Harland attacks 'offensive' media commentary

Jim Harland
Jim Harland
The Dunedin City Council annual plan meeting began with finger-pointing yesterday, when council chief executive Jim Harland launched an attack on the media.

Mr Harland was presenting his overview at the beginning of the meeting, which was usually a chance to outline the key points of the pre-draft plan setting the city's direction for the coming financial year.

However, Mr Harland instead devoted his address to attacking an "offensive" Otago Daily Times editorial published on Wednesday.

The opinion piece, entitled "Annual plan sham", criticised the council for being "as profligate as any in the city's history", questioned the value of the annual plan process and queried senior managers' motivation to "decrease the size of their empires".

Mr Harland reacted angrily, insisting: "This process is not a sham."

He said he was making a "political statement" because the editorial had "angered me so much" and he wanted to defend council staff.

Council's broad direction was set by the long-term council community plan, updated three yearly.

Annual plan hearings were not expected to radically alter that course, he said.

Staff and councillors had aspirations for projects to move the city forward, but at the same time efforts to cut forecast rates rises were ongoing.

Scrutiny of staff budgets had reduced the forecast 2010-11 rate rise from 8.7% to 7.3% in the pre-draft plan, before the start of yesterday's meeting, he said.

Staff costs were forecast to increase 2.5%, but the council paid staff at the median of all local authorities - despite the city and its council being among the larger in New Zealand.

The council's senior executives had also taken a pay freeze this year, he said.

"If you want to have a city that's looking ahead there will be some extra capital required - there will be dreams brought to the table.

"The process we are in . . . isn't a sham. It's through this process those projects finally get agreed," he said.

Mayor Peter Chin concurred with Mr Harland's sentiments, which he said expressed the view of many councillors.


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