other proposed changes included adopting a ”principles-based” approach to consultation, giving councils flexibility to decide when and how to consult, and limiting the use of special consultative procedures to the long-term plan process.
Long-term plans should also be simplified, based on ”the analogy of an iceberg”, where the ice above water represented information in the plan.
Greater use of technology promoted
By Chris Morris on Sun, 16 Dec 2012
Dunedin city councillors could soon be beaming in their votes by iPad and Skype if a push to increase the use of technology by local authorities finds favour.
The suggestion came in a Local Government Efficiency Taskforce report released this week, which recommended investigating greater use of technology by councils.
The recommendation was met by a mix of cautious optimism in Dunedin, where a digital divide of sorts existed among city councillors.
Some, such as Cr Jinty MacTavish, have embraced social media, tweeting furiously and updating Facebook after each council meeting.
Others, such as Cr Richard Thomson, declared themselves to be ”not a tweeter” and ”barely a Facebooker”.
However, the taskforce suggested their were efficiencies to be gained by promoting the use of technology, which could potentially allow councillors to contribute to meetings – and even vote – without actually being there.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said he saw merit in the idea, although he was nervous about allowing councillors to attend every meeting from home by video conferencing.
However, it would be useful when extraordinary council meetings were called at short notice, sometimes with brief agendas, which required far-flung councillors to travel long distances.
”If we had the technology we could do it really easily,” Mr Cull said.
The move could also help reduce the mountain of paperwork produced for each council meeting, and remote voting could also be an option as long as any ”fish hooks” were identified and resolved first, he said.
”I could see real efficiencies in having it there as a mechanism when we needed it.”
The taskforce’s report noted councillors were unable to use technology to vote ”when not physically present” at council meetings, but changing that could create efficiencies, particularly for out-of-town councillors.
Cr Kate Wilson, who lives at Middlemarch and commuted for council business, welcomed any change that allowed greater use of video conferencing for council meetings.
Her trip took an hour each way – or up to 90 minutes if it had snowed – and ultimately cost time and money, she said.
”I waste up to 10 hours a week driving.
”That’s time I can’t read, I can’t do emails, I can’t be on the phone … it’s time I could be a much more effective councillor,” she said.
Cr MacTavish said the council already made use of technology for initiatives like the People’s Panel, but there was room for improvement.
She supported using technology to make council business and public consultation more efficient, and backed video conferencing and remote voting for meetings.
”We are improving all the time, but there’s still a lot we could be doing.”
Cr Lee Vandervis agreed technology could save time, but drew the line at allowing councillors to regularly debate and vote from elsewhere apart from in exceptional circumstances.
”I think councillors should be sitting around a table, and we should be coming to a decision without having to look at monitors and all the stuff that would hang around that.”
Cr Thomson disagreed, saying video conferencing for meetings already worked well for other public organisations, like district health boards.
Adopting that approach would allow councillors who had to be out of town, but were not busy at the exact time a council meeting took place, to participate.
”It doesn’t matter if you are in the same room. It’s whether you participated in the same discussion,” he said.
$750,000 a year for community use of stadium
By Chris Morris on Tue, 11 Dec 2012
Details of a deal under which the Dunedin City Council will spend $750,000 a year to subsidise greater community use of the Forsyth Barr Stadium have been confirmed.
Councillors at yesterday’s full council meeting voted to accept a new service level agreement between the council and Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, the company running the city’s loss-making roofed venue.
The agreement confirmed the council would pay $750,000 a year to DVML in return for enhanced access to the venue – at reduced or no cost – for community groups.
The extra funding was first agreed by councillors in May, but the service level agreement – detailing the requirements of each party as part of the deal – was only ready to be endorsed by councillors yesterday.
The deal meant the council would draw up criteria for subsidised access for charitable and non-profit groups, including schools, sports clubs and cultural groups, on the proviso it did not conflict with DVML’s commercial arrangements.
Councillors voted in favour of the agreement despite concerns expressed by Cr Richard Thomson, and endorsed by Cr Lee Vandervis, that the extra council funding served to endorse a high-cost operation within DVML.
Cr Thomson told the meeting he was ”very nervous” about spending a ”significant amount of money” to increase community use of the stadium.
Doing so would subsidise access for groups that would not otherwise use the venue, when they might want – but not need – to. At the same time, ”we help to lock in a high cost mode of operation” within DVML, he said.
Instead, the money could be better spent elsewhere, such as an events incentive fund to attract performers people had ”a reasonable expectation” might appear at the stadium, and which would provide a commercial return, he suggested.
Mayor Dave Cull said the service level agreement included a clause allowing it to be reviewed or modified at any time.
Council chief executive Paul Orders said the agreement would be ”a holding position” until the outcome of the wider review was known.
Despite opposition from Crs Thomson, Vandervis and Teresa Stevenson, councillors voted 11-3 to approve the agreement.
Complaint against mayor unresolved
By Chris Morris on Tue, 11 Dec 2012
Dunedin city councillors have decided to move on without resolving a complaint against Mayor Dave Cull dating back more than a year.
Councillors at yesterday’s full council meeting decided to accept the recommendation made by deputy mayor Chris Staynes, who had been attempting to resolve a complaint against Mr Cull made by Cr Lee Vandervis.
Cr Vandervis filed the code of conduct complaint in September last year, claiming Mr Cull had erred in his handling of issues including points of order raised by councillors during meetings.
The matter had dragged on without resolution since, despite attempts at mediation.
Cr Staynes’ report – considered at yesterday’s meeting – said Cr Vandervis had in September declined an offer to arrange an external mediator to resolve the complaint.
However, because of the amount of time that had passed, and the council’s decision to review its standing orders, including the complaints process, it was recommended no further action be taken, Cr Staynes’ report said.
Councillors at yesterday’s meeting voted to accept the recommendation, without debate.
No resolution of council complaint
By Chris Morris on Sat, 8 Dec 2012
A prolonged stoush between Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull and one of his councillors over claims of broken rules is to be abandoned without resolution.
Cr Lee Vandervis had lodged a code of conduct complaint in September last year, claiming Mr Cull erred in his handling of ”a whole bunch of issues”, including points of order raised by councillors during meetings.
Cr Vandervis’ action was among tit-for-tat moves that saw six complaints lodged within weeks – all of them involving Cr Vandervis, either as the councillor making the complaints or as the target of them.
Most had since been resolved, but the complaint involving Cr Vandervis and Mr Cull had not, despite attempts at mediation.
Instead, councillors will be asked on Monday to consider resolving the matter by accepting it is time to move on.
A report by deputy mayor Chris Staynes recommended taking no further action because of the elapsed time, and because a review of the council’s code of conduct complaints procedure was already under way.
Cr Vandervis confirmed when contacted yesterday he was involved in the matter, but was reluctant to comment about the details, saying only it was ”not exciting at all”.
”In general, the code of conduct system seems not to have been workable.
”The item you refer to is, I believe, simply a tidy-up.”
Cr Staynes could not be reached for comment.
Mr Cull confirmed earlier this year a review was under way that would look to simplify standing orders, and possibly introduce an independent panel to adjudicate complaints.
Electric bicycle makes grade on Baldwin St
By Shawn McAvinue on Sat, 8 Dec 2012
Even though the climb by AvantiPlus bike mechanic Mac Robertson (50) was aided by an electric motor, Chinese travellers clapped as he motored up Baldwin St.
The torque from the electric drive on the eZee bike started the front-wheel spinning half-way up the street, making Mr Robertson stand up and pedal to put weight over the front wheel and gain enough traction to complete the feat.
”I’m puffing, but I’d be dead if I didn’t have a motor,” he said.
Mr Robertson said he had demonstrated the bike to ”six bigwigs” at the Dunedin City Council earlier this year.
Electric Bike Hub owner Jace Hobbs (58) said Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown owned an eZee bike. He distributes the brand throughout New Zealand, from Nelson.
However, the Wellington City Council and Dunedin City Council had not bought any bikes.
But councils in Palmerston North, Hamilton, New Plymouth and Auckland all had fleets of the electric bikes for deliveries and inspections.
The bike fleet allowed the council in New Plymouth to get rid of five cars, he said.
The bikes cost from $2400 to $2900 and to fully charge the battery used about 15c worth of electricity, he said.
Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis said he tested the ”marvellous” bike on Baldwin St yesterday.
The bikes would be perfect for parking enforcement officers in Dunedin because bikes would be easier to maintain than motorcycles.
Motorists would also find it easier to accept a fine from an officer on an electric bike than on a motorcycle, he said.
On the bike, he reached speeds of 28kmh on flat land using the electric motor and pedal power.
Electric bikes would be an important part of the future transport mix in Dunedin but safety was an issue. More bike-friendly lanes were needed in Dunedin to encourage cyclists, he said.
Stadium events incentive plan call
By Debbie Porteous on Sat, 1 Dec 2012
Dunedin city councillors have recommended the company that runs Forsyth Barr Stadium establish an events procurement strategy and investigate setting up an incentives fund for attracting events to the venue.
Increasing events and other usage was the main suggestion from respondents to a recent council survey on how to increase revenue from the stadium and cut costs and how the community could make the most of the venue.
After considering what Dunedin Venues Management Ltd (DVML) was already doing in response to many of the public’s suggestions, a council subcommittee of Mayor Dave Cull and councillors Syd Brown, Kate Wilson, Chris Staynes and Lee Vandervis yesterday made five further recommendations to DVML and its parent company, Dunedin City Holdings Ltd (DCHL), based on the public feedback.
The subcommittee recommended they be part of the companies’ review of the community use and affordability of the stadium.
Asked about whether an events incentive fund was needed, DVML chief executive Darren Burden said a roofed stadium was attractive to promoters, but it was not enough for them.
There was a perception the promoter did not carry any risk, but quite often they put up the money themselves, so took a huge risk on an event, he said.
It was difficult to say what would clinch an event, as each promoter sought different things.
Promoters of sports events, for example, were interested in how much cash was in it for them from the venue, while others might want assistance with logistics, such as transport, or guarantees about ticket sales or media coverage.
Other promoters wanted to take more of the profits themselves.
“[At the moment] when it comes to getting them here, we come with nothing. The only leverage we have is to cut a significant discount offer in terms of venue hires, and that cuts out our revenue.”
Mr Cull said a Melbourne event marketer recently told him local government there put millions of dollars into an event incentive fund, even though Melbourne had many great venues.
“It just shows we can’t take [events] for granted, because we have a great venue.”
Cr Brown said if events like the Elton John concert injected $14 million into the local economy, perhaps commercial as well as community contributions should be made to an incentive fund.
Cr Wilson said the sound issues with non-concert events needed to be sorted out, as well as those around major events.
A smartphone application, for example, with which people could connect to the stadium’s sound system, would mean people could better hear commentary at sports events or events such as the recent rodeo, at which the sound quality was reportedly poor.
It could also be another way of increasing the revenue of the stadium, she said.
With regards to a special lottery, Cr Vandervis, who made a similar suggestion in 2010, said the idea was worth looking into.
“We need some kind of funding line where we are going to be able to get money from outside Dunedin.”
One of the main issue would be getting lottery status for it.
“Whether it’s a flyer depends on a lot of things, enthusiasm probably being the key thing.”
He could think of plenty of things that would make great prizes, including Carisbrook seats and other memorabilia and signed All Black clothing, although he conceded it might be a bit late to set up a stadium lottery of the kind he had initially proposed because most of the Carisbrook chattels he proposed as prizes had since been disposed of.
“Some updated concept will hopefully still be investigated.”
The subcommittee adjourned before considering other ideas suggested by the public, including grazing sheep in the stadium and using if for growing cannabis – although DVML has already told councillors it is “not sure this would be sanctioned and the power bill would be too high”.
The subcommittee will also consider whether community events should be subsidised by commercial events or a ratepayer fund or subsidy.
The five suggestions to DVML
Dunedin City Council subcommittee recommends Dunedin Venues Management Ltd and Dunedin City Holdings Ltd:
• Establish an event procurement strategy.
• Investigate an events incentive fund and how it might be funded.
• Investigate improving stadium sound for concert and non-concert events.
• Keep up with artificial turf technology and be ready to make changes.
• Investigate a stadium lottery.
Council approves water connection
By Rosie Manins on Wed, 28 Nov 2012
A Waitati couple are celebrating the end of a decade-long fight to secure their domestic water supply, made possible yesterday by a decision of the Dunedin City Council’s infrastructure services committee.
Geoff and Faye Bate, who own and operate Arden Country House in Waitati Valley Rd, sought approval from the council to connect their bed and breakfast property to the northern reticulated water pipeline.
As they were outside the council’s supply area, connection to the public supply breached policy.
But Mr and Mrs Bate told the Otago Daily Times their request to the council was a last resort, having exhausted all other options in the past 10 years.
Had their request been declined, the couple would have had to rely on the limited volume of rain water available and that would have meant the end of their business, Mrs Bate said.
“It’s an amazing relief. It will be lovely to just know that you can turn the tap on and water will come out,” she said.
The Bates moved to Waitati Valley Rd and opened Arden Country House 11 years ago. They had had problems with water almost ever since.
Their access to a neighbour’s bore was restricted because of a personal dispute, which had involved police and the court.
Members of the council committee expressed sympathy for the Bates, although some were concerned their approval of the application would set a precedent which could have negative repercussions.
Cr Lee Vandervis said the Bates’ situation was the result of a dispute between neighbours and nothing to do with the council, therefore it was inappropriate for the council to compromise the integrity of its policy.
“If we allow this, the floodgates are going to be open,” he said.
Cr Jinty MacTavish was concerned about the council committing itself to supplying water to the property, particularly if the northern pipeline was decommissioned or moved.
Mayor Dave Cull said the water system was set up to serve the community and although the application posed some risk to the council, granting it would not adversely affect anyone.
A motion to approve the application was carried, supported by all except Cr Vandervis and Cr MacTavish, while Cr Teresa Stevenson abstained from voting.
Conditions imposed on Mr and Mrs Bate required them to pay all costs associated with connection to the public water supply, provide at least 30,000 litres of storage on site and pay a $5000 network contribution. Their water use will be metered and charged at a standard business rate.
Cull and Vandervis at loggerheads again
By Chris Morris on Fri, 16 Nov 2012
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull and councillor Lee Vandervis are at loggerheads again, this time over the Office of the Auditor-general’s inquiry into land purchases by Delta.
Cr Vandervis contacted the Otago Daily Times on Sunday to confirm he had lodged a complaint with the Auditor-general’s office over Delta’s acquisitions at Jacks Point and Luggate.
However, Mr Cull said on Wednesday he was “a bit bemused” by Cr Vandervis’ announcement.
That was because Mr Cull had been talking to the Auditor-general’s office about a possible inquiry since early October, and had received confirmation an investigation would be launched late last month, he said.
Councillors – including Cr Vandervis – had also been briefed on the investigation late last month, once it was confirmed, he said.
Cr Vandervis’ emailed complaint to the Auditor-general, copied to the ODT, showed it was sent only on November 8.
“I’m a bit bemused as to why he [Cr Vandervis] would make a complaint with the Auditor-general’s office when he was aware that an investigation had been confirmed,” Mr Cull said this week.
“I can’t comment on the motivations of Cr Vandervis.”
However, Mr Cull only publicly confirmed he was in “talks” with the Auditor-general’s office when contacted by the ODT on Sunday, after Cr Vandervis announced his own complaint.
Cr Vandervis said he had been raising concerns about Delta’s property purchases for “years”, and Mr Cull had only acted “when his back was completely up against the wall”.
“Better late than never, but this has been a very longstanding issue.”
Delta inquiry: Companies’ integrity on line – Cull
By Chris Morris on Thu, 15 Nov 2012
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says the integrity of the Dunedin City Council’s companies is on the line after the Office of the Auditor-general yesterday launched an inquiry into land purchases by Delta.
The investigation would examine all aspects of the council-owned company’s decision to spend $14.12 million on property at Jacks Point, in Queenstown, and Luggate, near Wanaka, in 2008 and 2009.
That included how and why the purchases were made, consideration of risks, compliance with legislation, and the identification and management of any conflicts of interest, the OAG statement said.
The Auditor-general would also consider to what extent the council – as the shareholder of Delta’s parent company, Dunedin City Holdings Ltd – was involved, and any other matters considered “desirable” to report on.
It was not yet known how long the inquiry would take, but “relatively contained” inquiries usually took up to three months, while more complex investigations could take six to 12 months, the OAG statement said.
The inquiry could see those involved required to provide information and give evidence under oath.
Yesterday’s announcement came after confirmation last month Delta had written down the value of its investments by $9 million, including by $7.5 million for the Jacks Point and Luggate properties.
The company paid $8.82 million for 9.4ha of land at Jacks Point, and $5.3 million for a 50-50 stake in the joint venture property development at Luggate.
Mr Cull yesterday told the Otago Daily Times the inquiry came after he contacted the Auditor-general’s office in early October to discuss information he had received that was “new to me” about the company’s purchases.
He would not say what the information was, other than it came from “a variety of sources”, covered “a number of things”, and “clearly” raised concerns.
“There’s clearly questions and concerns that go to the heart of council and community confidence in the integrity, potentially, of council company process.” Delta chief executive Grady Cameron issued a brief statement late yesterday, saying he “welcomed” the inquiry and “the opportunity for an independent review of the decision-making processes”.
The company would “co-operate fully” and adopt any recommendations that followed, he said.
“We look forward to the outcome.” He would make no further comment until the inquiry was complete, and has declined repeated ODT requests for an interview this week.
DCHL chief executive Bevan Dodds said he was yet to hear from the OAG and did not expect to be “too involved” in the inquiry, but would co-operate if contacted.
DCHL chairman Denham Shale – who was appointed after the purchases – said he looked forward to the inquiry’s findings, but would not comment on transactions dating back years “made in the climate of the time”.
Details of both property deals were reported in 2008 and 2009, but claims of conflicts of interest and other concerns have continued to swirl.
Cr Lee Vandervis – who also complained to the Auditor-general’s office earlier this month about the purchases – said he was pleased by the OAG’s decision to investigate, and the scope of the inquiry.
It was “too early to tell” who was to blame, but if mistakes were identified, heads should roll, he said.
- Delta land purchases to be investigated (14 Nov 2012)
- Councillor lodges Delta purchase complaint (12 Nov 2012)
- Delta issues should be aired publicly (opinion, 9 Nov 2012)
Cull in talks over land deal
By Rosie Manins on Tue, 13 Nov 2012
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull has for the last month been discussing with the Office of the Auditor-general a potential investigation into the acquisition of land at Luggate and Jacks Point, near Queenstown.
A statement on the matter would be issued “in the near future”, Mr Cull said yesterday.
Discussions with the Office of the Auditor-general (OAG) began in early October, he said.
The potential investigation related to the purchase of subdivision properties by council infrastructure company Delta in 2008 and 2009.
The value of those properties had subsequently been written down by millions of dollars, contributing to Dunedin City Holdings Ltd’s $5 million loss for the year to June.
Mr Cull was asked to comment yesterday on claims by city councillor Lee Vandervis that he had lodged a formal complaint to the OAG about the land acquisition.
Cr Vandervis said his questions about who approved the land purchases had not been adequately answered by Delta, Dunedin City Holdings Ltd (DCHL) and council staff, prompting his complaint.
When contacted by the Otago Daily Times yesterday, Delta board chairman Ray Polson said he had been out of the country and was not aware of the complaint.
Councillors typically requested information about Delta and other council-owned entities through DCHL, he said.
DCHL chief executive Bevan Dodds said he had no comment to make in respect of Cr Vandervis’ complaint.
The complaint came as no surprise to Cr Vandervis’ fellow city councillors.
Fliss Butcher said she shared his frustration about information being withheld and looked forward to the outcome of an investigation.
The “top echelon” of the council, including the mayor and deputy mayor, were part of an “inner circle” privy to more information than those on the outside, Cr Butcher said.
Richard Thomson said Cr Vandervis was “perfectly entitled” to lodge a complaint, but he doubted whether it would make any difference.
“A decision was made that was in retrospect a bad one and an extremely risky one at the time, but I’m not sure if trying to get down to whether there was an actual vote or difference of opinion of those voting is going to add much in the overall scheme of things,” Cr Thomson said.
Councillor lodges Delta purchase complaint
By Simon Hartley on Mon, 12 Nov 2012
A complaint has been lodged with the Office of the Auditor-general by Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis over Central Otago subdivision purchases which soured and left the council millions of dollars out of pocket.
DCC infrastructure company Delta bought part of a subdivision in Luggate in July 2008, and another at Jacks Point, near Queenstown, in May 2009, but their value has subsequently been written down by millions of dollars.
In mid-October, the DCC announced a $9 million write-down of Delta investments, including the subdivisions, which contributed to the Dunedin City Holdings Ltd (DCHL) group of companies’ booking a $5 million loss for the year to June.
Cr Vandervis claims pre-purchase details of the Jacks Point and Luggate subdivision acquisitions, plus details of City Forests’ mothballed wood-processing plant at Milburn, are being withheld from him.
Cr Vandervis contacted the Otago Daily Times yesterday, saying the Office of the Auditor-general had accepted his complaint and it had been passed on to its investigation unit, but he was yet to hear if the OAG would launch a full investigation.
“I have been trying to get information on who was responsible for Jacks Point-Luggate property speculation for several years now, but have been denied,” Mr Vandervis said.
Cr Vandervis wants to view Delta and DCHL conflict-of-interest registers and meeting minutes outlining who voted in favour of buying the subdivisions.
He had approached directors and senior council staff with regard to the issue, and expressed dissatisfaction with the responses he had received, “none of which are credible”, and said his attempts to have questions answered had been “systematically frustrated”.
“The only people who responded claimed not to have taken part [in deciding on any purchases]”, Mr Vandervis said.
He had so far had a speedy response to his lodging of the complaint and felt “reasonably encouraged” the OAG would launch a formal investigation, he said.
- Delta inquiry: Companies’ integrity on line – Cull (15 Nov 2012)
- Delta land purchases to be investigated (14 Nov 2012)
- Delta issues should be aired publicly (opinion, 9 Nov 2012)
Council must keep eye on the ball
Editorial • Sat, 3 Nov 2012
Just as it seemed the Dunedin City Council was determined to focus on a different attitude towards debt, revelations that a worse-than-expected $3.2 million loss by the company running the Forsyth Barr Stadium was not even discussed at this week’s full council meeting have put it back in the firing line and raised questions about its priorities.
The loss – nearly $1 million greater than forecast – was recorded in Dunedin Venues Management Ltd’s (DVML) 2011-12 annual report, which was released a day later to this newspaper. But it had flown under the radar at the council meeting, with no mention of the reports on DVML or Dunedin Venues Ltd (DVL), which owns the stadium, on the meeting’s public agenda, and no indication those reports had been circulated publicly and to media – as required under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act – ahead of the meeting.
The reasons for that are unclear and convoluted. It appears the results might have been given to councillors as part of an item on Dunedin City Holdings Ltd’s (DCHL) annual results presented to media last week but without those results. Mayor Dave Cull denied there was any attempt to sneak the results through; council chief executive Paul Orders said the situation was a mistake, not a conspiracy, but not acceptable; and it appears some councillors had not read much, if any, of the reports and did not draw attention to them at their meeting.
The lack of any debate on the million-dollar loss does seem negligent at best and suspicious at worst, particularly as the full-year result was impatiently awaited, given the half-year result of a $1.9 million loss prompted the council to launch a review of the entire stadium operation in May.
It is worth noting that it slipped through the net during a meeting in which councillors spent two and a-half hours discussing – again – the fate of John Wilson Ocean Dr.
Despite the lengthy debate, that long-standing saga is still not fully resolved. Councillors did change decisions made last year, voting at this week’s meeting to reopen the road to vehicles from 11am to 3pm on weekdays from next year, reseal it, and install a 5m-wide carriageway and 4m-wide shared pedestrian/cycle path separated by a low concrete barrier. However, they could not agree on a speed limit for the road and called for a report on that. Information about the possibility of Ski Dogs New Zealand installing a training strip on the road will also be prepared, bringing to at least 17 the total number of reports on the issue.
Cr Kate Wilson said this week that despite many people thinking the stadium issue was hard, the John Wilson Ocean Dr decision had been “far, far harder”. But the comments by Cr Neil Collins that the road issue was a “long, sorry saga that had more plots and sub-plots than a Greek tragedy”, by Cr Bill Acklin that the issue had “been through the wringer so many times, it’s making a laughing stock of the council” and by Cr Lee Vandervis that it was probably “the most acute public embarrassment in the history of the city council” are on the button. While there are undoubtedly extenuating issues around the road – notably public safety and coastal erosion – and debate has polarised the community, it must be put into context, and put to rest.
The cost to ratepayers of the latest proposal (now $160,000), although relevant, is small fry when compared with the cost to build and maintain the stadium, which should surely be a bigger priority for the council.
It is to be hoped the latest reports on the road will clarify – not further confuse – matters, and see a final decision made, rather than requiring recourse to the drawing board again.
And then it is to be hoped the mayor, chief executive, councillors and new DVML chief executive Darren Burden will turn their full attention to making our new stadium a profitable investment of which the city can be proud.
The council is seeking public feedback on how to make the most of the stadium. It is suggested a first step might be for the mayor and councillors to read and familiarise themselves with the details of the first annual report on it – particularly as they are now contemplating asking the public to pay for it again with more rates rises or through a targeted rate for bar and restaurant owners.
Stadium loss rates fears
By Chris Morris on Thu, 1 Nov 2012
Ratepayers could be asked to reach into their pockets again, or the city’s bars and restaurants could be slapped with a new targeted rate, as the Dunedin City Council grapples with a $3.2 million loss from Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The suggestions came from Dunedin city councillors who expressed disappointment and worry – mixed with some bullish optimism – while yesterday digesting news of the result.
Cr Richard Thomson told the Otago Daily Times the result, while worse than expected, was not a surprise for those councillors concerned about the project.
He believed it would be “very difficult” for Dunedin Venues Management Ltd to cover its costs and also pay nearly $4 million in rent, and it was “almost inevitable” rates would rise as a result.
“I think it could easily add a couple of million dollars a year to rates, and I may be being optimistic in that regard,” he said.
That could result in about 2% added to rates next year, at a time the council was hoping to meet a self-imposed goal limiting the rates rise for 2013-14 to 4%.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull confirmed a rates rise could be an option unless the situation improved.
“Clearly, if a council-owned operation continues to haemorrhage and cost, ultimately, it will have an effect on rates.”
Deputy mayor Chris Staynes agreed, although he hoped it would be “a last resort”.
“We will have to find the shortfall from somewhere, and the last port of call is rates,” he said.
DVML’s result was “a bit disappointing”, but not a surprise, and the council needed an events fund to lure more events to the city’s stadium, he said.
To pay for that, he believed the council should consider increasing the city’s economic development targeted rate – or applying a new one – to boost revenue from the city’s hospitality sector.
The extra money raised could pay for the fund, which would help DVML but also the city’s bars, restaurants and accommodation providers, which gained the most from each big event, he said.
Cr Staynes planned to raise the idea during the stadium review and at next year’s annual plan, but consultation with businesses would also be needed ahead of any decision.
He hoped there would be a “willingness” throughout the sector to support the idea because of the potential benefits of an events fund.
“If we are doing that then I think [the funding] should predominantly come from the commercial operators who benefit from those events being on in the town.”Asked if it could be forced on businesses if there was opposition, Cr Staynes said it would ultimately be up to councillors to decide.
“We do have the ability to set a rate. I personally think we need to see some commitment from that sector for that type of activity, because they get the direct benefit.”
Mr Cull confirmed Cr Staynes’ suggestion was “a live one” and would be considered as part of the stadium review, but he would need more information before supporting it.
Council chief executive Paul Orders said he was part-way through a “bruising” budget review process, ahead of next year’s annual plan, and intended to stay within budget parameters set by councillors earlier this year. That included the 4% rates cap, the extra $750,000 a year in funding to cover DVML’s shortfall, approved earlier this year, and the need to find additional “head room” within the council budget, if possible.
“I have not come to the conclusion any additional resources are required.” However, work was continuing and policy options were for councillors to decide, meaning that position could change.
“Those options need to be explored.”
While other councillors contacted yesterday expressed concern at DVML’s result, Cr Bill Acklin was almost alone in backing the company.
He said it was “early days” for DVML, which would receive a revenue boost when the town hall reopened early next year.
“It’s only been one year. It’s a hell of a business to take on and to iron out whatever problems there are, and to come out with a rosy profit at the other end.
“I think there’s improvement available, and to expect it to be done in the first year I think is probably a bit much.”
Cr Lee Vandervis said he had expected the results to be bad, but the extent of the loss showed “things are absolutely dire”, while Cr Syd Brown stressed the company was in start-up mode, but lessons would be learned for the next year.
“I would have hoped for a better result in the first year.”
Cr Neil Collins hoped the stadium review would identify changes that helped after a “tough year”, while Cr Paul Hudson said the challenge was now to improve the position.
Cr Andrew Noone said the results were “obviously worse” than expected, but believed the city needed to be “patient” after a disrupted first year of operation.
“We need to give it time.”
Cr Kate Wilson said she was “disappointed” and “frustrated” by the result, and expected service levels could yet face cuts as a result.
Cr Jinty MacTavish said the result was no different than most of the city’s residents had predicted when the stadium was first mooted.
“It’s disappointing, but not a surprise,” she said.