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Saturday
Feb112017

At Last - Questions Asked, Answers Scarce

No reader of this blog should be surprised to hear that at last the penny has dropped that our previous Mayor may have led our Council into a financial abyss that has been substantially disguised by exaggerations and suspect claims of financial probity.

The first sign that all was not well came with the resignation last week of Thames Area Manager Greg Hampton - apparently highly dissatisfied with demands from within to substantially cut budgets in order to avoid substantial rate increases coming through the forthcoming annual budgetary process. One manager has apparently had a $3m cut ordered.

Following that revelation, the Castle has leaked like a sieve as information has come through of huge disquiet in other area offices in particular at the ramifications of the proposed budget cuts.

The background to all this was Leach's reckless devolving of functions from Thames to all the area offices during his first term, and the subsequent hiring a substantial number of new managers to warm seats in all the newly established area offices, and to perform roles that no-one had previously thought necessary.

Many who watched this process take place were bemused and querulous as to just where the money was coming from to pay for all this decentralisation, particularly when taking the actual rating base into account, and Leach's determination to reduce the rate increase to no more than 2.5%. It was all nonsense of course, and the result of delusion permeating the organisation from the top down - starting with Hammond, who was nothing more than a cipher of Leach, doing exactly what he was told - nothing more, nothing less. 

This is precisely what happens when a new Mayor like Leach  is elected with limited financial knowledge, but unlimited ambition to make a name for himself as the 'great economic developer.' I reported these developments in some detail at the time as an ex councillor who had made it my business to find out how the finances of the organisation worked while in office, but in the end, it seemed futile to argue the toss with Leach - he had an iron-fisted grip on the organisation, and determined to promote tourism in the face of overwhelming scepticism.And he used his 'bully's pulpit' to attack me. 

But it now appears that common sense has at last prevailed - our new CEO Rob Williams is not so easily led by the nose, and has evidently demanded answers. It appears that he was not happy with what he found, and along with incoming Mayor Sandra Goudie has instituted changes that the Area Managers, and many other managers within the organisation may find particularly hard to accomplish. 

It may well be that the resignation of Greg Hampton is but the start of an exodus at top levels within the organisation. A comparison of the numbers of staff earning over $125,000 between say 2011 and 2017 may be instructive in establishing just where the rot has set in. And a further close examination of precisely what the new staff appointed in that time do may further explain the situation.

I am not privy to all the moves that have taken place recently, but I do know that the person to whom Leach gave responsibility for his 'pet project' - the WW1 Memorial Forests – Ben Dunbar-Smith, has recently departed, and that is hardly surprising - never was there a more outstanding example of a totally ego driven project than this, and Dunbar-Smith looked somewhat foolish as he tried to push it. A Barkers sponsorship kept the ship afloat, but that was a ‘one-off.’

Then we have the spectacle of the Thames Indoor Sports Facility with a full-time 'programme manager' named Simon Stephens who was evidently responsible for failing to undertake 'adequate due diligence' on the company awarded the building contract. He still appears to be 'on-deck,' but another independent contract project manager - Len Whittaker, has evidently been brought in to oversee the project. One must ask what cost of this will add to the project, and when will be told of the revised budgetary provisions.

Staff under-provided for 'contingency's' on this project (see report dated 21 June 2016), and indicated with some degree of certainty that they would be back to further "re-visit the budget." Any examination of the elaborate parking area construction would certainly give the truth to that prediction. What a shambles - no wonder Greg decided that it is time to depart!

I said from this outset that this multi-million dollar project would become a 'millstone' on Thames rate-payers, and I have no reason to revise that assessment, not least because of the innovative 'donor' scheme based on 'pledges.' 

Then we have the other shambles surrounding the on-going saga of the Mercury Bay Sports facility - sports facilities do seem to blind council staff for some reason, and provide a great opportunity for both councillors and staff to claim great 'victories' in the absence of any tangible evidence. The Whitianga Medical Centre will in turn almost certainly reflect this ineptitude.

And we await with great interest the outcome of three other potential 'victories' at Coromandel Harbour Project, the Great Walkway, and the Hauraki Rail Trail - all together, these have the potential to bankrupt our council in the absence of any substantial rate increase, or alternatively a rational re-assessment of costs and outcomes.

Greg’s departure may be just the beginning - the next budget meeting of Council will be interesting.

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (6)

Bill, Sorry to spoil a "good" story but your theory on the motivation for my resignation is completely unfounded. It is simply time for a change after 13 years in local government. Linking and using my resignation to support your own political opinions and grudges is perplexing and disrespectful.

February 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Hampton

Thanks Greg - I totally accept your explanation, but in no way resile from my interpretation of the situation within the Council. Please accept my best wishes for the future. You have done a great job and deserve the best.
Bill

February 12, 2017 | Registered CommenterBill Barclay

Bill,
To quote your article: “the result of delusion permeating the organisation from the top down - starting with Hammond, who was nothing more than a cipher of Leach, doing exactly what he was told - nothing more, nothing less”.
Understanding the meaning of “cipher” this is one of your worst insults to a man who I have always found to be competent agreeable and committed to the TCDC.
In the comments section you change when replying to Greg as follows: “You have done a great job and deserve the best. Bill”.
What happened to "just a cipher, nothing more……."?This is typical of a bully who when challenged, backs down and will quickly to will look for the next victim to practice their cyber assaults on…….. Chasing Glen Leach through the staff is unacceptable.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClancy Nixon

Not quite sure what all this means Clancy - confused syntax , let alone subjects always flummoxes me.
You appear to confuse Greg with Hammond - never my intention, and I have been entirely consistent in my comments with regard to both, as far I can ascertain. Greg's response may have crossed the line as regards 'personal' comments, but it is 'water off a duck's back!'
Your reference to bullying is entirely misplaced. Any CEO or elected member is open to criticism by any observer such as myself. They all place themselves in these positions and must expect their actions to be analysed. Other staff are in a different position, and are accordingly protected except in the case of perceived blatant transgression.
I challenge you to find a single instance of such staff criticism in my blog.
But thanks anyway for your comments.
Bill

February 17, 2017 | Registered CommenterBill Barclay

Poor loser Clancy?
Stop looking at the [last] TCDC Council through rose tinted glasses.
It will take a few months, but the chickens are coming home to roost-- and when your rates go up from July, you will understand that you cannot run a Council on nil rate increases for 6 years.
You as a business man should at least be able to understand that!
Hammond was part of that Council.
Bill's blogs, whilst having a negative vein sometimes, have been at least informative, and in the absence of a viable MSM, the only source of information from a highly muzzeled Council.
Rely on press releases from the TCDC at your peril.

February 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterThamesite

Thamesite - Not a poor loser at all. A participant in the process and accept the outcome, that's life. Hard for me to respect or value your comments when you don't put your name to them.

February 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClancy Nixon

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