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John MacDonald: Commissioners needed for Chch council?

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 29 Nov 2023, 1:43PM
Photo / File
Photo / File

John MacDonald: Commissioners needed for Chch council?

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 29 Nov 2023, 1:43PM

Yesterday, I was contacted by someone who, I think it’s fair to say, has had a gutsful of the Christchurch City Council.

They are someone who is involved with business groups and community groups in Christchurch and they’ve felt compelled to get in touch after all the goings-on over the last couple of weeks.

We’ve had the chief executive quitting, the chief financial officer quitting, the KPMG report which looked into that $6.5 million budget blowout in the Three Waters division - where we had a whole lot of unapproved spending on hiring more staff.

Not to mention all the other comings and goings generally goings throughout this year. To the point where the council in New Zealand’s second-largest city has no chief executive and no CFO. And other senior people away on “leave”. There’s been a lot of that this year. It seems that if you’re on leave at the Christchurch City Council, it generally means you’ve left.

Then there’s the other crazy stuff going on. Stuff like the money being blown on that beautification trial on Gloucester Street, in the centre of town, near the Turanga central library and where the new Court Theatre’s being built.

So, quite rightly, people are scratching their heads and wondering what the hell’s going on at that outfit.

You may have heard that the new Local Government Minister is keeping an eye on things and wants to find out more. It’s also being reported that the Auditor-General’s office is taking an interest.

It says it’s been in touch with the council and wants to “further understand” what’s going on. Particularly, the $6.5 million in unapproved spending, and the other issue that’s emerged in the last few days. This leaked report by external consultants Aurecon which says a lack of leadership and accountability at the council is putting billions of dollars of public assets at risk.

These are things like underground pipes, roads, parks and playgrounds, as well as facilities such as libraries, pools and community centres.

I understand the report that was leaked is still in draft and not yet finalised. But the council’s had the draft since September.

As it’s being reported, the report talks about the council’s ongoing failure to document the condition of many of its core assets and some maintenance is understood to be years behind schedule.

So, when you consider all of these things, you can see why this person involved in business and community groups has had enough.

They say the majority of Christchurch citizens are sick and tired of the incompetence, and lack of accountability and common sense at the council. And they think the Government needs to step-in and appoint commissioners to take over.

We know the Local Government Minister is aware of reports about the city council and is taking his time to get across all the details. He also expects to be briefed on the resignations of the chief executive and the chief financial officer.

Personally, I think we’re close to needing government intervention. But I don’t think we’re at that point just yet. Because I think we need to know first whether the departures of the chief executive and the chief financial officer were more than just “resignations”.

Because if they were given their marching orders, then that would give me a little bit of confidence that there is some hope that the council can sort out its own mess.

But, I tell you what, I'm not far away from joining the call for commissioners to take over. Not far away at all.

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