Ombudsman Complaint
Friday, May 23, 2014 at 10:43AM
Bill Barclay

If any reader thought that I had given up on the Ombudsman complaint referred to in previous posts, be aware that I did follow through in the following terms. I trust that the Ombudsman has the wit to see through Chief Executive David Hammond's alleged depiction of this as a "hate blog," and deal with the substance of the complaint in an appropriate manner. 

Mr Hammond has probably already received a copy, and this may have contributed to his reported jaundiced view. There has been no acknowledgment as at this date.

15 May 2014

Dear Sir/Madam

I wish to lay a complaint regarding the manner in which The Thames Coromandel District Council have dealt with a new Business Growth Fund policy established as a result of a decision taken in the process of writing its 2012 Ten  Year Plan.

I wrote to the Council – specifically Communications Manager Laurna White on 23 March 2014. Certain information had become available to me that had caused considerable concern within the community, where it was believed that the policy parameters had been expanded without appropriate Council approval. Deputy Chief Executive Ben Day replied to me on 9 April – I attach his reply which also contains my questions.  

I make no secret of the fact that I run a blog (billbarcblog.squarespace.com) that specifically comments on local, and local government affairs. I have conducted this blog for four years, and because of minimal local media interest in Council affairs it currently constitutes the only source of news about our Council other than through its own Press Releases.

This is the first time I have raised any matter with your office. My reason for doing so is that I believe that there is clear evidence that Mr Day, together with his Chief Executive have expanded the Business Growth Fund policy parameters beyond the intention of Council in a manner that is easy to establish, and in a manner designed to benefit one applicant   

Mr Day replied to my specific queries regarding the fund, and the manner in which cash grants totalling $20,000 were made on 29 November and 19 December 2013 to Guru Digital Ltd., a company that I believe was encouraged to apply by Mr Day, and its Director, Mr Sean Cuttriss has indicated that he was unaware of the criteria by which the Fund was to operate.  

The amount ($20,000) involved is not substantial, but it is the manner of its administration that is the basis of this complaint and that I believe to require your investigation. It points to far wider issues in regard to the management of Council that may be revealed in due course.  

Specifically, the Business Growth Fund was established through a Resolution in Council on following the submission of a Paper to Council by Mr Day on 19 March 2013 (Attached)

Please note that the under 4. “The fund should be used for compliance costs relating to:

·        Development of new premises or expansion of existing premises or expansion of existing premises and/or related infrastructure or plant that will directly lead to the creation of new jobs on the Coromandel Peninsula”.  

Specifically, the subjects of my complaint are:

1.     The closing date was extended for some three months when there were already at least four applicants that fulfilled the criteria.

2.     Guru Digital was an existing business responsible for developing TCDC’s website, and undertaking other continuing work for TCDC at the time. Guru Digital failed to meet the important second criteria inasmuch as it was an existing business, and competing for Council work with Track24 Ltd – another Thames based IT business.

3.     Guru Digital was encouraged by Mr Day to apply for funding to enable it to re-establish its business in a derelict Placemaker’s building in another part of our town which Guru Digital leased, and then undertook extensive renovations. These were clearly outside of the criteria inasmuch as the only costs permitted are “compliance”. The two grants to Guru Digital totalling the entire $20,000 Fund were for renovation  rather than “compliance” costs. (Source - Email attached)

4.     I believe Mr Day had other undisclosed reasons for wanting the former Placemaker building partially leased to Guru Digital. These are related to Council’s intention to move other activities to the site, including its Information Centre, and Bus Terminal.

5.     Grants to meet “compliance costs” would have been met through internal transfer, not paid out as indicated by Mr Day, and as such the payments were contrary to the Grant criteria as approved by Council.

6.     Although it has not been revealed, it is understood that Guru Digital obtained an almost perfect score in regard to the completed weighting matrix prepared for each applicant  (Please Note : Mr Day has withheld this information for reasons outlined in his email – I wish to appeal against this decision, and accordingly seek your intervention to have them made available to me.)

7.     The paperwork related to the grant was not signed off by the Mayor and Chief Executive until March 2014 – following my OIA enquiries that were spread over three emails on 21, 22 and 26 March. The Grant payments may therefore constitute an illicit use of funds when viewed in conjunction with 1 to 5 above, and furthermore, the Mayor and Chief Executive may well have been complicit in this arrangement.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any further information. Please note that I have no connection with any of the businesses mentioned in this complaint, nor have any approached me in this regard.

       Etc. 

 

 

Article originally appeared on BillBarcBlog (http://billbarclay.co.nz/).
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