Grouping claim dismissed as lie

Accusations of lies are being thrown around on the issue of councillor groupings in the Dunedin local body elections.

A former council staff member says he saw members of Dunedin's only ticket, Greater Dunedin, meet behind closed doors before council and committee meetings. But Greater Dunedin says that is not true because the group agreed not to caucus.

Mayoral candidate Pete George also says other councillors told him the group appears to meet and caucus, a suggestion Greater Dunedin member Mayor Dave Cull said during a recent television debate ''must be a lie''.

Mr George is now blogging it is Mr Cull who ''seems to be deliberately misleading the public'', by not admitting the group meets or is, in fact, a party.

Mr Cull said the possibility of such accusations (caucusing and block voting) was behind members specifically agreeing never to meet.

Throughout the campaign, other mayoral aspirants have raised concerns about Greater Dunedin potentially having too much influence on the council.

But one particular accusation riled Greater Dunedin the most in recent weeks.

While discussing the election as a guest on a talkback show, former council communications manager Rodney Bryant claimed he had seen the group meet in the mayor's office behind closed doors before council and committee meetings, and more than once.

''I don't know what they were doing in there; maybe organising who was going to buy the next Lotto ticket,'' he said.

The claim was hotly denied on air by Greater Dunedin chairman Cr Richard Thomson, who had been waiting to talk about something else, and Mr Cull, who rang in.

Mr Bryant stands by what he said.

''The fact is based on my own observations. Whether it is by coincidence [that they went into the office together] or by design, I don't know,'' he told the Otago Daily Times.

He acknowledged Greater Dunedin councillors had different ideas and there was no apparent compunction to vote together, but he raised the issue because Greater Dunedin had said it conducted its business without making up its minds about how they are going to vote on an issue before events.

''To which my response is then, why do you need a Greater Dunedin?''Cr Thomson said other than seeing the mayor in ''bunches'' that could include other councillors too, to discuss normal council business, all of the Greater Dunedin councillors had met in the mayor's office only once, and that was in the past few months to work out its approach to the election.

Mr Bryant left the council about a year ago.

Cr Thomson was angry about the comments, because the group had been scrupulous about not meeting and everybody was, with the exception of ''some basic principles agreed to as a team around respect, and doing the work and being financially prudent'', there as individuals and made their own decisions.

Mr Cull said the only purpose of Greater Dunedin, an incorporated society, was to seek and promote good candidates to stand for the council.

''We have no policies. We have a diversity of views and political leanings and the record will show that we vote in different ways.''

In response to another concern of Mr George's, Mr Cull said if re-elected mayor, he would consider appointing chairmen for committees based on councillors' experience, skills and integrity and not whether they had been elected on the Greater Dunedin ticket.

Councillors could, by majority vote, overturn his choices.

debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

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