Cull in talks over land deal

Dave Cull.
Dave Cull.
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.

Need to establish competence

Of course it is important to know who voted for what because then we can establish 'competence'. It is surely important that we know who could forsee problems with these land deals and who could not forsee any problems. Otherwise, the council or its subsidiaries leave themselves wide open to more failures because those who have failed in the past are still there at the tiller.

You would think Richard Thomson would know this, by now, after years in public life. 

Just disgraceful

These council owned companies need to be shut down. And as for Delta, why have they spent a fortune reimaging vehicles etc then making 30 people redundant? Was it these 30 peoples wages that paid for it or was it the ratepayers? None the less, it's all a waste of ratepayers' money and it needs to be stopped. Just like the stadium mess, someone needs to be held accountable

Too little too late

Mayor Dave Cull is very belated in talking to the Auditor general's Office on this matter of the Delta land deals. Afterall, these investments were made back around 2008 or thereabouts. Cr Vandervis has been seeking the information on these deals for a good long time now, and been frustrated all along. That is why he has directed his efforts to the OAG. As an elected representative of the people, who are the shareholders of these companies, he is fully entitled to be answered. Mayor Dave Cull, other councillors and the executives and directors of these companies would do well to remember that.

Mayor and councillors

This story, of the mayor's being in discussion with the Office of the Auditor-general, for the past month, raises suspicion of all those involved in property dealings and service contracts at Jacks Point and Luggate, including past and present board directors and executive staff of the council-owned companies, and likely one or two senior staff of the council itself. A full investigation of the council company deals by the OAG - without prejudice - is strongly warranted. The accountabilities should be forced as soon as possible, without political interference or cover up.


Public accountability re council companies

Good to think that Mayor Cull seems to be about to make some public statement about Delta losing millions over land speculation.  

And earlier, good to see at least one Dunedin City councillor (Cr Vandervis) for the first time asking the necessary hard questions about this strange- sounding deal.


More on Delta and the OAG

There are a few really disturbing points about this story.  Firstly, it is clear from Cr Thomson's quoted comments that he doesn't view accountability as particularly important.  I know I do, and I suspect thousands of ratepayers share my view.  The Board of Delta made a whole series of decisions that have resulted in millions of dollars of losses.  Dabbling in property speculation at Jack's Point and Luggate was, and never is, part of the brief of a DCC owned company - and nor is supplying private development companies with goods or services unless they are strictly on commercial terms. 

The fact that there was commonality between the Directors of DCC owned companies and those connected with the development is enough in itself to ensure a dispassionate, independent and thorough investigation into all these arrangements.  But Cr Thomson and anyone sharing his view should examine just what ignoring accountability leads to.

Secondly, it seems that the way that Councillors communicate with one of their own companies is via the over-arching DCHL which is also a Council entity. This whole environment leads inevitably to a culture whereby Delta or Aurora treats Council or public inquiries with an arrogant and dismissive attitude.


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