Third council official resigns

Maree Clarke
Maree Clarke
The third Dunedin City Council manager to resign over the Citifleet scandal in the past week once warned against becoming complacent about the fraud threat facing the organisation.

We don't have a sense that there's anything wrong, but you can become complacent about things and you think that your processes are all squeaky clean.

 Council financial controller Maree Clarke yesterday joined Tony Avery and Kevin Thompson in resigning from the council following revelations of the alleged Citifleet fraud.

Council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose made the announcement in a statement yesterday afternoon, saying she had accepted Mrs Clarke's resignation ‘‘with sadness''.

Mrs Clarke was 'well regarded' by her council colleagues, and Deloitte's three month investigation into the alleged fraud had found she was not aware of what was unfolding.

However, as financial controller, Mrs Clarke was responsible for the council's financial reporting and controls, Dr Bidrose said.

‘‘Maree has told me that she believes the ongoing process of improvement of the council's systems will benefit from fresh leadership and I have accepted her resignation on that basis.''

Mrs Clarke was also among staff to have bought a Citifleet vehicle, although that was ‘‘nor› mal practice'' within the council at the time, Dr Bidrose confirmed.

The money she paid for the vehicle had made its way to the council's accounts, so was not part of the more than $1.5 million misappropriated as part of the alleged fraud, the statement confirmed.

Mrs Clarke did not respond to Otago Daily Times requests for comment yesterday.

But, in an ODT interview in 2012, she talked about a fraud health check being carried out within the council by WHK.

She said it was a significant investigation, involving ‘‘quite a few hours of work'', staff interviews and checks, and aimed to ensure ‘‘the processes we have around some of our key strategic areas are tight''.

‘‘We don't have a sense that there's anything wrong, but you can become complacent about things and you think that your processes are all squeaky clean,'' she said at the time.

Her decision to resign yesterday came after Deloitte's investigation revealed evidence of an alleged decade›long fraud within Citifleet, involving the sale of 152 cars and the pocket› ing of more than $1.5 million in proceeds.

Police were investigating Deloitte's findings, but Dr Bidrose and Mayor Dave Cull have this week warned the fraud may go ‘‘considerably further back'' than 2003 and involve more cars and missing money. 

It was not clear if Mrs Clarke was among the five council staff said to be involved in ‘‘employment processes'' following the discovery of the alleged fraud. 

Dr Bidrose was not available for further comment last night, but in her statement said Mrs Clarke had ‘‘led by example'' within the council's finance team while working to achieve ‘‘the best outcomes for the council and the city''.

MrsClarke's 11 year career at the council began in 2003 and she was promoted to financial controller in 2008.

She had agreed to continue in her role during a transition and recruitment period, but was expected to finish before Christmas.

Mrs Clarke's resignation came after Mr Avery,the council's infrastructure and networks general manager, announced his resignation last Thursday.

Mr Avery was not aware of, or involved in, the alleged fraud, and was also not among the five council staff said to be involved in ‘‘employment processes'' following its discovery.

He would remain with the council until a replacement was in place next year.

His announcement was followed by that of Mr Thompson, the council's regulatory services group manager, on Monday.

Mr Thompson's decision was announced in abrief media statement issued by Dr Bidrose, and the ODT understands he was among staff involved in the council's employment processes since the discovery of the alleged fraud.
Mr Thompson,as well as reporting to Mr Avery, was directly responsible for oversee› ing Citifleet and its former team leader, Brent Bachop.
Mr Bachop died suddenly on May 21, after being approached about discrepancies within the vehicle fleet.
Mr Thompson, who has not responded to requests for com› ment, would remain on leave until his resignation takes effect on October 3.
The departure of three senior managers would also mean the loss of decades of experience for the council.
As well as Mrs Clarke's 11 years with the council, Mr Avery had worked there for 14 years and Mr Thompson for 17 years.