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Legal bills continue to mount for the Otago Regional Council a year on from the Clutha dumping scandal.
The council has now spent more on lawyers for the recently launched "Panckhurst investigation" than it did last year when lawyers got involved and council staff would not answer questions from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) when it investigated the same incident.
Figures obtained by the Otago Daily Times show that up to February 14 a total of $84,857 in legal costs have been accrued by councillors and the ORC organisation as part of the new investigation.
This is more than double the $35,781 in legal fees the dumping incident cost.
Councillors decided last December to launch their own investigation into staff actions after staff had declined to take part in the EPA investigation.
The new investigation, led by retired High Court judge Sir Graham Panckhurst, was the latest episode in a series of incidents indicating tension between staff and councillors.
This includes a code of conduct complaint by the chief executive against the deputy chairman, and more recently a general manager losing his patience and calling a councillor’s resolution a "load of rubbish".
The largest chunk of the legal fees related to the Panckhurst inquiry came from the ORC organisation engaging Chen Palmer Public Law Specialists to the tune of $65,317.
The remaining $19,540 came from ORC councillors engaging Len Anderson QC, who was listed in the terms of reference for the inquiry as counsel assisting Judge Panckhurst with the work.
ORC chairman Andrew Noone declined to comment on the figures, and said he would wait until the Panckhurst investigation was complete before speaking further.
Other ORC figures presented a united front with this approach.
Deputy chairman Michael Laws also declined to comment and said, "I would like to say an awful lot at this time on this issue but I have no wish to compromise the independent investigation that Judge Panckhurst is currently undertaking."
He said questions should be referred to Mr Noone.
Chief executive Sarah Gardner also declined to answer questions yesterday afternoon, referencing Mr Noone’s wish that no more comment be forthcoming.