All will be revealed - it's on the cards

For Dunedin journalists, given that the opportunities for being knocked off by a drug-crazed Afghan tribesman are limited, attempts at fearless investigative journalism usually involve an unflagging pursuit of information about credit card use by Dunedin City Council staff. The result is a shining beacon to those who espouse the cause of freedom of information.

Recent revelations tell us much about the DCC culture and, while having the latte put on the DCC credit card is being rigorously stamped out by executive orders (the pun is irresistible), other examples of profligacy remain.

The $1202 bill for a meal for delegates here for matters relating to the Chinese Garden certainly helps to explain the deficit facing the garden.

The meal was at a Chinese restaurant, giving our visitors no opportunity to experience New Zealand cuisine, but then there would have been a discount, surely?

The artists starving in their garrets were given respite on October 7, 2010, when Elizabeth Calder, then-director of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery turned on a $1881 dinner.

For the staff of Peter Harris, DCC economic development unit manager, the movies were on the DCC when he spent $146.10 to take them to the Rialto to see Inside Job on June 22, 2011.

There can be no dispute about it being a work-related film. Inside Job deals with systemic corruption by the financial services industry and its consequences. Surely a must-see for anyone working in local government?

The credit card expenses tell many stories: one being The Saga of the Books.

On February 25, 2011, the DCC customer services manager, Grant Strang, purchased for $69.38 two books from Whitcoulls. They were charged to his DCC credit card. Both books are held at the Dunedin Public Library.

Could he not have borrowed them and saved $69.38 of ratepayers' money. Or is there a silver lining?

Were the books read by Mr Strang and then, as DCC property, quite rightly donated to the library?

Or are the books on a shelf in the DCC offices or at Mr Strang's home, or in a secondhand shop. The potential for a rip-roaring scandal is written all over this story.

The books themselves offer more drama. They are the type of thing you see on the display stands at airport book stalls and are obviously required reading for the ambitious young executive. They are The No Asshole Rule: building a civilised workplace and surviving one that isn't and Good Boss, Bad Boss: how to be the best ... . and learn from the worst, both written by Robert I. Sutton who is a guru in management science at the Stanford Engineering School.

The blurb for Good Boss, Bad Boss is a crucial insight into understanding how organisations like the DCC work:Robert Sutton reveals the actions of the best bosses and contrasts these with the mistakes of the worst, so that you can learn to become the great boss most people dream of having. The stark differences between what superb and lousy bosses do is backed up by piles of research, and Good Boss, Bad Boss blends this with true stories to contrast the best and worst moves bosses make when taking charge, making decisions and turning talk into action. If you are serious about becoming a skilled and compassionate boss, Good Boss, Bad Boss is the essential guide.

Whether Grant Strang actually read the stuff Robert I. Sutton was sharing with the great managers of our time, I have no idea. And if he did read it, was it any good?

Eight months later, Mr Strang was the first to take voluntary redundancy during the executive shake-up of late 2011. That may have nothing to do with what he learned from The No Asshole Rule. The redundancy payment was rumoured to be a respectable $100,000-odd. Mr Strang later took a job with the New Zealand Racing Board which involves high-level stuff to do with the Jetbet telephone-betting system and I'd love to know what he is reading these days, apart from Turf Digest.

It was so much simpler years ago. I once had the heavy responsibility of managing three staff. Some Friday lunchtimes we would take off for a meal ("bonding" it would be called today).

Having stretched lunch to about three o'clock we would return to the office refreshed and relaxed. The lunch had been paid for with our own money - real folding stuff, no credit cards in those days. That's why, until now, no-one has known about these unauthorised absences from the workplace.

But courageous probing journalism will ensure that we know which DCC employee will be the first to inadvertently use his work credit card at the House of Pleasure.

Jim Sullivan is a Dunedin writer and broadcaster.


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