At Last - Questions Asked, Answers Scarce
Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 7:04PM
Bill Barclay

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.

 

 

 

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