Benson-Pope loses vote on submission response

The Dunedin City Council has been advised to consider redacting defamatory budget submissions before making them public in future.

The advice from the council's lawyers came as the council earlier this week considered how to respond to a submission on its 2014-15 annual plan from former Stop the Stadium president Bev Butler.

Ms Butler, in her submission, had urged the council to investigate ''inappropriate spending'' by the Carisbrook Stadium Trust and Dunedin Venues Management Ltd.

She said the stadium funding process had been ''so flawed that no-one would know whether fraud had occurred or not''.

However, her allegations aimed at individuals had prompted Cr David Benson-Pope to ask that those spoken about be given the chance to respond.

Cr Benson-Pope reiterated that concern on Monday as he pushed for the material submitted by Ms Butler to be forwarded to the parties concerned, to give them a chance to respond.

That should include Ms Butler's written submission, details of her comments made while presenting it, and emails sent later by Ms Butler to the council, Cr Benson-Pope said.

His move came after council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose confirmed to the meeting she had checked to see whether the council could refuse to accept a submission.

The advice from the council's lawyers was all submissions should be accepted, but redacted to remove potentially defamatory or libellous statements before they were placed in the public domain, she said.

Cr Benson-Pope argued the council had a responsibility under the principle of natural justice to allow people referenced in submissions to respond.

In Ms Butler's case, that should include emails sent to councillors after her submission, which were ''discoverable'' under official information legislation and which had ''expanded the ambit considerably'', he said.

However, Cr Lee Vandervis questioned why Ms Butler was being singled out, and argued it was not the council's role to try to prompt parties to respond to material they might consider libellous in the public domain.

''I don't see any particular issue with any submitter coming here and saying anything as contentious as they like.''

Cr Hilary Calvert was also worried by the proposal, saying the suggestion to go beyond submissions and include emails ''opens a whole new can of worms, in principle''.

Cr Richard Thomson also agreed, saying Ms Butler's comments were ''not something she hasn't said on many occasions before'', and it ''really is a matter between a submitter and who they are referencing''.

Cr Mike Lord went further, saying it was time for the council to ''let a dead dog lie''.

''I have no interest in whether the claims are true or not true. I'm completely ambivalent to it.''

Mayor Dave Cull said he would be ''a little uncomfortable'' taking up Cr Benson-Pope's suggestion without a clear policy governing the referral of such material to outside parties, which the council did not have.

Cr Benson-Pope disagreed, saying the council already had a policy framework ''and it's called natural justice''.

Councillors voted 10-4 against Cr Benson-Pope's move, which won support from only Crs Benson-Pope, Aaron Hawkins, Jinty MacTavish and deputy mayor Chris Staynes.



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