HELP, if the elected Council was bright

The Dunedin City Council faces a financial meltdown of unprecedented proportion; a squalid bankruptcy of governance the cause. No-one knows the true dollar scale of the problem and many of the accounts are closed to public scrutiny.

In the absence of a fully developed all-encompassing strategy to bring order to the books, the implication is the Council will leave it to generations of ratepayers to foot the bills. The cost will be to every citizen. In effect, that’s what the Forsyth Barr Stadium Debt Servicing Plan report to this week’s Finance Strategy and Development Committee says. The dangers of isolationist hands-off thinking.

Warren Larsen Report
Governance review of all companies in which Dunedin City Council and/or Dunedin City Holdings Limited has an equity interest of 50% or more.

From the time Larsen’s recommendations were adopted (Stuff 12.8.11), how long for the Council to ring changes? 6 months, a year? Longer, after the councillors are voted out or forcibly removed?

The lack of outward communication appears contrary to the imperative of Larsen’s report. By now, surely Council has an indicative critical path for release to the concerned public.

What are some ‘unearthing’ options for information?

Pin Mayor Dave Cull for the timeline to effect Larsen recommendations.
Forensic audit.
Statutory management.
Commissioner / Panel.
Legal action.
Independent senior business commentators to talk through details of logistical steps Council must take (in response to Larsen) to get its books in order – to avoid and retire cumulative debt, at the same time manage/streamline all Council business.

It’s all about a local authority corporate re-structure, involving large sums of borrowed money to clear. It includes identifying elements of usury, mis-spending, laundering, corporate fraud, deceit, ignorance, and incompetence; and, above all, hammering with all firepower what continues as Council’s unethical immoral avoidance of the fiduciary duty of care to Community.

A clear interpretation of what is now, what has been, and what lies ahead will be difficult if not impossible to achieve while obfuscation continues at DCC, DCHL, DVML, DVL, CST, and related entities.

It’s a chill air at Dunedin.

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

27 Comments

Filed under DCC, DCHL, Economics, People, Politics, Project management

27 responses to “HELP, if the elected Council was bright

  1. Amanda kennedy

    It seems the council plans to do just what got us here in this situation: ignore all complaint (naysaysers as Brown would say) and sail on with what suits the council, or the main players on council anyway. Because the alternative is that important people could end up with egg on their faces. The stadium is a financial mess, it means anyone associated with it in a professinal capacity is highly compromised. How far are Cull and his Greater Dunedin team prepared to cover for the fiscally incompetent councillors?

  2. Russell Garbutt

    Elizabeth, your posting requires thought, but a couple of initial responses.

    The people that should be looking after Local Government in a supervisory role are the Office of the Auditor General, possibly the Serious Fraud Office, and certainly the office of the Minister of Local Government. It is true to say that all three are completely and utterly useless. Doing nothing and being paid well to do it seems to be high on their agendas.

    It is only when an independent person has come in that we have seen the glimmerings of what has actually been going on. And to be fair, it was clearly Dave Cull and his team at least that enabled Larsen to come up with his findings. Larsen essentially looked at governance issues and while they are important, we now need a truly independent review of the city’s finances. I don’t trust those that have caused this mess to honestly report on the current situation, nor certainly how to extract ourselves from the mess.

    So, Dave Cull needs to appoint such a person to undertake a comprehensive, and forensic audit of the Council’s finances. And that includes all the dealings within CST, DCHL, DVML, DCC, Academy of Sport, and ORFU that remain hidden away from public view.

    At that point those findings need to be made public in exactly the same way as the Larsen report was.

    But Elizabeth, you make a fair point about the action – or lack of action – after such a report. If Hudson and his Boards within DCHL had a shred of honour they would have all resigned. And Hudson should have gone as a Councillor as well. But clearly they don’t want to do that. They are earning too much to fall on their swords.

    What can Dave Cull do to actually force them out? Is there a smoking unseen gun of the same sort that Harland finally saw and suddenly decided that he’d like to get into land transport? What legal remedies are open to be used? I would have thought that there were enough grounds under the Local Government Act to get rid of Hudson at least.

    I do stress that if this was still Chin, Walls, Brown and Hudson at the effective centre of things, we still wouldn’t have known what was up.

    But it is also really true that Dave Cull needs to:

    * get an independent financial review
    * publish it asap
    * let us all know what actions are going to take place from the Larsen report
    * conduct an open, frank meeting with the likes of Farry, Hudson, Stephens spelling out the options
    * and if it is all too hard, call for new elections

    • Elizabeth

      Russell, until there are regular progress statements coming out of the Mayor’s office (yes, thanks Dave Cull and team for getting us this far in formal acknowledgement of the problem we all knew existed), nothing is solved.

      If obtaining independent legal and accounting advice to get the ball rolling on the Larsen recommendations must of necessity take longer than shorter, TELL the good citizens. Don’t leave them hanging, to be further slagged off by pro-stadia bobbleheads and denialists coming into temporary ascendency during RWC2011.

      Lead and be truthful, Dave. You have the decorum necessary to do the hardest meanest job. Have confidence too there will be people to back you as the lid of the can is slowly prised off.

      SFO comes in after an event, most usually. They need meat, on a plate, served cleanly and properly for starters.
      The Office of the Auditor General has a tightly prescribed role, they get hungry too. But they’ll keep their gloves on unless you ask a QC to do some pro bono.
      Minister of Local Government? Auckland. Election Year. Other snacks to consume.
      Local MPs? Missing presumed drowned, no sense of business ethics. Fodder for eels at pond bottom.

      Always was going to take the longest time to right the evil. Powerful cronyism is only ever broken by the use of surprise and sheer blunt force applied by Big Guns prone to smart thinking.

  3. Russell Garbutt

    I meant to say in my second last sentence of the above post “conduct an open, frank meeting with the likes of Farry, Hudson, Brown, Walls, Chin fronting up to the ratepayers and from that he can then spell out the options”. I wouldn’t trust that cabal to do anything.

  4. Amanda kennedy

    Russell. I agree with you. I wonder, though, why Cull is not doing this already. Is it because his hands are tied (Hudson’s cabal will go supernova mean) or is it because he sees there is no gain for the city to do this (the stadium is here, ‘get over it’ sort of mentality)? Is he thinking we will lose more than gain (the city will be a laughing stock) so we better just hide our little embarrassment of a corrupt council system? Or is it as cynical as he is protecting important players reputations so they can continue on, get their knighthoods, and leave Cull alone? I don’t know but am very interested in the answer!

  5. Peter

    The Auditor General’s Office has made sure that as long as Dunedin’s descent into the financial mess we are in is chronicled, their job is done. Do they not investigate matters that are normally in their brief, in hindsight, because maybe that would be an admission that they hadn’t done their job properly in the first place?
    In true bureaucratic language they say, as they did this morning, they will ‘continue to have an ongoing interest in funding and governance issues’.Code for ‘We don’t want to get involved’. I’d place my bets on the independent Larsen Report any day. They have recommended that all the directors in DCHL should be fired for starters and have said why. Nil interest from the Auditor General.
    As you say, Elizabeth, the legal path is fraught with difficulties. Financial, mainly. (STS’s legal challenges was a hard slog financially) You can get away with a hell of a lot if you are in the right place with the ‘right’ kind of mates behind you.

  6. Hype O'Thermia

    For those without a blind eye, plasticine telescopes are a valuable aid to “examining” that which they do not want to see. Available by mail order from Honest Malc, p.o. box ………….

    • Elizabeth

      ### ODT Online Fri, 9 Sep 2011
      Auditor’s office supports DCHL
      By Chris Morris
      Claims of dodgy loans, financial errors and conflicts of interest within Dunedin City Holdings Ltd have been rejected by the Office of the Auditor-general (OAG). The Auditor-general’s office has written to former Stop the Stadium president Bev Butler, ruling out a full investigation of allegations Ms Butler made about DCHL and two of its subsidiary companies, Delta Utility Services Ltd and Newtons Coachways (1993) Ltd.
      Read more

      • Elizabeth

        ### ODT Online Thu, 08/09/2011 – 6:08pm.
        Comment by TheWatcher on In case we forget at the elections
        From the ODT, 21 April, 2009:
        What they said
        • Cr Teresa Stevenson likened the stadium debate to a war, and said during a war people used “hard tactics”, like Stop the Stadium’s decision to take the council to court.
        • Deputy mayor Syd Brown said building Moana Pool and shifting the art gallery from Logan Park to the Octagon had caused the same sort of debate as the stadium had, and nobody would want to turn back the clock on those issues.
        • Cr Neil Collins said if the city did not support projects such as the stadium it was “buying into decline”.
        • Cr Michael Guest said he wished people opposed to the stadium would listen to the support for it by University of Otago vice-chancellor Prof David Skegg, one of Dunedin’s leading academics.
        • Cr Richard Walls said the stadium was affordable, and the city had got “a pretty good deal”.
        Read more

        ****

        A paragraph of truth in ODT’s editorial before discussion about funding Dunedin’s city safety officers.

        ### ODT Online Fri, 9 Sep 2011
        Editorial: Finding the funding logic
        There has been – and there remains – a degree of mystery as to the arcane logic and processes by which the Dunedin City Council and its specialist committees arrive at some of their funding decisions. On occasion, it would be fair to say, it surpasses the understanding of the common ratepayer.
        Read more

        ****

        ### ODT Online Thu, 08/09/2011 – 8:31pm.
        Comment by farsighted on Public statements
        The public statements and publications of the Carisbrook Stadium Trust are the only items by which they can be judged. So we have to take the public statements on trust as evidence of the intentions of the Trust. In 2006, the Trust announced that the University was on board and would be part-owner. This was a public statement. University ownership did not eventuate. They also publicly announced that the ORFU would be an anchor tenant, which also did not happen. And so on.
        Read more

  7. Peter

    In some ways you can kind of understand not being able to get help from outside people/authorities like the Auditor General who could make a difference in really exposing unsavoury matters in our own backyard. It’s far easier to brush off your concerns and not investigate the evidence provided. It’s ‘insufficient’ evidence is all they have to say.
    If it was, say, Nelson or Timaru that was in as bad a financial situation as Dunedin we might have a passing interest, but that’s all. Their troubles don’t really affect us. If the concerns are extremely complex and spread over a number of years, as it is here, it’s hard to get a handle on things. Far easier to leave things as they are and see if/when the shit really hits the fan. An authority, or the government, only intervenes when they really have to after a lot of pressure has been applied. You can’t just have a sniff of corruption. You’ve got to have a stench. You have to see hands go into the till for obvious personal gain. Not even legalised theft of public money may be sufficient.
    So it’s up to us.Yet more people have to speak up aside from those who have already done so. People are too paranoid about losing jobs etc if they do so. In time, I’m sure more direct action will take place in the streets via social media as frustrations grow. Once the RWC bullshit hype has passed, we’re back to the grim reality of a city over the brink of financial mismanagement. Asset sales, rate rises, reduced services will occur at the same time as the stadium is sucking up more money because no-one wants to pay money to hire it out and in time it needs maintenance. Not a pretty sight.

  8. Amanda kennedy

    Yes. Noone is fine with selling off our assets to pay for the stadium debt. It’s interesting to see how much business folk and citizens are prepared to sacrifice to make the stadium appear to be ‘successful’; and supporters to not appear like the financial incompetents they are.

    • Elizabeth

      ### ODT Online Wed, 21 Sep 2011
      Vandervis at centre of ‘tit-for-tat’ row
      By Chris Morris
      The salvoes keep coming as Dunedin city councillors point the finger at each other – and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull – over allegations of inappropriate behaviour and broken council rules. The Otago Daily Times has learnt six complaints alleging breaches of the council’s standing orders were lodged by councillors in recent weeks, five of which are yet to be resolved.
      Read more

      Note: Cr Bill Acklin visited What if? Dunedin… yesterday, see here and ensuing comments.

  9. Amanda kennedy

    Who do they think they are kidding? A ‘happy’ council that is united is not good for Dunedin. This clearly means that they are ‘united’ on spending more funds on the black hole stadium. What does this mean? Council is happy to sit back while the people of Dunedin divide themselves by fighting for the crumbs left over after council pay the stadium debt. We need leadership by Greater Dunedin and non stadium cabal councillors to unite and resist the continued spending.

  10. pat adamson

    What a sorry little man, not only does he put the ratepayers in the poorhouse with the Stadium he still wastes our money on rubbish. All these WOW projects should be down the drain until all our debts are paid. This Borrow and Spend Spend Spend is just utter madness. Just look who’s doing it!

    • Elizabeth

      It’s worth reading the emails…

      ### ODT Online Thu, 22 Sep 2011
      Vandervis boycott follows ‘abusive’ emails
      By Chris Morris
      Dunedin City Council staff are under instructions not to speak to Cr Lee Vandervis after he gave orders to some staff and described others as “dogs” in a series of angry emails. Instead, council staff have been told to forward phone calls or emails from Cr Vandervis to their general managers. The council’s customer services agency staff – who answered phone calls from members of the public – have also been told to divert any attempts by Cr Vandervis to contact staff to general managers instead. The details were confirmed by Mayor Dave Cull yesterday following inquiries by the Otago Daily Times.

      [Cr Vandervis] placed the emails on his own website yesterday afternoon – after learning the issue was about to become public – saying: “People can judge for themselves.”

      Read more

  11. It is not ok use strong language to Council staff, but it seems it is ok for Council staff to publicly insult people making representations to the Council.
    In his presentation at the Sea Level Seminar on 12 July, Dunedin City Council Manager, Tony Avery, labeled those who made representations to the Council doubting the claimed dangers of increasing atmospheric carbon-dioxide as “flat-earthers”.
    As one of those targeted by this slur, I complained to the Council CEO and asked for an apology. He replied acknowledging that the remark was made, but with no apology.
    I wonder if the response would have been the same if an insult had been targeted at Dave Cull’s “sustainability” supporters?

    • Elizabeth

      “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.”
      –Lee Vandervis in an email to Athol Stephens, Tony Avery, Sue Bidrose, Kevin Thompson, Sandy Graham (Cc mayor and councillors), 16.8.11

      Well said.
      “Call the dogs off” is an idiomatic phrase; one I might use on the farm each day (and have)…give me a break.

      The crime might be limp-wristed desk-huggers at City Hall. Lovely as they are, elected and staff.

      (tell your people to stop attacking…)(ask those people who work for you to stop bothering me)(stop attacking or criticising someone)(‘Doing the opponents an obvious favour, the football coach decided to call off the dogs early after his team was up 56-0.’)

      A few capitals can’t hurt anyone. I think of all the men who have ever emailed me from positions of authority, that either use uppercase for everything, or are good for the occasional rise, er to make a point. ;)

      • Comment received.

        Hype O’Thermia
        Submitted on 2013/03/13 at 10:50 am

        Remember the shock-horror outrage when Cr Vandervis used the expression “Call the dogs off” regarding metermaids who had ticketed people stuck in the snow?
        Today’s ODT, RH side of front page headline on article by Rebecca Quilliam and Kurt Bayer – “Call the dogs off: teachers”.
        2nd paragraph “After teachers’ unions told the Government to “call the dogs off”, the ministry’s Acting Secretary Peter Hughes said it would be reviewing Talent2′s debt recovery policy to ensure it continued to be ‘appropriate in the current circumstnces’.”…….
        The article continues on p3, 2 columns lower LH, headlined “Call the dogs off, angry teachers say”.

        The article has disappeared from the online ODT and a search of their site using words “teachers” and “dogs” do not bring it back up.

        Coincidentally – no shit – in the letters to the editor column, immediately under the cartoon, is a letter from Diane Yeldon headed “Cr Vandervis’ use of metaphor defended”.

  12. Peter

    That’s pretty bad form, Alistair. At times people, myself included, use stronger language than what they normally would do and which, on reflection, is not wise. This is often borne out of frustration and anger. Not to make excuses though. However, when someone apologises – as Lee Vandervis has immediately done with his ‘dogs email’ – that should be the end of the matter. When those ‘offended’ carry on,despite the apology, you know they have another agenda. They are out to get the person. It’s called bullying.
    In previous times, Leah McBey, Teresa Stevenson, and Lee Vandervis have been targeted. They are people who have spoken out. I was revolted by the slow persecution of Teresa Stevenson by Chin when he and his mates tried to drag an apology from her for something she may or may not have done. Funnily enough, it didn’t do her any harm, politically. She got back in while Chin, Walls and Guest were booted out. So there is justice. Crs Wilson, Brown and Acklin in their continued, divisive complaints can only expect fire to be met with fire. (Not that this helps us poor ratepayers who are saddled with this crap.) Acklin is already in the gun in the media.
    Geez. That Local Body Commissioner can’t come fast enough.

  13. Elizabeth

    ### ODT Online Tue, 1 Nov 2011
    Councillors want more say on pay calculation
    By Chris Morris
    A majority of Dunedin city councillors want more say in how much they get paid, despite the discomfort of their colleagues. Councillors at yesterday’s Dunedin City Council meeting voted narrowly to support a new approach to the way in which their pay was calculated. The move came after the Remuneration Authority launched a review of existing arrangements, in place since 2001.
    Read more

  14. Performance base. This lot will have to pay to work.

  15. Hype O'Thermia

    And in one case, SUPPLY the sticky buns and savouries for meetings!

  16. Hype O'Thermia

    Sure it is, it’s an old expression. But a good excuse to beat Cr Vandervis around the head – more proof that he’s got them chronically rattled and they have to grab at any distraction. Too often he raises genuine concerns that according to them, belong under the carpet where they had been neatly swept with the intention that they never see the light of day again. So it’s important to grab every opportunity, however irrelevant or downright wrong, to silence him.

    • Totally. I’ve never understood the DCC staff reaction to his words. Snow-blinded, the delicate ticketing souls. God forbid councillors should instruct against staff (immoderate) behaviour, like they do in Resource Consent matters wrt handling applications.

      Weird that ODT is playing some game. (They’ve been giving Cr Vandervis a fairly generous amount of space.) Did the Spooks ring Murray ?

  17. Hype O'Thermia

    There was a definite risk that people reading the article about the teachers would point out the bleedin’ obvious re Vandervis. “ODT uses gratuitously offensive term in headline” etc, embarrassment all round. Esp with Diane Yeldon’s reminder only a few pages away!

  18. As referred to by Hype O’Thermia, here.

    I note the ODT article was uploaded from APNZ, having issued at Wellington.

    ODT 13.3.13 (pages 1 & 3)

    ODT 13.3.13 (page 8)

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