Tensions erupt at council meeting

The Otago Rugby Football Union's financial debacle made for a fraught council finance, strategy...
The Otago Rugby Football Union's financial debacle made for a fraught council finance, strategy and development committee meeting yesterday. Photo by Greard O'Brien.
Voices quivered with suppressed rage, and bitter spats erupted over who said what to whom, as discord reigned at the Dunedin City Council yesterday.

Councillors accused each other of "desperation" as a council apparently riven with tensions met, with the prospect of the Otago Rugby Football Union's financial demise hanging over it.

Cr Richard Thomson was accused by Cr Lee Vandervis of "playing with yourself", while Cr Thomson, in turn, described the media as "kitty litter".

In the public gallery, anti-stadium campaigner Bev Butler waved a newspaper article about the union and pokie trusts, which served as background to an, at times, circus-like finance, strategy and development meeting.

And all that took place before anyone had uttered the words "Otago Rugby Football Union".

The committee meeting had some meaty subjects to discuss - including Dunedin City Holdings Ltd's (DCHL) financial results and the future of the council's multimillion-dollar Waipori fund.

But Otago rugby came up early on.

Cr Kate Wilson questioned where in the financial result - which is a regular item on the committee agenda - the $400,000 shortfall that was the unpaid rental and rates from the union was meant to appear.

Finance and corporate support general manager Athol Stephens said the figure would have been "buried" in miscellaneous property figures.

Cr Wilson said the figure should have been apparent, and councillors should have been alerted earlier to the problem with the union.

She suggested a policy that would give "a heads-up" in such situations, an issue expected to be included on a committee agenda in future.

A debate on the DCHL six-month report - which showed a $5 million after-tax profit - sparked an angry debate between Cr Vandervis and Cr Syd Brown.

Cr Vandervis began questioning DCHL chief executive Bevan Dodds about Forsyth Barr Stadium-related companies Dunedin Venues Ltd and Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, but Mr Dodds said those two companies were not part of the DCHL group.

Cr Vandervis continued with the questions, but Cr Brown cut him off, saying they were not questions Mr Dodds had knowledge about.

"Amazing, just amazing," Cr Vandervis said.

A discussion of the Waipori fund had Cr Vandervis arguing with Mayor Dave Cull about who said what.

After Mr Cull spoke about the fund, Cr Vandervis claimed the mayor had said it was "impossible to maintain the fund".

"No, I didn't," Mr Cull said after making a point of order.

Cr Vandervis then claimed the mayor had "withdrawn" what he said, but Mr Cull bridled at that idea, and said he had not.

"I'll leave it at that," Cr Vandervis said, though he did not keep that promise for long.

Cr Teresa Stevenson also struggled with emotion during the debate.

After beginning with an indignant air while questioning Mr Dodds about the possibility of borrowing from the fund, rather than from other lenders, she became highly irate during a run-in with Cr Brown.

Cr Stevenson demanded an answer to a question after question time had closed and the committee had moved to debate, but Cr Brown refused to answer, and the exchange came close to a shouting match as Cr Stevenson stood her ground.

Cr Thomson turned on the media after Cr Vandervis - while indulging in an extended metaphor about back doors and cat flaps - accused him of putting forward a plan that was akin to "playing with yourself" to no benefit.

Cr Thomson responded, describing the media as "kitty litter", for which he apologised after the meeting.




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