Request for an Independent Review of the Mayor and Councillors’ Behaviour, and Governance of Rotorua Lakes Council
I request an independent review of the governance and administration of Rotorua Lakes Council as a means of rebuilding trust and confidence in Council and its decision-making processes.
As a ratepayer I, and many others, have become increasingly concerned about the behaviour of the mayor, some councillors, the chief executive and the operations and management of Rotorua Lakes Council. I also had grave concerns regarding the continued injudicious spending of Council, its inability to compromise or defer projects, and with no regard for the financial stress of its ratepayers, especially since the covid pandemic struck.
It would seem that the wishes of local residents and ratepayers are ignored, debt is burgeoning with no consideration of the ability of ratepayers to repay it, and “consultation” has become a sham. Too many meetings are “public excluded”. Amongst other things, these issues suggest a lack of transparency and, as some people have surmised, a deliberate attempt to mislead the public or at the very least deliberately withholding information. This has resulted in a serious falling level of trust in RLC by the community. There is also too much talk of the toxic environment within Council for there not to be some truth in that. Staff turnover is approximately 30%.
In 2016 independent ratepayer satisfaction surveys ceased. One can only assume this is because the previous reports (same mayor and chief executive) were not complimentary and ratepayer unease was growing.
For some time RLC has been in the press, radio talk-back and TV or all the wrong reasons. As MP Todd McLay said in the Daily Post 29/6/21: “I can’t remember the last time talk-back radio was talking about positive things about Rotorua”. Those sentiments have also been voiced by two former, well respected mayors and there is groundswell of disquiet amongst residents and ratepayers about the mayor and councillors’ behaviour, and council management and its direction.
Things came to a head with the recent appointment of 7 deputy chief executives and the associated payrises, both publicly announced, and those “via the back door” with job description changes. Consultancy fees for this “realignment” (Chief Executive Geoff Williams’ words) were $75,000! At the time of the announcement job descriptions weren’t finalised and the new job holders were to have input into them.
Appended is the transcript of Mayor (Steve Chadwick) and the Chief Executive trying to explain and justify this “realignment” in an interview in the public arena with Felix Desmarais (Local Democracy Reporting 25/6/21). A totally inept performance at trying to explain something that both the mayor and chief executive must have known would cause public outrage.
Of the 90 councils surveyed by Local Democracy Reporting there are 15 deputy chief executives of which RLC has 7!
Issues to be addressed
1 The behaviour of the Mayor and Councillors both in public Council meetings, in Committee and in less formal settings.
Vilification and bullying of those councillors (usually three) whose ideas differ from the mayor and her ‘power bloc’ appears rife, including by management. This is obvious at council meetings and in press releases. Attempts to discredit those whose ideas don’t align are blatant and offensive to those members of the public attending. Personal vilification and bullying are unacceptable in any environment. Pressure on other councillors is unacceptable. Too many Council decisions appear to simply be orchestrated performances ending with a predetermined outcome.
‘Renegade’ councillors have, at no time during the terms of the current mayor, been given additional positions of authority or committee chairmanships despite significant knowledge and business experience. These positions, their increased salaries and responsibilities, but preferably benefitting from experience, have been reserved for the ‘power bloc’, including any new, inexperienced councillors.
Most Council decisions are 7/3 and as many people now surmise, those seven follow orders under the directive of authoritarian leadership. Debate has gone. Compromise has gone. Worryingly, the “my way or the highway” expression is being voiced far more frequently amongst the general public. Attending Council meetings is like witnessing an orchestrated performance with seven supportive pre-planned dissertations, the outcome predetermined. This is a sad indictment on Rotorua Lakes Council and adds to the impression of its disfunction and bullying.
The most extreme, almost ‘hate’, is directed at Cr Macpherson, who happens to be chairman of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Assn. A significant amount of this vindictiveness and vilification plays out in the public domain and detracts from the actual work done in Council, again an indication of its disfunction.
In the previous term of Council (the same mayor and C E), the mayor offered Cr Kumar the additional responsibility of leader of the Sports and Recreation Portfolio if he resigned from RDRR. He refused and didn’t get the portfolio lead role.
On the three occasions within the current term of Council, when new councillor Kai Fong has voted against the ‘power bloc’ she has had to explain her decision to the mayor and chief executive in private.
Most recently long-standing and concerned Cr Bentley proposed raising a Notice of Motion requesting an independent review of Council. He was advised how and at which Council Committee meeting to present this by Deputy Chief Executive District Leadership and Democracy (Oonagh Hopkins), only to be told by the chairperson of Operations and Management Committee Meeting (Cr Tapsell) that it was inappropriate because it needed “some technical changes”, ie, he was ‘shafted’. Councillors were also told at that meeting that an audit of Council was the same as an independent review undertaken by an independent commissioner, so wasn’t necessary. The two processes are completely separate and different, suggesting councillors were misled.
Concerned ratepayers had expected Council to re-evaluate spending priorities given rates rises have repeatedly been far in excess of inflation, and especially in these now uncertain times. However no, it has bulldozed ahead with a hastily created “Build Back Better” proposal involving seemingly unlimited spending, this, primarily on extravagant legacy and vanity projects at the expense of essential services. As can be seen from the figures below, the increase in both forecast spending and forecast debt is huge. Covid struck between these two LTPs. Its impact is still significant.
Capital expenditure (2021 – 2031) is estimated at $749 m, a rise of $268 m on that forecast three years prior.
The opportunity to raise the cap on borrowing announced by the government in May 2020 has suddenly seen RLC’s forecast debt rise from $261 m (2021) to $440 m (2031) with no regard to the ability to repay it, the inevitable project cost over-runs and the inevitable interest rates rises. A mere three years ago, forecast debt increase was $67 million. The now forecast $179 million debt increase is huge in such a short period of time, particularly given the extraordinary circumstances we are currently facing and the fact that there are only approximately 29,000 ratepayers to service this expenditure, operational expenditure and debt.
|LTP||Forecast Capital Expenditure||Forecast Debt Increase|
|2018 – 2028||$481 m||$67 m|
|2021 – 2031||$749 m||$179 m|
Source: RLC, LTP
Too many large budget projects are underway at one time. All of these have or are facing significant budget blowouts. There has been no attempt to compress costs or defer these projects. Projects have become one financial disaster after another, suggesting a lack of both business and project management experience.
Rates have been rising at an alarming rate, far exceeding inflation. Each year we’ve been told that the increase is a “one off” or due to unforeseen issues. In a live, televised interview (Rotorua City News) 11 August 2015 Mayor Chadwick tried to excuse the 7% rates rise, saying “It’s a one-off 7% rates rise and that’s a hard hit, but it’s a one-off hit. We then get down to inflation adjusted increases from then on …… We’re retiring $17 m of debt, we’ve reduced what we spend on capital projects ….. We’ve taken out $105 m in Council spending to 2025”. These comments have been shown to be a lie. Ratepayers have, and are, continuing to experience quite the opposite. There has been no subsequent attempt to review spending and debt retirement to align with that statement. The above comments suggest either a total lack of Council’s financial management or a blatant attempt to ‘soften’ ratepayers for future suffering.
Rates increases compared with CPI increases 2016 – 2020, %
|Annual rates rise %||2.08||2.77||9.26||6.52||6.05||6.80||5.56|
|Compounding rates %||2.08||4.85||14.11||20.63||26.68||33.48||39.04|
|Annual CPI %||0.310||0.411||0.412||0.013||1.514||1.715||1.416|
|Compounding CPI incr %||0.31||0.72||1.13||1.15||2.65||4.37||5.79|
Source: RLC Annual reports
Projected rates increase %, 2021 – 2031 LTP
|Proposed rates incr %||9.15||5.23||5.98||8.94||2.71||-2.90||2.95||4.56||4.80||2.48|
Source: RLC LTP Financial Strategy 2021 – 2031
The 2022 average 9.2% followed by an average 4% is double that forecast in the previous LTP (2018 – 2028). The current inflation rate is 1.83%.
The loss of international tourism, as a result of covid-19 has wiped approximately $300 million per annum from the Rotorua economy.
Rotorua is a low average income town and with the loss of international tourism and its associated employment, albeit low wage / part-time employment, and now unemployment, financial prudence and cost-cutting ought to be a priority. Council and our mayor would do well to recall her words of 11 August 2015.
Listed below are serious issues which raise concerns about Council transparency, honesty and what should be prudent ratepayer focused investment.
- i) The appointment of seven deputy chief executives
Council “realignment” and the appointment of seven deputy chief executives and the associated approximately $75,000 consultant’s fee suggests a top-heavy, expensive bureaucracy with scant regard to actual productivity and cost control. Two of these DCEs earn between $225,631 – $324,349 and five between $210,760 – $302,968. To ratepayers struggling with rates affordability and financial stress, this is profoundly offensive. Given the significance and cost of this “realignment”, I would have expected all councillors to have been fully informed well in advance of the appointments being made public.
The impression within the community is that the chief executive and mayor would have preferred this management realignment to be implemented unnoticed and were unprepared for the hostility demonstrated by the public (refer appended interview). Given that during the covid lockdown when, nationally, many staff including public servants were taking pay-cuts and implementing pay freezes, the RLC chief executive described those requests as “morally reprehensible”, thus these appointments are regarded by many as a backdoor method of delivering a payrise.
The feeble attempt of the mayor and chief executive trying to justify these ill-conceived appointments is appalling, must have been embarrassing for them and their supporters, and demonstrated to many throughout New Zealand that the RLC is dysfunctional and in dire need of a more ratepayer-focused management, not the top-heavy bureaucracy it has become.
- ii) Lakefront Re-development Project (in ‘partnership’ with Pukeroa Lakefront Holdings Ltd)
The definition of “partnership” is “a formal arrangement by two or more parties to manage and operate a business and share its profits”, however the only financial input has been by taxpayers and ratepayers, and the responsibility for maintenance falls on ratepayers in perpetuity.
This project was budgeted at $41 m of which $20 m was PGF, the remainder, ratepayers. It is not yet complete the final cost to ratepayers is unknown. To the community it appeared that the upkeep of the Lakefront was being deliberately neglected thereby providing an excuse to create “world class” (mayor’s description) tourist attraction and provide impressive sight lines from the private, iwi-owned Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa being established by PLHL.
In 2018 Mayor Chadwick said that the public had been consulted in “the biggest announcement that this council will have as a legacy into the future”. Chief Executive, Geoff Williams, and Crs Donaldson and Sturt also insisted that the public had been consulted.
Officially opened 7th July 2021, Mayor Chadwick admits they did not consult over design and costs thus ratepayers had been deliberately lied to. They belittled the three councillors who opposed this extravagant project. The public wish for a simple tidy-up was ignored. A public petition was ignored. There was never any attempt of cost compression yet Council expects ratepayers to pay for an amenity they didn’t want, over which they were lied to.
Whilst complying with health and safety guidelines the development includes boardwalk over a section of the lake. This has no barriers on either side, simply low ‘lip’. When the public became aware of this design, given there had been no public consultation, there was general alarm at the complete lack of barriers on a structure that was essentially a bridge. Less than three weeks later a well supervised child riding a small bike accidently clipped the lip and was flicked into the lake. He was rescued by a man who, on standing on the lake floor was chest deep in murky water. Accident do happen. Despite the huge public outcry, Council remains unmoved. The boardwalk is safe. At the Council meeting 29th July, Cr Bentley asked under urgency for the situation to be reviewed especially any elected members’ liability. Cr Macpherson later requested the health and safety report related to the boardwalk and Council accountability under law. Mayor Chadwick ruled the question out of order! Just another example of belittling or ignoring those councillors whose views and concerns for the community differ from hers. One is left to wonder what the mayor’s response would be if one of her seven councillors had raised the safety issue.
A project where:
The wishes of many in the community were disregarded.
As the project progressed and covid hit, there was no consideration of deferring some aspects.
“My way or the highway”
iii) Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre (SHMPAC)
SHMPAC was closed soon after the after the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. An initial assessment suggested a cost of up to $5 m to repair the one affected wall and the Concert Chamber. The theatre would have been re-opened in approximately 6 months, thereby generating revenue once again, however nothing happened. In 2017 designs for extensive remodelling were released at a cost of $17.9 million, soon increased to $22.5 m, ratepayers contributing half. These plans included the destruction of the iconic ‘grand piano’ frontage, replacing it with a Whare Nui design, some describe as “architectural vandalism”. The public does not know how approval for this was achieved given the complex processes that were required by the Heritage Trust in 2002 for the upgrade and enclosure of the courtyard area.
On 2nd July 2021 the public were told of a 50% budget blowout, the cost being increased to an estimated $33.7 m! This additional $11 m is to be funded by ratepayers thus their total contribution has increased 100%! This extra cost was not included in the LTP document available for public consultation. The 2021- 2031 LTP was passed on June 28th 2021, with still no mention or inclusion of the additional $11 m though councillors were made aware of it in confidence prior this date. It was just four days later that the public were informed of the budget blowout. This suggests a deliberate attempt to withhold information from the public, those who are most affected. Though knowing that costs were burgeoning Council made no attempt reduce them and again the public have seemingly been deceived and been given no opportunity to question the increased costs.
The theatre has already been closed for five years with no guarantee from Council that will be open in 2023 thus Council will not have received revenue for over seven years, this the result of the vanity / legacy mentality that pervades its decisions.
A project where:
A simple, cost-effective repair that would have seen the theatre operational was disregarded in favour of grandiosity.
The community was deceived or at best not informed.
Another example of a complete lack of compromise or cost compression, especially knowing the cost overrun was huge.
The final cost to ratepayers is unknown.
My way or the highway”, regardless of cost.
- iv) Rotorua Museum
The museum was closed for strengthening after the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016. Some of the damage is related to neglect of this historic building. It took over two years and multiple requests for information for the public to be told that there would be no insurance funding. The public pleaded for repair and restoration (as with SHMPAC) to a business operating standard thus once again generating revenue. This has not happened. In 2018 LTP $30.5 m was budgeted for an upgrade and redevelopment. This has since risen to $54 m.
Since the initial estimates for repair costs have risen steadily and given progress has been slow, the final cost will undoubtedly skyrocket. Much of the information on design, progress and issues have had to be obtained via LGOIMA requests. Council has not been forthcoming publicly which suggests a lack of transparency.
During the time since the closure, the purpose of the museum has been changed from being a community museum encapsulating Rotorua’s historical and cultural diversity to being Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa (the treasure house of Te Arawa). There was no significant public consultation on this change, and again, most of the public are unaware of it. Where will the treasures and items, all of significant historical value but unrelated to Te Arawa be stored? There is concern by many and no answers.
The planned re-opening was to be in 2023. In 2020 a director was appointed to this end. Soon after, we were told that the planned opening would not be until 2025. There was immediate public outcry about the need for a director of a facility that would be un-usable for five years. There is still significant public concern about how the appointee reached the criteria to apply for such a specialised position.
A project where:
Lack of comprehensive maintenance led to major structural issues.
There has been no attempt at cost-cutting or deferring non-essential aspects of the rebuild despite the burgeoning costs.
Significant change in the focus of the amenity but a lack of community consultation.
Final costs unknown.
“My way or the highway”, regardless of cost.
- v) Te Putake o Tawa (Forest Hub 2)
This development is part of a wider Whakarewarewa Forest development and is to provide an additional recreational access point as well as the opportunity for commercial developments. It has been promoted primarily as a carpark for mountain biking. It is in partnership with CNI Holdings Ltd and iwi however, once again taxpayers (PGF) and ratepayers are the only groups contributing financially to this unequal partnership. Those two contributing groups will receive no return on their investment and will pay for its maintenance in perpetuity.
The carpark can accommodate 400+ vehicles however on a really good day it has only about 50.
Only briefly in the press was there news of a gondola to be based at this carpark (presumably the reason for such a large carpark). This gondola to the top of the forest is iwi-inspired and to be privately owned and operated. It also explains the reason for the installation of costly heavy duty 3-phase power capability. A carpark for mountainbikers and other recreational users does not require 3-phase power. Again, it would seem, Council has misled, and not been truly honest with, the public.
A Project where:
Ratepayers have paid for a project they didn’t want.
Ratepayers should not be investing in projects on private land for private operations.
- vi) Aquatic Centre
The Aquatic Centre was definitely in need of repair, having been poorly maintained for some years. One could assume that the lack of maintenance funding is a result of money being spent elsewhere on vanity projects. In the 2018 LTP, repair was estimated at $7.5 m. That upgrade is complete and the pool was officially reopened in Mar 2021, so fully operational. Since approval of the initial repair in 2018, talk of further development was initiated by Council. In the light of covid uncertainty many ratepayers expected Council to exercise financial restraint and defer any new, non-essential Aquatic Centre developments. Unfortunately, no. A massive new development with a budgeted cost of $28.3 m was approved in the 2021 LTP with, as usual, the mayor’s power bloc supporting it. The development includes a spa, new café, outdoor play and relaxing areas, bombing pool, hydroslides, conference facilities, a gym and modernisation to the existing learn to swim facilities. One must ask “Why was this massive and non-essential investment of borrowed money even considered in these financially stressed times, particularly as tourist visitor numbers are unlikely to rise in the foreseeable future?” Yes, children would like it but it’s ratepayers who will pay for it and it is an easy development to defer. The appropriateness must be questioned.
Would be nice, but is far from essential.
Again, no consideration of rates affordability.
Again, final cost unknown.
Again, “My way or the highway”, irrespective of cost.
vii) Blue Baths
In January 2021 yet another Council (ie, ratepayer) asset was closed, Council insisting on “immediate eviction” of the tenant. Had regular maintenance taken place, this could have been avoided.
The earthquake rating of the building dropped from 95% in 2012 to just 15% in 2021. The tenant (BBEL) claims the council “ignored” calls for urgent maintenance including repair to “leaking balconies, leaking pools and a broken water pipe”.
Council admits there is “no evidence” it carried out a geotech investigation for seven years despite it being required to verify a 95% rating. It says it can’t explain why due to “staffing changes”! It also admits a lack of material maintenance, something the tenant believes contributed to the drop NBS (National Building Standard) rating.
The announcement of the closure was made by Council just days before its own detailed seismic assessment (DSA) was to be available. Was the intention to close it regardless?
A Council asset where:
Council admits lack of maintenance.
The tenant has lost its business.
Once again Council has lost important revenue..
We have no idea what the future of this iconic facility will be.
There are, as with other examples, real concerns about Council management and transparency.
viii) Westbrook Sports Precinct
The lease on the land on which Springfield Golf Club is sited is due to expire in October 2027. In March 2020 the public first heard of Council’s plan to not renew the lease in 2024, converting the land into part of the $61m Westbrook Sports Precinct and housing. Despite Council announcing in May 2020 that it would not appear in the 2021 Draft LTP, it did, as part of its capital expenditure, despite no public consultation or discussion at any public council meeting. Information was provided to councillors confidentially during the 2019 induction however it was never on any Council meeting agenda until April 2021 when Saving Springfield presented their petition. For such a huge project that seems unusual.
In 2019/20 Springfield Golf Club generated $62,204.07 and on top of that it pays for the maintenance of 80 acres of council land. It is a large green space enjoyed by 1,000s of walkers, runners and bikers, not just golfers. The club rooms are available for the public to use.
Council maintains the other 35 sports grounds in Rotorua. Compare the fact that 80 acres of green space is maintained without cost to RLC with, for example, Rotorua Cricket which pays around $10,000 lease to RLC which then spends an estimated $100,000 to cover upkeep and specialists from Auckland to plough and re-lay the pitch every autumn. Whereas the 35 sports fields “cost” Council, it keeps 100% of Springfield’s lease charges.
Some of Rotorua’s existing sports fields need upgrading but have been neglected. Once again many in the community suspect the lack of maintenance has been deliberate, an attempt by Council to justify the huge expenditure planned. The council claims the justification for the Sports Precinct is a deficit of 70 – 80 playing and training hours on its current field network. Based on a Sports Field Construction Quality Assessment report for Council by Sports Surface Design Management, upgrades to existing facilities would cost approximately $2m. This would result in a ‘surplus’ of about 25-30 playing hours per week. It is definitely not indicative of the need for additional playing fields nor an outlay of $61m, a figure that would undoubtedly grow.
Saving the Springfield Golf Course has the weight of the community behind it however a petition of 5,017 to save it has been ignored.
The current sports fields servicing Rotorua are scattered throughout various suburbs. Small local shops, eg dairies, benefit added custom on sports days. The huge planned development centres within what is currently a quiet suburb. The roads are not designed for what will be significant extra traffic and this inconvenience should not be forced on property owners. Overflow parking in narrow suburban streets will be inevitable. The obvious impediment to peace and quality enjoyment of life caused by this project will cause property values to drop.
In June 2021, much to the dismay of the mayor and senior executives, Council voted against “deferring discussion until 2024” (presumably so that any decision would not become an election issue). That vote was also notable because it was one of the rare examples where some councillors loyal to the mayor “crossed the floor”. The matter was referred back to the Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee (which includes all councillors) however it was missing from the agenda. Cr Macpherson asked when it might be expected, to be told by Deputy C E Jocelyn Mikaere that it would be 2024!! In bad faith and contradiction to the vote passed by the full council. This is totally unacceptable, undemocratic suggests a complete lack of transparency and hidden agenda.
A project where:
Once again, a legacy is more important than the community.
Consultation has been minimal at best and public feedback ignored. Unfortunately, this is not unusual.
There is too much suspicion of an ulterior motive / hidden agenda for there not to be some truth in it. Regrettably, this is another example of the growing distrust of Council and its decisions.
Once again, and in these times of financial uncertainty, Council has proposed an extravagant plan that has minimal community support and with no consideration of ratepayers’ ability to pay.
Yet another “my way or the highway”. The more ostentatious the better!
- ix) Three Waters negotiations
Under the Local Government Act, councils are required to consult with its ratepayers when strategic asset purchases or disposals are being considered.
RLC has not offered information to the public. RLC is not involving all elected councillors (all those who were voted by us to make informed decisions for us) in its discussions. Effectively, the decision will be made by a Co-governance Committee comprised of two sectors:
The mayor Steve Chadwick, deputy mayor Dave Donaldson and three of the councillors favoured by the mayor, Tania Tapsell, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait and Trevor Maxwell
Five members chosen by the Te Arawa Board.
Most of the public are completely unaware that discussions are taking place, much less what they entail.
For those ratepayers concerned about the usual 7 / 3 vote it is inevitable that the recommendation of this narrow group will pass and any “consultation” will be tokenism at best.
This is particularly alarming given the repercussions of the decision will impact on all of us so significantly. There has been no information made available to the public, no mention of the loss of approximately $300 million in assets and no mention of the approximately $32 million offered to Council should they buy into the proposal (which they will). It is alarming, given RLC’s propensity for extravagance and wealth transfer to iwi to the detriment of all ratepayers, that this sum of money comes with no control or provisos over how it can be spent. This is particularly concerning RLC’s huge and growing debt. Neither has there been any mention of what changes to structure and responsibilities of Council given so much of the management of the three waters will be taken out of their control.
The LTP was out of date a mere four days after it was ratified as a result of the known, but not included, $11 m cost blowout of SHMPAC!
The Rotorua community must be grateful for the excellent investigative journalism of Felix Desmarais from Local Democracy Reporting, and the numerous LGOIMA requests made by him and concerned members of the public. The number of LGOIMA requests both by Felix and the public suggest the regular occurrence of withheld or misleading information. There must be serious problems or issues within Council, and a compromised level of trust of Council, for so many LGOIMA requests.
As you will see from the above examples of legacy and vanity projects, there has been no attempt at cost compression or deferring major works, and any public input has been minimal. The upkeep and maintenance of many assets have been neglected; an excuse to completely redesign and remodel rather than repair.
The excessive rates rises suggest that the mayor, her 7 loyal followers, the chief executive and senior management are out of touch with the realities that confront the community, especially in these uncertain covid times. There has been no attempt to control rates rises for over five years, despite being assured by the mayor in 2015 that after a one-off increase of 7%, subsequent increases would be linked to inflation. Despite community concerns, expensive, extravagant vanity and legacy projects, and iwi partnerships funded by ratepayers for whom there is no financial benefit, have been financed ahead of essential services upgrades and replacement.
Council’s comparatively recent and rapid investment of public money in iwi-centred private developments at the expense of general infrastructure maintenance and upgrades is creating growing racial and political issues within the community.
Concerned ratepayers would prefer Council to have taken a more prudent approach to spending and reduce debt, as we were told in 2015, particularly now given many are now struggling financially and have been seriously impacted by the loss of international tourism. The approx $300 m this injects into the local economy has gone for the foreseeable future along with its associated employment.
The usual 7:3 council decisions are indicative of bullying or at the least exertion of pressure, as evidenced by Cr kai Fong. The tense atmosphere within the council chamber, the regular and vitriolic personal attacks, the legal issues, the number of Code of Conduct complaints and the predetermined direction of too many council decisions indicate growing dysfunction within Council. Time is being diverted from true council function.
The increasing lack of true consultation, ignoring the concerns and wishes of the public, the growing lack of transparency, the secrecy, seemingly misleading the public and now admitted areas of deceit are growing causes for concern. If the mayor and chief executive were fulfilling their roles in an honest and prudent manner they should not need to spend large amounts of time, or insult the public, defending themselves.
Trust in Council, councillors and management has plummeted. Decisions of the mayor, chief executive and deputy chief executives have brought Rotorua into disrepute. It is unfortunate that those councillors who have questioned Council extravagance and lack of transparency, and have been respectful of all ratepayers have been included, collectively or by association, in this mountain of distrust.
The mayor attacked the growing public call for an independent review describing it as “a nonsense”, and “silly chatter”. Those insulting comments made in the press were directed at a community concerned about growing rates unaffordability, the direction Rotorua is being led, how, and by whom.
Why such an aversion to an independent review if i) all is above board, open and honest, ii) if spending isn’t excessive, iii) if staff appointments and salary increases are justified, iv) if staff turnover is at an acceptable level, v) if forecast debt levels and budgets can be contained, vi) if the 10 year plan is realistic, vii) if projects are not overly extravagant and viii) if the behaviour of the mayor, chief executive and councillors is acceptable? An independent review would address the concerns of the public. Either the disquiet would be found to be simply “silly chatter”, vindicating the mayor and Council management, or have more serious ramifications but offer a route out of what a growing number of people see as an increasingly bleak future for Rotorua and its residents.
As the mayor said, “We’ve got to now all work together to get the confidence of our community to stop this silly chatter”. That cannot happen until an independent review which will determine whether RLC is, indeed, operating in a trustworthy and transparent manner. It would be the first step towards rebuilding trust and confidence in Council and would also help Council to meet community expectations.
As the well-known quote states, “Bad leaders care about who is right. Good leaders care about what is right”. It appears to many that Council lacks the leadership, experience, management and project management skills to oversee the many large projects on which it has embarked.
Whilst I know there will always central government concerns, impacts and potential conflicts of interest, when serious complaints about a local government are raised, it is my hope that any conflicts of interest can be set aside for a full investigation to occur.
Transcript of Daily Post Local Democracy Reporter Felix Desmarais interviewing the Mayor Steve Chadwick and Chief Executive Geoff Williams of Rotorua Lakes Council, 25 June 2021.
(This interview, also a podcast on radio and available on YouTube, is completely inept and totally laughable).
Mayor: The public have said to me “Why did Council need seven new Chief Executives, Deputy Chief Executives around the Chief Executive, and I said that’s not the case at all (with a smirk), so I’d rather….
Felix: But they are new Deputy Chief Executives though.
Mayor: No they’re not. They’re the same people. Geoff will answer that.
Felix: They were previously employed managers to other roles.
Mayor: Ah yes.
CE: I can pick up, probably questions I can pick up better. I can answer these questions, Felix.
Mayor: So that’s what I’ve had to respond to. I’ve had to constantly put the story right, that these are not seven new people brought into the organisation.
Felix: I think that’s been clear from the beginning though.
Mayor: No it isn’t. Not with the questions that I’ve had from the contacts that I work with, you know they’re not people that write letters to the editor. But, um they want to see this town go forward, some, they want to see the district go forward and they were a bit gobsmacked about, help, why you, Mayor through the Chief Executive are allowing that to happen.
CE: Um, look I think there has been some real misconceptions created as to what this change of process was all about. We’ve created new jobs. Well, actually we haven’t.
Felix: The roles have changed, but they’re not new jobs, is that what you’re saying?
CE: No. For five of the executive team, there was a focusing of the jobs, there was a clarity as to what they’re there to do, which was actually to achieve outcomes, so those are important changes. But from an employment point of view, when we assess the level of change, they’re not substantive changes to the role, that will require us to, for example advertise jobs, or consider redundancies to that sort of level, that only happens when there is a substantive change.
Felix: But they have new responsibilities?
Felix: For outcomes.
Felix: So they’re different roles?
Mayor: More or less.
CE: Hmm, no, look, that’s where you’re getting it wrong. Because from an HR point of view, people have got roles and if you vary their role, substantially, fundamentally, it’s a new role. And they’re quite entitled to say, hey, you never employed me to do this job, this is a new job, you need to pay me redundancy right?
Felix: The DCEs could say that, because they said when they were employed.
CE: No, because the roles were not substantive changes.
Felix: But they’ve got new responsibilities.
CE: Urgh. Felix, anyone in a job, if I’m employed in a job and Steve wants me to do some different things, she can ask me to do some different things, and we sit down and talk about the level of change that I’m going to do and what else she is wanting me to do, what I wasn’t doing before. If she totally changes my job, I might have a conversation with her to say – Steve, you’ve totally changed my job. That’s substantive change, in this case we had change, but it was no substantive.
Felix: These Deputy Chief Executives didn’t have to apply for these roles, because, you don’t consider them new roles, is that right?
CE: Ha. Well if you’re in a job and someone said, Felix we’d like you to do a few different things over there, I think you might be surprised if someone said to you and incidentally now, you also have to apply for a new job. These are fundamentally their jobs.
Felix: That to me, would be a promotion.
Felix: So what value for money is Rotorua getting from its Chief Executive?
CE: Out of my role?
Felix: What does the CE do, if the Deputy Chief Executive’s office is overseeing the other Deputy Chief Executives?
CE: Look, my job fundamentally is actually enquiring that this organisation is in the right direction and then ensuring that its delivering what it is that it has to deliver, that’s my job. And its overseeing the delivery of all those parts of the organisation. The Deputy in this case is assisting me with that task and there’s two of us. This is our job.
Felix: Generally, isn’t that a CE’s job? To look after that?
CE: Well that is my job, actually, I think, I think from a Council point of view, what the Council could say to you actually, Felix, all of these jobs are the responsibility of the Chief Executive. The Chief Executive ultimately is responsible for the whole lot. Ok, and so that is my job. What I’ve got is someone working beside me to assist me in discharging that responsibility.
Felix: Is it usual practice to give somebody a new title and um a new salary rise, when they don’t yet have a formalised job description?
CE: Well, you’ve got copies of the job descriptions and the outlines and they are….
Felix: Are these the job descriptions?
CE: No, no you should have them somewhere in one of these packs from memory, I, I would just have to check, but that has actually come through. Job descriptions of the DCEs, they are there, according to the outline there, which I’ve got is item 3.
Felix: When was work on these done?
CE: About September, this work that you’ve got here um, are the four informal to the job descriptions that sit beside them.
Felix: Sorry, that is the job description?
CE: I think I haven’t got item 2, 3 in front of you.
Felix: When were these finalised? Were they finalised before or after people’s salaries and titles were changed?
Felix: But I was told us earlier in the week, that I couldn’t have them, because they were in draft form.
CE: Well, still they are in…they are finalised to the point where they’re mostly done. Now, why they’ve got draft on them, is that we’re still working through the final organisation change work and we’re still working through the KPIs. So there are some aspects, which do need to be finalised, so therefore, they’re in draft. There is enough substantive understanding of what these roles are about for us to make the decision to move forward, and to confirm people back into jobs.
Felix: The organisational realignment overall, how much is that costing the organisation?
CE: Well, in terms of salary movements, I think is 28,000 for the executive team.
Felix: Um, but is there any cost to the actual change and any other costs?
CE: There will….there is , we’ve got and I think its actually, ah, you’ve asked for some costs, we’ve got some consultancy costs which have been, been given to you have, um, which is $51,842.
Felix: Are you…so they’re basically consultancy costs?
CE: That I think exclusively so.
Felix: Is it expected to cost anymore? Because you haven’t actually finished the process yet.
CE: Ah, funny that, I was just looking at the cost that, the cost will go out to $75,000 for the consulting cost, that’s the expected. Now, if we’re looking forward to what else we have to do, that’s probably thereabouts what we’re thinking, that its likely to be.
Felix: And that, you said that was just for the consulting fee, are there any other expected costs?
Felix: Have you been surprised by the public’s reaction to this organisational realignment? To the seven Deputy Chief Executives?
CE: Look, I…surprised? I’ve been disappointed, because that’s one thing I sort of felt, I felt disappointed that there’s not recognition of the work that this organisation is actually trying to do.