Cr Vandervis (LGOIMA) on $2 million “interest underspend”


Received from Lee Vandervis
‎Sun‎, ‎31‎ ‎May‎ ‎2015 ‎at 9‎:‎56‎ ‎p.m.

From: Lee Vandervis
Date: Sun, 24 May 2015 08:44:52 +1200
To: Sue Bidrose [CEO, DCC], Grant McKenzie [GCFO, DCC]
Conversation: Timing of announcement of budgeted $2m not spent – LGOIMA info request
Subject: Timing of announcement of budgeted $2m not spent – LGOIMA info request

Dear Sue and Grant,

The timing of our CFO’s announcement of the budgeted $2m not spent half way through our last week’s LTP discussions was independently questioned by myself, Cr. Calvert, and DCC watchdog Calvin Oaten.
This overbudget was characterised by Cr. Thomson as an “underspend” and by Cr. Bezett as “a fortuitous fund to dip into”, and was promptly dipped into to fund Cr. Thomson’s moved $1million for International Cricket lights.

I asked CFO McKenzie in the following break why he had chosen that time immediately prior to Cr. Thomson’s International Cricket light’s motion to make the $2 million announcement and he replied “Because I was asked to”, which raises the further questions:

1 – Who it was that asked our CFO to make that $2 million announcement?
2 – When did that person ask our CFO to make that $2 million announcement?
3 – Whose decision was it to make the announcement at that particular time during our funding decision discussions?

Kind regards,
Cr. Vandervis


From: Cindy Ashley [DCC]
Date: Thu, 28 May 2015 04:13:12 +0000
To: Lee Vandervis
Cc: Grace Ockwell [DCC]
Subject: Timing of Announcement at LTP of $2 million Unspent

Dear Councillor Vandervis,

I refer to your email of 24 May 2015 sent to both the CEO, Dr Bidrose and Group Chief Financial Officer, Grant McKenzie.

Your request has been considered under the provisions of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA) and the following response is provided.

I have repeated and numbered your questions to give context to our response.

1 – Who it was that asked our CFO to make that $2 million announcement?

Finance staff were asked by the Chair of the Finance Committee to get an update on the current year’s underspend. Earlier estimates of the level of interest underspend had been supplied to all Councillors on a number of occasions previously. Most recently prior to the Long Term Plan (LTP) this information was provided through the monthly finance reports that went to the Finance Committee on the 4th of May (page 4.6) where the underspend on interest expense for the nine month period to March was $1.606 million. In addition, the underspend was also referred to in two reports that were provided to Council as part of the LTP process, specifically in report 9 – paragraph 12, and in report 22- paragraph 10.

An update was requested at the LTP process as another month had passed since the March update figures had been prepared, and the Chair of Finance wanted to know if the April result could be made available.

2 – When did that person ask our CFO to make that $2 million announcement?

Because the Chair of Finance had asked if the updated result was available and it was, the Mayor asked the update be provided as part of the deliberations for that day so that all the Councillors had the updated information. Mr McKenzie then wrote an additional memorandum explaining the underspend in the current financial year, following a request from Councillor Calvert to Dr Bidrose for this information.

3 – Whose decision was it to make the announcement at that particular time during our funding decision discussions?

As Chair of the meeting, the Mayor asked that the information be provided, as it was available, in order to ensure that all Councillors had access to the latest updated figures of interest underspend, as had been provided in the earlier reports referred to in our response to question 2.

If you have any questions or require further information please contact Mr McKenzie.

Yours sincerely,

Grace Ockwell
Governance Support Officer
Dunedin City Council

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr


Filed under Business, DCC, Democracy, Economics, Name, New Zealand, OCA, People, Politics, Project management, Property, Site, Sport, What stadium

11 responses to “Cr Vandervis (LGOIMA) on $2 million “interest underspend”

  1. Hype O'Thermia

    Well, you’d never find a less orchestrated, more innocent series of coincidences than those, would you. How thoughtful of dear leader Cull to make sure that on that day when all councillors were gathered together, they would be kept in the loop.
    Nothing anyone could find fault with, other than a few curmudgeonly types who see the loop as a noose placed around ratepayers’ necks. And that’s the last thing our prudent investors in professional sport would do, they’re on our side. They said so before the election, remember?

  2. John Evans, flabbergasted

    As the white queen said “off with (all) their heads”.

  3. Diane Yeldon

    I can see problems with this issue of access to information, with some councillors (in this case the chair of a committee and the mayor) getting the information before other councillors. Then, as soon as this apparently new financial information is presented to the council, the meeting is prompted to spend it. Why the rush?
    It would seem more prudent and diligent for all councillors to wait and satisfy themselves that this claimed ‘underspent money’ is exactly that.
    And, after that, take some time to consider whether it should be saved or spent and, if spent, what on.
    However, the sudden and favourable re-evaluation of the council’s financial position just before decision making about spending money is not at all uncommon. In fact, I have never known the reverse to happen (i.e. a last minute report that the council has LESS money that they supposed.)
    It’s hard not to wonder whether those elected reps getting access to financial information before other councillors might not be able to take unfair and improper advantage of that, especially in the case of a committee chair or the mayor who have the power to put the question of spending such ‘found’ money on an agenda. It seems the only remedy is for ALL councillors to very carefully scrutinize such new information and wait at least till the following meeting before committing to spending it. It’s a shame that it seems to be only two councillors, Crs Calvert and Vandervis who did this in this case. This is not merely a matter of cynically assuming that some of the council’s undertakings are dishonest – it’s a matter of ensuring they are SEEN not to be.

  4. Hype O'Thermia

    “This is not merely a matter of cynically assuming that some of the council’s undertakings are dishonest – it’s a matter of ensuring they are SEEN not to be.”
    The trouble with this fast-hands legerdemain is that after it’s been used over and over, first conspiracy theorists then council watchers and then with gathering speed all non-comatose voters take it for granted that at least 20% of council’s undertakings are dishonest.

    • Diane Yeldon

      But I want the DCC to do better. And I hope they can do better. I even hope one day the people of Dunedin will have confidence that we have really competent and scrupulously honest local government here. And even innovative and leading edge. Why not? If this can be done elsewhere, why not here?
      That is why I make an effort to make my criticisms of the DCC as specific as possible and also look for ways they could manage each particular issue better. And emphasise how important public perception is.
      Regarding this suddenly ‘found’ money, wouldn’t it be possible that a prudent council might allocate too much for interest payments and then ascertain during a narrow budget allocation window that they did in fact have money available for spending on a particular project and so want to bring that option to a meeting for a decision? That seems above board to me – PROVIDED that the whole matter is sufficiently scrutinised by all councillors. This is where I think the DCC has been at fault in the past – councillors in general too much led (sometimes arguably deliberately astray) by one or two perhaps with greater power or experience (or cunning), particularly in the past by a mayor along with a chief executive. I think a concerted conspiracy involving the whole 15 or 16 would be beyond their competence to pull off and impossible to keep secret.
      The fact that the independent report into the stadium decision concluded that most of the councillors did not understand what they were agreeing to supports my contention. Too many councillors too polite. Too agreeable and docile. Too trusting. Too asleep.
      But the ODT too often characterises any robust and investigatory political debate as purely dissension and trouble-making. And our current mayor just about always casts aspersions on the character and motives of any councillor making public statements. The sheep are expected to be well-behaved here.
      The one exception has been Cr Vandervis but I don’t think he would be considered that much of an unusual local government figure elsewhere. It’s more that in Dunedin he stands out against a background of relentless blandness. I don’t think much of the recent ODT coverage with pretty convincing evidence of Cr Vandervis’ ownership of a big head and a big mouth and a talent to offend just about everyone unnecessarily but it’s just the way of the world that politics attracts people like this – the ‘larger than life’ David Lange, for example. As long as a councillor votes sensibly and honestly at the council table and has first done the hard work and asked the hard questions to enable their vote to be a wise one, I don’t think other aspects of their character matter much.

  5. Peter

    If you take the extra, suddenly ‘found’, $2m, as being for real, what does this say about the state of the DCC’s finances? They must be in a real mess. This hardly creates confidence. What a farce.

  6. Anonymous

    Wait, the unspent $2 million came from the Transportation budget, right?
    The Department that should just have had a strict audit, if not a police investigation in the wake of the Citifleet fraud?
    And that didn’t turn up a $2 million underspend?

    Lines on a spreadsheet, that’s all DCC has.
    Add 8% every year to every line item. Then fight to get that reduced to 4% and everybody wins.

  7. John Evans, flabbergasted

    An interesting thought Anonymous, but it is not an “underspend” in reality it is an “overbudget”. In other words it should ONLY have been put back into the system prior to budgeting, reduce debt, reduce rate rises, reduce expenditure.

    All of the above do not work in a regime determined to rob the rate/taxpayer of whatever they can get away with.

  8. Hype O'Thermia

    “”He’s often right. It’s just the way he does it that’s wrong and it becomes really difficult to support him.”……….. His job as a councillor is not to care about himself but to help ”move the ship” to where it needs to be, she says.” (Cr Kate Wilson,

    Difficult to support what’s right because of who said it or how they said it? Shallow? Emotional reactions instead of rational thinking?
    So… whose job is it not to care about themselves but to help “move the ship” and why would a person decide to vote against moving the ship the best way because of how it was expressed (and by whom) if they were interested in doing the best for the city, not just for themselves and their favourite buddies?

    Cr Kate may have said more than she intended about how and why dimwitted decisions are made in the face of clear information about the many sensible reasons not to make those choices.

  9. Cars

    One problem consistent with many ships. An inability to reverse when necessary and in time. The DCC councillors and staff have not realised that the time has come, and may be indeed be past, for going forward. The only solution for the DCC is to suckup, reduce expenditure, put all major projects on hold until they can get the debt mountain, the annual cost of running the DCC and the annual cost of running the stadium down to prudent levels. Dunedin needs to escape from the banks’ tentacles in particular interest rate swaps and get our per ratepayer / per capita debt down to the lowest in New Zealand as befits a town aging in average age and not growing in population.

    The alternative is that the DCC so strangles the town that few businesses will locate to Dunedin and the town becomes a socialist prison. Businesses choose low cost cities with young workforces, not high rated, high entry cost and importantly low debt environments for their staff and entrepeneurs.

  10. Harold

    What is it with the ODT policy on letters to the Editor. Having had occasion to write to the ODT Letters to the Editor column, I have recently been told that a letter has not been accepted because “I have had one printed within the last fortnight”. It would appear the the ODT has favorites. Especially if you want to criticize Cr Vandervis. You appear to get a top posting. Take today’s (10/06/2015) ODT Letters to the Editor headline. “I’m not anti Mosgiel – Cr Vandervis” . This letter is from R. Bennett, Mosgiel.
    R. Bennett also had a letter printed on 4/06/2015. Six days between letters. Could it be because of R. Bennett’s close association with the Labour Party, or that anything critical of Cr Vandervis gets preference at the ODT ?

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