Criticism for Cull on poles approach

Dave Cull.
Dave Cull.
Dunedin Mayor  Dave Cull has been slammed over  his response to growing accusations about  the risk to city residents from dangerous power poles.

Mr Cull yesterday defended himself, saying the issue was being investigated urgently and he expected to have preliminary results of a Dunedin City Holdings Ltd (DCHL) review on Monday.

This comes as a freshly leaked document reveals how far council-owned companies Delta and Aurora are behind their health and safety obligations to replace the network’s most damaged poles.

The document showed 85% of poles identified as being at risk of falling over in any conditions (condition zero) had not been replaced quickly enough to meet health and safety rules, which require they be replaced in three months.

Of those, almost 60% had been left standing for more than a year past the time they should have been replaced.

Whistleblower Richard Healey and Delta staff member Graeme Jeffery were yesterday highly critical of  Mr  Cull’s response and questioned why he had not yet condemned Delta and Aurora for their health and safety failures. Mr Healey said he was concerned the mayor was "stalling for time" and questioned why he needed to wait for a review, given Delta and Aurora had already acknowledged there was a problem. Mr Jeffery raised similar concerns in an email to Mr Cull and other councillors.

"We workers are most concerned that there still seems to be an air of denial by the board and the mayor about what has been happening here since 1989.

"[Delta and Aurora chief executive] Grady Cameron has admitted 2910 poles are outside the requirement to be replaced in 12 months, so I fail to see why the mayor is waiting to see if the claims are valid," Mr Jeffery  said in the email.

Mr Cull said he was becoming increasingly concerned about the issue as more revelations appeared.

However, the mayor still believed he did not have enough information to "jump to conclusions" and slamming Delta and Aurora now would be "empty rhetoric".

"What I want to know is, well,  what  do we do?"

This was why he had asked for the review to include options for addressing the health and safety risk if it was shown there was an "immediate problem".

It was not enough for the review to test whether the claims were correct. It had to look into "what are we going to do about it". He told DCHL chairman Graham Crombie during a meeting  at 6am yesterday  he wanted some preliminary answers to both those questions by Monday.

"If there is a risk now then we want to know at least what we can start to do about it now."

The review would be carried out by an independent party and would involve seeking comment from Mr Healey. Mr Healey was yesterday keen to point out  the problem was "much bigger" than what Delta and Aurora were saying and what was evident in maps, leaked to the Otago Daily Times, showing the location of dangerous poles.

Mr Healey had limited faith in the systems used to identify dangerous poles and pointed to an exercise carried out in recent years where,  using computer software,  more than 1000 poles were reclassified. This did not involve any physical inspections and resulted in many dangerous poles being recategorised as being good to last for decades.

Upon finding this out, not long before he quit his job at Delta earlier this month, Mr Healey looked into the matter and found some poles reclassified as  safe were in fact leaning heavily and clearly still dangerous.

After raising his concerns, he was told by a senior staff member that Mr Cameron "would shoot anyone who brought anything like that to him at the moment".

Early this month, while he was still working for Delta, he sent an email to Mr Cameron, which included documentation of the issue, saying it presented an "unacceptable risk". Mr Cameron never replied. The only thing he heard back was his general manager saying Mr Cameron did not like the "tone" of the email. This was a major contributor to him leaving the company.

"This is what actually drove me over the edge."

Responding in an emailed statement,  Mr Cameron said Aurora was looking into Mr Healey’s concerns about the identified condition of poles being changed without physical inspections.

"That is in parallel with the work already under way to physically inspect all condition-zero and one poles to re-verify the prioritisation of the maintenance and replacement programme. 

"That work is due for completion by mid-November and we will be able to provide a definitive response to you then."

He said Aurora had an asset management plan outlining a programme to replace all condition-zero and condition-one poles by March 2020.

"We notified our board at its  September 29, 2016 meeting that the existing pole repair and maintenance programme was unlikely to achieve the approved replacement target. It was agreed with the board that the programme would be reviewed and that work was begun before the matter was raised publicly."

Following the issues raised publicly it had also been asked to recommend "immediate or longer-term" actions to provide assurance of safety on the Aurora Energy network.   

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

Comments

Funny how this issue was never mentioned before the council elections.
This doesn't need another inquiry, it needs action, something this council and its related companies seem to always be reluctant to do.

Time for Mr Cull to do the right thing and hand in his resignation effective immediately. The C.E.O of Delta should also fall on his sword as well. I have never seen such blatant arrogance, another election is required.