DEMOCRACY AT WORK – KDC STYLE 16.11.2018
THE Kaipara Lifestyler has an article this week on the Representation Review with comments from Jason Marris general manager governance, strategy and democracy for the KDC.
The article is headed “Fairer representation across Kaipara” and the KDC thanks all those 81 people who made submissions. The only problem is that of those submissions 53 were against the proposal finally adopted by the KDC. So the KDC voted for its original proposal despite the majority of submissions being against the proposal.
Not only that, in the report presented to councillors before the decision was made there was critical comment in respect of 23 submitters opposed to the KDC proposal in that they used a pro-forma submission published by this website. Those comments unfairly detracted from those submissions and could well have influenced the councillors in their voting. (Scroll down to the post below KDC REJECTS RATEPAYERS’ VIEWS ON REPRESENTATION 29.10.2018)
Two of the councillors were absent when this very important vote was taken. Councillor Geange voted by phone but no such arrangements were made for Councillor Wade. With the vote being tied the Mayor Jason Smith used an additional casting vote to reject a last minute alternative proposal and to adopt the initial proposal unaltered as the final proposal.
Effectively Mayor Smith ensured with his two votes that the arrangement preferred by the KDC and opposed by the majority of submitters was carried.
There is concern that in using a casting vote the Mayor acted in breach of the provisions of the Local Government Act 2002 and KDC standing orders. That matter has been raised with the Local Government Commission through the appeal process.
In the Lifestyler article the KDC advises that those who made submissions have the right to lodge an appeal against the KDC’s decision and gives details of how to obtain an appeal document. It also advises that the final date for lodging an appeal is 12 November 2018. The article was published on 13 November.
GRAHAM SIBERY SEVERANCE PAY - LATEST 14.11.2018
No public statement has been made by the KDC in respect of the apparent errors in the KDC Annual report for 2017/2018. (Scroll down to the post of 29.10.2018) I have therefore applied for further information from the KDC as an official information (LGOIMA) request.
REPRESENTATION REVIEW – LATEST 14.11.2018
The KDC rejected the views of the majority of submitters in respect of the ward boundaries for the next election and the number of councillors. It decided to adopt its original proposal unchanged as its final proposal. The period for appealing that decision expired on 12 November.
It is unknown at this stage how many appeals were lodged. However, one single appeal is sufficient for the appeal process to be triggered and the Local Government Commission is then obliged to reconsider the whole matter.
Legal Eagle lodged an appeal arguing that the KDC had failed to comply with the legislation and the Guidelines issued by the Local Government Commission in reaching its decision.
The appeal also raised questions about compliance with the legislation because of the failure of councillors to attend the hearings to hear oral submissions.
It also raised concerns about the legality of the KDC resolutions adopting the final proposal. The vote was tied and the Mayor used a casting vote to enable the resolution adopting the proposal to be carried. It appears that the use of a casting vote in such circumstances is at odds with the provisions of the Local Government Act 2002 and KDC standing orders. If the voting had been tied then the resolution would not have been passed.
No doubt we will hear more from the KDC and the Local Government Commission in the near future.
FENZ APPEAL UPDATE 03.11.2018
Following the publication of the post below the KDC has issued this explanatory note on its website
Plan Change 4 - Resolution via Consent Order from the Environment Court
A decision on Plan Change 4 has been issued via Consent Order from the Environment Court on 24 October 2018 after the parties through negotiations and mediation agreed to a way forward. Generally the consent order upholds the Commissioners decision in relation to land use activities (e.g. in the majority of instances excluding consent notice requirements, the removal of the need to comply with the NZ Fire Service Code of Practice at time of building), and introduces a new risk-based approach requiring applicants and the Council to consider fire hazard at the time of subdivision consent applications. The deadline for filing an appeal to the High Court is 14 November 2018. Subject to there being no appeals, a Council decision is required to adopt the plan change and this is scheduled for the Council meeting on 29 November 2018. Following adoption of the plan change by Council, the Council must follow the requirements for notification, including via public notice which must specify the date upon which the plan change will become fully operative, and be no less than 5 working days in advance of the plan change becoming fully operative.
It is anticipated that subject to no appeals being made on the plan change, it could become operative by late December 2018 or early 2019.
There is no mention of transitional provisons for those issued with consents under the old rules.
I suggest that all those affected by the change in rules contact the chief executive and their local councillor to find out what transitional provisions the KDC intends to adopt.
FENZ AND PLAN CHANGE 4 30.10.2018
The Fire Service code of practice has gone – almost.
The KDC inflicted the irrational Fire Service code of practice on those building in Kaipara by adopting it as part of the District Plan. There was a massive conflict of interest in that Beca was advising the KDC and Beca was also used by the Fire Service to pressure local authorities into adopting the code of practice. The KDC rolled over and adopted the code without even understanding what it meant.
The code of practice is itself unlawful. The code can only relate to water pressure in mains supplies in urban areas. Those are the statutory limits laid down. That did not stop the Fire Service. Over the years it has spent an enormous amount of money (collected through the Fire Service Levy paid by us all as part of insurance premiums) to enforce its unlawful and blighted gospel of firefighting rules.
The Fire Service extended the code to include non-reticulated areas, like most of Kaipara. Although the code is by law voluntary, the Fire Service took it upon itself to enforce a set of irrational rules on local authorities by using the Resource Management Act as a Trojan horse. Under that Act local authorities have an obligation to mitigate “natural hazards”. The Fire Service argued that structural fires are natural hazards and local authorities are obliged to adopt the code of practice to comply with their obligations under the legislation.
The KDC fully endorsed the Fire Service’s strategy, set up the Fire Service as an unlawful de facto consent authority under the RMA, and gouged consent fees out of those who wanted to mitigate the full irrationality of the code.
The proliferation of totally unnecessary concrete tanks around Magical Mangawhai is a testament to the stupidity and greed of the KDC.
After years of dithering the KDC succumbed to public pressure and instigated Plan Change 4 to mitigate the amount of water dedicated to firefighting. Fortunately, a small group opposed the proposed change. At a hearing before commissioners last year it not only opposed Plan Change 4 but proposed that reference to the code of practice be completely removed from the District Plan.
The hearing commissioners decided that the code of practice was not reasonable in the circumstance and that reference to it should be removed from the District Plan.
FENZ, the Fire Service under its new name, appealed the decision to the Environment Court. The Court ordered mediation and over 90 concerned residents became “interested parties” to the litigation. A mediation conference was held between KDC staff and lawyers, FENZ representatives (senior officers, Beca consultants and lawyers), and the interested parties representatives.
There followed several meetings between the KDC staff, Jonathan Larsen as an individual, and interested parties’ representatives Clive Boonham and Malcolm Halley, to sort out a compromise settlement with FENZ. If settlement could not be reached then the matter would proceed to a full hearing in the Environment Court.
Effectively, as a reult of the mediation, the references to the code of practice in the rules of the District Plan have been removed. There is no requirement for dedicated water for firefighting. A basic amount of domestic water can now be used for firefighting purposes as well. FENZ no longer has the power to interfere in the consent process and there should be no necessity for additional consent fees to be paid in respect of firefighting requirements.
The compromise agreement is not perfect. FENZ, as a bottom line, insisted that there had to be references to the code in various Notes. These are advisory only and the KDC assured us that they would treated as advisory and they would not be used by the KDC as an opening to interfere and impose its own conditions.
The compromise agreement was endorsed by the Environment Court on 24 October 2018 and the Court ordered that the KDC District Plan be amended in accordance with the agreement.
The order and the amendments can be seen here.
WHAT IS THE LEGAL SITUATION NOW?
It is uncertain if the order of the Court automatically amends the District Plan, or if the KDC has to go through another process. Once the plan is lawfully amended then those amendments are operative.
During the mediation meetings I raised with KDC staff how they were going to deal with earlier consents once the code was expunged from the Plan. This is relevant where under the old rules conditions have been imposed, for instance the requirement to retain in a tank an amount of water for firefighting. The amendments also impact on those who have a consent issued under the old rules which they have yet to meet, but which are now no longer necessary.
I urged the KDC staff to give these issues some consideration so that those applying for building consents and those caught in the transition would have some certainty.
I have heard nothing further from the KDC even though several months has now elapsed. Sadly, I have received advice that consent staff at The Hub are still applying the old rules (which they are obliged to do until the amendments become operative) but they have no knowledge of any amendments that are about to change the rules.
The KDC has for many years let down ratepayers, residents and builders in this whole saga of the code of practice. Let us hope that under the leadership of the new chief executive, Louise Miller, it makes amends and goes out of its way to provide information to all interested parties on the changes to the rules, and how it intends to deal with the transition. We all hope as well that the KDC will act fairly in applying the new rules and will not use it as an opportunity to gouge more money out of those applying for building consents.
As a final word, a “well done” to all of those who opposed Plan Change 4, and to those who became interested parties in opposing the FENZ appeal to the Environment Court. Your success in getting rid of the code of practice shows that we can make a difference and bring some much needed common sense to Kaipara.
And also a good word for the KDC staff involved in the mediation. They worked hard to achieve the best outcome for those affected by the rules. Let us hope that they carry on the good work with the transition and the interpretation of the amended rules.
GRAHAM SIBERY'S SEVERANCE PAY 29.10.2018
Last September the KDC declined my LGOIMA (official information) request for details of former KDC chief executive Graham Sibery’s severance pay. Sibery was a bizarre appointment by the Commissioners just before they quit being an appointment for a 5 year period (even though he had no experience in local government) to a council that was desperately short on experience and expertise.
He lasted only 13 months and left under a cloud of uncertainty. The rumour-mill suggested that he had been bought off according to the McKerchar tradition. (Jack McKerchar negotiated a secret payment of $240,000 when he quit in 2011 leaving the KDC in total disarray and financial ruin.)
The recently released annual report for 2017/2018 casts some light on Sibery’s severance pay. It appears (see page 60) that he was paid $47,769 in severance pay and $8,539 in other benefits.
But that is not the complete picture. He quit on 25 August 2017 and apparently he was paid to 1 September 2017. The annual report is for the year 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018. So Sibery was employed for two months of the 2017/2018 rating year. That is confirmed in the annual report which includes the annual salary for the “Outgoing Chief Executive” from 1 July 2017 to 1 September 2017, being two months. However, things go a bit pear-shaped when it goes on to state that his salary for those two months was $241,866. That equates to an annual salary of $1,451,196.
Payments to the Acting Chief Executive after the departure of Sibery total $215,192 for the period from 4 September 2017 to 30 June 2018. That makes sense given an annual salary of about $259,000.
So what of the payment of $241,866 to Sibery, supposedly for 2 months’ salary? Did the KDC accidentally get the figures around the wrong way and the near quarter of a million dollars was actually the severance pay? Or did the KDC fudge the figures and hide part of the severance pay in an inflated and incorrect salary figure?
Why was the error not picked up in KDC's own cross-checking? Why was it not picked up by the KDC's auditors?
No doubt there is more to emerge.
Severance Pay was also paid in the 2017/2018 rating year to 7 employees in the following amounts: $26,203, $11,030, $13,500, $16,525, $10,830, $16,246, $27,142 (In the 2016/2017 year 1 employee was paid: $15,000).
KDC REJECTS RATEPAYERS’ VIEWS ON REPRESENTATION 29.10.2018
The KDC has confirmed that it will proceed with the Initial Proposal for the representative review despite the overwhelming vote against it by ratepayers who made submissions.
The Agenda for the extraordinary Council meeting considering the proposals can be viewed here.
Councillors voted for the KDC's Initial Proposal, rejecting aternative proposals favoured by submitters, as follows:
Councillor del la Varis-Woodcock
The vote was tied so Mayor Smith used his additional casting vote so that the Initial Proposal was approved.
It is unknown why Councillor Wade did not make alternative arrangements to cast his vote on such an important issue.
The agenda for the Council meeting reports that the KDC received 81 submissions on the proposal, 28 supporting the Initial Proposal of the KDC and 53 opposing it.
Of the 81 submissions 73 were received from the Otamatea ward.
It appears that the Agenda was prepared by Jason Marris, General Manager of Governance, Strategy and Democracy. In Attachment 6: Summary of submissions on page 25 of the Agenda the submissions of many of the Otamatea ratepayers are dealt with rather unfairly. The Summary states that the 53 opposition submissions included 24 submissions using the pro-forma submission as published on Kaipara Concerns website. The Summary then goes on to add:
There were a number of common themes that were presented in the submissions that opposed the Initial Proposal. This is to be expected, given that nearly half of the submissions received were made using the pro-forma submission previously mentioned.
With respect to Mr Marris, those comments are completely unwarranted and do not give a fair and independent assessment of the submissions. Those statements are clearly aimed at diminishing the importance of submissions of those who opposed the Initial Proposal and used a pro-forma submission form.
They reflect a bias against any submissions supporting alternative proposals, were highly prejudicial to the democratic process, and may have influenced the Councillors when casting their votes.
I would remind Mr Marris and the KDC that we live in a democracy which entitles the people to exercise their democratic right by casting their votes in many different circumstances. In nearly all situations the vote is a Yes or a No indicated by a tick in a box. No reasons are given. When we elect a government we tick a box and do not have to give reasons why we support the party voted for. When KDC councillors cast a vote on the Initial Proposal they simply voted for or against. No reasons had to be given.
So why are the opinion of the pro-forma submitters unfairly devalued? They voted against the proposal. That should be enough on its own. But they also gave persuasive reasons. The fact that others gave the same reasons is completely irrelevant. That’s what happens when you vote for or against an issue or have a referendum.
Could it simply be that the MR Marris and the KDC have highlighted the bias that they have against any submission that opposed the Initial Proposal?
Would such negative comments have been made if pro-forma submissions had been made in favour of the KDC’s preferred option?
This was a complicated issue. The guidelines for representation are outdated and unreasonable and the permutations and possibilities mind-stretching. The pro-forma document used by some submitters was prepared from the submissions of those who had given serious consideration to the issues. It represented the views of many ratepayers of Otamatea who feel that the KDC is perpetuating its strategy of disenfranchising the ratepayers of Otamatea. Those submitters who endorse that sentiment were fully entitled to use the pro-forma submission. They did not blindly use the form. They used it because the pro-forma submission represented the collective views of many ratepayers in Otamatea, and the submitter agreed with those views.
The pro-forma submission is important when it comes to an appeal because it covers many of the points of opposition to the Initial Proposal. As you will see highlighted below, an appeal can only be lodged in relation to matters raised in that person’s submission.
This is what the KDC says about appeals.
Any person who has made a submission on the Council’s initial proposal may lodge an appeal against the Council’s decision. An appeal must relate to the matters raised in that person’s submission. Appeal forms can be provided through the website www.kaipara.govt.nz/ RepReview, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or in hardcopy. Appeal forms are also available from the Dargaville office at 42 Hokianga Road or the Mangawhai office at The Hub, 6 Molesworth Drive from 12 October 2018. Appeals should state your name, address, telephone number and email address (if you have one) and should reach the Council no later than 4pm on Monday 12 November 2018.
More advice on appeals will be published later.
REPRESENTATION REVIEW 29.08.2017 URGENT
The KDC is reviewing the number of councillors who will in future represent the district and how they will be allocated to existing wards or new wards with redrawn boundaries.
Representation is important. In the east (Otamatea) we are under-represented and there is a perception that we are dumped on by the rest of Kaipara - for example the rates bomb that has just hit us.
At present we only have three councillors and are under represented. The KDC wants to redraw the boundary of Otamatea, make it smaller, and call it Kaiwaka-Mangawhai. it wants to reduce our reptesentation to two councillors.
Many of us resist that and want four councillors in Otamatea with the boundary staying very much as it is.
If ratepayers do not make submissions the KDC will steam-roller the proposal through and reduce your representation.
In respect of the Fire Service water tanks saga the support of many ratepayers proved vital in removing the obligation to install dedicated water tanks for firefighting. So filing a submission can be very effective.
See details of the Representation review here.
The KDC proposal can be seen here
The various options discussed by the KDC can be seen here Scroll down to page 27 to Representation Review
How to submit
You can make your submission on line
You can simply state that you oppose the proposal, that you want Otamatea ward to stay as it is, and that it should have four councillors.
A draft submission is here. This is made up of suggestions sent to me by ratepayers. A couple of strange boxes come up but just click OK and Yes and it should download. If you have problems email email@example.com and just type "copy please".
You can use the format of the draft submission, delete the submission part and type in your own submission. You can simply fill in your own details and use the whole of the draft submission, or delete parts and add in your own submissions.
THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT AS MANY RATEPAYERS AS POSSIBLE MAKE A SUBMISSION. PARTNERS SHOULD MAKE SEPARATE SUBMISSIONS. ENCOURAGE YOUR FAMILY, YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOUURS TO MAKE A SUBMISSION.
IF YOU DON'T SUBMIT THEN DON'T COMPLAIN LATER THAT YOU ARE BEING DUMPED ON BY DARGAVILLE
Email submission to firstname.lastname@example.org
Submissions close at 4pm on THIS Friday 31 August 2018.
KDC REPRESENTATION REVIEW 21.08.2018
Any ratepayer who is concerned about the massive rate increases, the huge debt burden, and the future of Mangawhai, should take the opportunity to make a submission on the Representation Review which is before the KDC at the moment. It involves the number of councillors who represent each ward in the Kaipara district.
Full details of the proposal can be found on the KDC website here. There are maps of the current wards and the proposed wards. https://www.kaipara.govt.nz/site/kaiparadistrictcouncil/files/pdf/Representation%20Review%20A4%20Brochure.pdf
Mangawhai is seen as the cash-cow of Kaipara but when it comes to representation on the Council Mangawhai/Kaiwaka is significantly under-represented on a population basis. At present Dargaville has 2 councillors, Otamatea (which includes Mangawhai and Kaiwaka) 3, and West Coast Central 3.
It was always understood that in any representative review Mangawhai/Kaiwaka would gain an extra councillor to give it a greater and fairer say. However, the review makes a different proposal. Dargaville retains 2 councillors, Kaiwaka-Mangawhai has 2, West Coast-Central has 2, and a new ward of Otamatea (stretching from Maungaturoto to Ruawai will have 2.
Many critics of the KDC see this as a deliberate ploy to dimish the influence of ratepayers on the East Coast. It is widely acknowledged that there is an East/West divide in Kaipara and the new proposal will swing the pendulum towards the West.
The representation review happens every 6 years so it is important that the correct decision is made.
I urge you all to read the proposal and if possible attend the drop in session:
Mangawhai Club: TOMORROW Tuesday 21 August; 6pm-7pm NOT BEING HELD
Kaiwaka War Memorial Hall: Tuesday 28 August 28; 12 noon-1pm
After the KDC hears and considers the submissions it will formulate a Final Proposal. This will be publicly notified and there will be a one month appeal/objection period. If one single objection is made the matter is referred to the Local Government Commission for determination.
The question of fair representation is a complicated matter. If there are any experts out there who can summarise what the main issues are then I will publish them on this website (with no names) so that ratepayers have some basics to work on. Send details to email@example.com
Submission close at 4 pm on Friday 31 August 2018
RATEPAYERS' RESPONSES TO THE RATES INCREASES 13.08,2018
Taken from Facebook
• My rates went up by about 700 bucks!
• Not the point it's the unadvised increase that's the piss off and why and where it's going. Everything is a masquerade
• It's an extortion.
• Mine went up $800!
• My friends went up 700 dollars
• KDC you did not HAVE to increase rates AT ALL. Or at least you should have followed the LGNZ guidelines of less than 3%. Look at all the suffering you will cause. This is a Human Rights issue and I have had enough! I was so gullible thinking we would never have to face such unfairness again after the sewerage debacle. And here we are again. Local Government in NZ is out of control and can do what they like and just keep enforcing us to pay up. It's long past time for us to do something - but what? And who will support such a challenge?
• Mangawhai will become an elitist town if this continues as many will have to consider selling up and leaving as it is akin to another mortgage.
• Our Region is broke and Broken. Our 1st elected council in how many terms?Can't keep a CEO. Can't keep a Mayor. Can't get staff. Even though they have more over $200k pa staff than any other council in NZ. Can't even get Rates notices out on time when there has been an unacceptably unfair increase to pay.
It's a fail guys.
• Yea, mines up 40%
• Question....is this a ploy to get 10% penalty fees added???
• How many other ratepayers are going to be affected ???
• Yes I do get the feeling I have been shafted..I literally cried when I got mine...the worse thing is from this starting point the rates will continue to escalate every year and as a single woman I shall end up selling my house. ..my friend had 17 acres and a 4 bedroom house in Dairy Flat with approx the same rates...go figure
• Common sense increases should be no more than % inflation - consumer price indexation. Guess that is too simple for these beaurocrats who saw our revalued properties as an opportunity to screw us royally.
• Yes, I definitely feel like I have been shafted! My rates bill actually made me cry
• Ours went up just over $700 kdc needs to learn how to do maths because ours Is way over the proposed increase
• My Drgvl 18/19 increase = 6.52% .
NRC RATES HIKED DRAMATICALLY 13.08.2014
Ratepayers in Otamatea (the eastern part of Kaipara) have been devastated by a Rates Bomb delivered by the KDC. The posts below show how the KDC rates have increased substantially in the east not only because of the revaluation but because of the increase in fixed charges. However, tagged on at the end of the rates invoice (if you have received one yet) are the rates for the Northland Regional Council (NRC).
How much have the NRC rates increased?
This is what the recently adopted long term plan has to say on page 5:
Our community showed a high level of support for our proposed spends in these and other areas, which amount to an average increase of $69.51 per ratepayer on average for the coming ear. The actual amount you pay will vary, depending on where you live, how much your property is worth, and if any targeted rates are applied to your property.
Don’t be fooled by that “average” word. As we have seen with the KDC it is used by local authorities to hide the true situation.
The NRC sets a limit on rates increases. That's good news. However on page 23 you will see that the limit on rates increases – set by the NRC - is 10% in any one year. That's bad news. Given the low inflation that is a staggering amount. But worse is to come.
The average increase in 2018/19 is much higher than the ten-year average, at $76.04 (29.1%). This is a one-off, caused by significant increases in service levels, particularly in flood risk reduction, improving freshwater management and increased pest and predator management. In 2018/19 we exceed our total rates increase limit of 10% per year.
So the limit on rate increase is not really a limit. It can be exceeded whenever service levels rise and it appears there is no limit on how much it can be exceeded by.
Notice the “average” increase, the figure of $76.04 and the 29.1 % increase. Using a Margaret Street property in Mangawhai Heads as a sample, the actual figures in the real world are as follows:
Total NRC rates increase for the 2018/2019 year: $104.59
Percentage increase: 38.39%
For Year 2 the planned increase is 7.9% and for Year 3 it is 4.0%. Which of course could be hiked dramatically if there is a significant increase in service levels.
Lambs to the slaughter.
HAS THE KDC DUMPED ON MANGAWHAI AND OTAMATEA? 11.08.2018
The KDC is telling us that if our rates have risen it is because of the unfortunate but inevitable effect of the revaluation. An earlier post (FACTS ABOUT THE RATES BOMB) suggests that in the east of Kaipara rates have also risen because the fixed charges have been increased as well.
But what about other areas in Kaipara. How did they fare?
If you go to the finance part of the newly adopted Long Term Plan (ironically called “A Bright Future”) and scroll down to page 60 you will find sample rate increases for properties throughout Kaipara.
Scroll down to page 65 and start looking at Pastoral Property in Waipoua and downwards on to Dairy Properties on page 66. You need to compare the first column on the far left (Value-based general rate for 2017/2018 rating year) with the first column for the 2018/2019 rating year (Value-based general rate). You will note that although land values have gone up slightly for these properties the general rates are in fact less than last year. That means that the differentials applied (the amount charged in the dollar) have been reduced. You will also note that the fixed charges have in many instances been reduced.
Having done that it is worth comparing those columns for properties in other areas.
Take a look at Industrial Property in Dargaville on page 67. The valuation stays the same but the rates go down by 7 per cent. That comes about because the differential for the general rate has been reduced, as have most of the fixed charges.
To sum up it appears that the KDC has loaded properties in the east with higher rates because of revaluation and by charging higher fixed charges. In the west and in respect of pastoral and dairy farms it has reduced the differential for general rates and reduced the fixed charges.
For transparency’s sake, good governance and all that it would be interesting for the elected councillors to declare what the increase is on their rates for the new rating year.
LARGEST INCREASE IN RATES
Which property in each township or area in Kaipara has suffered the largest rate increase because of the KDC/NRC Rates Bomb?
Please make you submission to the Kaipara Concerns Facebook page giving the percentage increase and the township or area. We will also need the address of the property so that the increase can be verified through the KDC website.
There are no prizes at this stage but the lucky winners might get a thank you from Mayor Smith for courageously helping the KDC to “live sensibly within its means”.
KDC/NRC RATES BOMB
FACTS ABOUT THE RATES BOMB 11.08.2018
If you are one of those who have received your rates invoice you will have received an accompanying flamboyant, jazzy missive from Mayor Smith extolling the virtues of his council and his courageous new Plan. This is what he has to say:
We’re seeking better outcomes for you and we’re living sensibly within our means. Kaipara District Council seeks efficiency at every turn and our rates increase for 2018/19 is 4.97%; this is less that the 5.45% proposed in the consultation document of the LTP. We’ve become good at doing more with less.
Stripping off the spin, let’s look at the facts. The increase in rates is not 4.97 per cent as he states. That is – supposedly - an "average". However, Mayor Smith is fully aware that in some areas like Mangawhai and Kaiwaka the increase will be much, much more than that. But he does not mention that. He hints at it obliquely further on in his letter when he suggests that ratepayer remember that “the revaluation effect will be noticeable on your rate invoice”.
But can we blame the massive increases in Otamatea on revaluation alone?
I have analysed the effect of Mayor Smith's Rates Bomb on a property in Margaret Street in Mangawhai Heads to see what has caused the rates to increase by 18.46 per cent (KDC and NRC), which is very modest compared to many properties in Mangawhai and Kaiwaka.
The individual rates that are calculated on the basis of land value have shown massive hikes. The general rate has increased by 35.72 per cent. The Mangawhai stormwater rate has increased by 19.1 per cent. Those can to some extent be attributed to the revaluation of land values.
It gets interesting when we examine the fixed charges that are levied on each property. Revaluation has no effect on those charges. The uniform annual general charge remains unchanged from last year. The Mangawhai harbour restoration rate increases by 12.63 per cent, the Mangawhai stormwater rate by 19.18 per cent and the Mangawhai wastewater rate by 16.67 per cent.
The significance of that is that the revaluation cannot be blamed for all of the massive increases. It appears that the KDC has deliberately shifted the burden of rates to the eastern settlements, put the total blame on the revaluation and hidden behind the deceptive 4.97 per cent "average increase”. It has done this deliberately and knowingly and misrepresented the situation to ratepayers.
The increase for the KDC rates is 16.67 per cent for the Margaret Street property, but the overall rate increase (KDC and NRC) is 18.46 per cent. So why the difference?
The NRC has changed its rating system this year. Last year it had three rates. For the 2018/2019 rating year it has nine rates, three of which are based on land values and six of which are fixed charges. Because the rates are different it is impossible to calculate increases for each separate rate. However, the overall increase in NRC rates is 38.9 per cent.
Do you get the feeling that you have been shafted?
LATE DELIVERY OF RATES INVOICES 11.08.2018
Many Kaipara ratepayers have not recevied their rates invoices even though the rates are payble by 20 August.
Below is a summary of the law relating to rates invoices.
The Local Government (Rating) Act 2002 (LGRA) requires that a rates invoice must be delivered to the ratepayer at least 14 days before the rates payment is due.
48 Delivery of rates assessment and rates invoice
(3) A rates invoice must be delivered to the ratepayer of the rating unit at least 14 days before the date on which a rates payment is due.
The Council knows when the rates invoice was posted but it has no idea when the rates invoice is delivered. The LGRA therefore includes a provision as follows:
(3) A notice that is posted to a person must be treated as received by that person not later than 7 days after the date on which it is posted.
That means that the rates invoice must be posted at least 14 days before the due date PLUS 7 days to allow for delivery. That makes a total of 21 days. If rates are due on 20 August then 21 clear days prior to that date is 31 August. That is the latest date that the rates invoices should have been posted out.
That certainly has not happened
So how do you calculate when the rates are due?
49 Late delivery of rates invoice
If the rates invoice is not delivered at least 14 days before the due date, the rates payment is not due until 14 days after the rates invoice has been delivered to the ratepayer of the rating unit.
That is all very well, but the KDC does not know when the rates were delivered, and you may have forgotten. The only safe way is to calculate 21 clear days from the date of posting. But if you don’t know that date then you have problems.
The KDC has stuffed up badly. It needs to advise ratepayer of the error and set a new date for payment such as 31 August, but to ensure that all ratepayers are advised of the new due date it needs to send a letter apologising for the error and advising the new due date. After all one of the main purposes of the LGRA under section 3 is to provide for “processes and information to enable ratepayers to identify and understand their liability for rates”.
Can the KDC charge penalties if you don’t pay by the due?
Rates do not become due under the LGRA until the KDC complies with the requirements set out above. However for the past few years the KDC and NRC have spent millions of ratepayers’ money to get the courts to rule that they do not have to comply with the law. They have been remarkably successful. The Supreme Court (the highest court in the land) has just held that the KDC can ignore the requirements of the LGRA. The High Court has also held that the right to defend proceedings in a court of law, a fundamental right protected by the common law since the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 and by the NZ Bill of Rights, does not apply to ratepayers defending an action to recover rates in the District Court even though those rates are blatantly unlawful. Local authorities can ignore the law with impunity and ratepayers have absolutely no rights.
What to do?
Write to the councillors and chief executive and let them know what a disgrace this is. Demand that they send out letters to each ratepayer advisng of the new date for payment.
Remember that is only the squeaky wheel that gets oiled.
RATES BOMB ABOUT TO EXPLODE 17.07.2017
Kaipara Mayor, Dr Jason Smith recently announced that the long term plan had been adopted and that it was an example of "courageous, collaborative and cautious decision-making". He added:
We've been bold where we reasonably can be, we're seeking better outcomes for the community, and we're living sensibly within our means.
It all sounds good. The Mayor even boasts of a bonus for ratepayers. The proposed average rate increase of 5.45 per cent has ben reduced to 4.97.
However, the question has to be asked: If the KDC is "living sensibly within its means" why is it compelling ratepayers to pay a further 5 per cent on rates for the coming year?
Sure, costs go up, but in these low inflation times not by 5 per cent annually. The Local Government Cost Index, which measures the anticipated increase in costs to local authorities, has fixed next year's increase at less than 2 per cent. If the KDC were to live sensibly within its means then we would all agree that a 2 per cent increase would be warranted.
What ratepayers do not know is that Councillor Jonathan Larsen moved an amendment to the resolution adopting the long term plan to the effect that the proposed average rate increase should be reduced from 4.97%, 5.26% and 4.83% for the next three years to the Local Government Cost Index increase of 1.8%, 2.0%, and 2.2%. The resolution can be seen here in full. (Scroll down to page 6) Part of it is set out below.
a. That the proposed annual rates increase of 4.97% for 2018/2019, 5.26% for 2019/2020 and 4.83 % for 2020/2021 be changed to reflect the Local Government Cost Index of 1.8%, 2.0% and 2.2% respectively in accordance with the Local Government Act 2002 Part 2 s.14(1)(g) “a local authority should ensure prudent stewardship and the efficient and effective use of its resources in the interests of its district or region.”;
b. That the Chief Executive is instructed to meet the existing and agreed work programmes but find efficiency savings to fund the difference and remain in surplus;
A division was called for on the amending resolution and the voting was as follows
Councillor del la Varis-Woodcock
The amending motion was lost
A resolution was then passed confirming the higher increases. That was passed with the five councillors who voted against the amending resolution voting for the higher increases. Councillors Geange, Larsen and Wade voted against the resolution.
Councillor Larsen explains on the Workboot Councillor Facebook page why he moved the amendment.
The problem with an “average" increase is that it totally misrepresents the true situation. The flaw of averages below explains why.
Those who believe the spin emanating from Dargaville that their increase will be around 4 or 5 per cent may be in for a big shock.
It really depends on where you live and how much the value of your land increased in the revaluation last year. The average land value went up by about 33 per cent. So if your value increased by that amount then your rates may stay the same. But if your value went up more than that, and many did, then you are in for a wallet-splitting shock.
The draft long term plan included charts showing how the proposed rates increase translated into rates increases in different parts of the district for the 2018/2019 rating year commencing on 1 July 2018. The information was buried deep in plan well away from curious eyes. Go to this page.and then scroll down to page 25. The pages aren’t numbered but you are looking for the heading Sample Properties. The charts for the different areas are shown there. The chart shows the old value of the land, the new value, and the last column shows the projected increase in rates.
According to the charts the rates for Mangawhai residential properties will increase between 4 and 22 per cent. In Kaiwaka the increase will be from 19 to 23 per cent. In Pahi 21 to 29 per cent. Ginks Gully will be -1 to zero. Lifestyle properties in Mangawhai will be between 19 and 35 per cent.
The KDC has been very coy about letting ratepayers know what the true increases will be. In its search engine for rates on its website it has always had the facility to click on proposed rates for the coming rating year. That was taken down a few months ago. Since April I have been trying to get the KDC to acknowledge that it was taken down, and to reinstate it. I have been unable to get a response. As of yesterday the search engine did not show the rates for the 2018/2019 year even though we are 18 days into the rating year.
BUT .......Hey presto! After both Councillor Larsen and Legal Eagle lodged a complaint with the KDC yesterday, the search engine has finally been updated overnight.
The new rates assessment notice and the first rates invoice will be sent to you in the next few days. If you can't wait then you can use the search engine. Go here and simply type in your address and then click on your valuation number. BUT MAKE SURE YOU ARE SITTING DOWN
A quick search shows that the rates for an average property in Margaret Street in Mangawhai Heads has gone up by 18.46 per cent.
The RATES BOMB is about to explode over Kaipara.
LTP SUBMISSIONS 01.04 2018
If you want to make submission in respect of the Long Term Plan for 2018/2028 it has to filed with the KDC by next Thursday 5 April 2018 at 4:30 pm.
This is your one and only chance to exercise your democratic right to have your say about the direction of Kaipara for the next 10 years.
The proposed plan consists of a Consultation Document which summarises the proposals, and source documents which go into greater detail. They can all be accessed through the KDC website here.
Submissions can be made on line here.
Legal Eagle’s submission can be viewed here. I have been through the Consultation Document and the source documents and isolated the issues that I personally consider important.
The proposed rates are a biggie. Don’t be fooled by the average 5.45 per cent increase. It appears that the combined LTP increase and the revaluation increase will add 14.5 per cent and even more to rates in Mangawhai. Each year Mangawhai in particular becomes more and more unaffordable as the rates burden increases far more than any other costs.
The Mangawhai Community Plan sounds good but are we prepared for even more rate increases and further debt? That will be a further $26.9 million over the next 10 years.
The KDC is planning to take half of the Mangawhai Endowment fund (now called the MELA fund) to pay for part of the Mangawhai Community Plan. Such an action appears to be in direct breach of the trust conditions. The KDC says that it has an opinion to support the action, but so far has failed to make the opinion available. The MELA fund provides a source of funds for many Mangawhai organisations, and those who wish the fund to remain in its entirety must make their views clear to the KDC, otherwise half of it may be lost.
I have found some alarming details about the Mangawhai Community Wastewater Scheme (MCWWS), the former EcoCare. It is a must read for all ratepayers. The existing debt is going to take forty years to repay and the KDC is planning to spend $1.8 million in the next two and $20.5 million dollars in the next ten years bringing it up to the capacity that we were originally promised and paid for in 2006. The KDC does not want any alternative sewerage systems because it needs the development contributions from the MCWWS connections to pay off $26.2 million of the existing debt and the further debt of $20.5 million.
Which brings us to the DEBT. Don’t believe anything the KDC says about the debt. The truth is that it is bigger than Ben Hur. It is going to be with us for generations, and is going to inhibit any further developments in the district.
One issue that Mangawhai residents might support is the proposal in respect of Reserve Contributions. At present only 60 per cent of such contributions collected in Mangawhai are expended locally, and 40 per cent is expended in other districts. The proposal is that 80 per cent will now be spent locally and 20 per cent elsewhere.
Please make a submission and get your friends and relatives to make one. It does have an effect. The eighty or so people who applied to be a party to the appeal to the Environment Court in respect of the Fire Service rules will have a great impact on the two main parties in the case, and on the court itself.
COURT OF APPEAL DEALS TO NORTHERN REBELS 29.03.2018
The Court of Appeal has handed down a chilling decision in respect of the legality of the rates of the KDC and the NRC. In a bizarre and troubling judgment it has reversed some of the findings of Duffy J in the High Court but still found some of the actions of the KDC and NRC were unlawful.
However, in a sweeping act of judicial muscle it has validated all of the illegal acts of the two councils pursuant to a power in the Judicature Amendment Act which allows a court to validate “technical irregularities”............ Read full article here
Court of Appeal judgment here.
Northern Advocate report here
FENZ - ENVIRONMENT COURT APPEAL
The Environment Court has today advised all parties of the status of their applications to be a party to the appeal.
There are some who were not original submitters who have still failed to advise the Court why they have an interest greater than the general public.
Others have not provided a signed copy of their application to the Court. An emailed signed copy will be sufficient.
One person has not made the address for service clear.
A couple of applicants filed out of time and need to email the Court and ask to have the time-frame waived.
The Court has directed that there should be Court-assisted mediation and we will all be advised in due course when that will be held.
TANK TOWN SUBMISSIONS 16.03.2018
Well done all of those who managed to do all the form-filling and filed notices with the Environment Court to be a party to the KDC Plan Change 4 appeal before yesterday’s deadline.
So far I have received notices that 41 separate parties have applied to the Court to be a party to the proceedings, and all opposed the appeal by FENZ. That is a great effort. I am sure that it will show all those involved that the residents of Kaipara completely reject FENZ’s ridiculous code of practice and the way in which it has tried to force it on the people of the district.
I have not yet received a copy of the KDC’s submission. The KDC is the defendant in the matter because the Commissioners rejected the code of practice on behalf of the KDC.
It needs to be emphasised that we are challenging the bureaucracy that heads FENZ and the unreasonable and unlawful code of practice that it is trying to impose on the whole country. That is despite the fact that Parliament made it clear in the old Fire Service Act and the new Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act that the code is voluntary. There is no intention to criticise our local firefighters who do a great job. This nonsense is nothing to do with them, and many of them would agree that the code of practice is completely over the top for a rural area like Kaipara.
I hear through the grapevine that FENZ is not happy with the Commissioners’ decision. It is the first time that the 20 tonne juggernaut has been stopped in its tracks. That might set a precedent, so it is going to throw everything at this case to make sure that it prevails. It has bucketfuls of money, from our Fire Service levies (paid on insurance policies), so money is no object.
YOUR LAST OPPORTUNITY 12.03.2018
Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) has appealed the Independent Commissioners decision in respect of Plan Change 4 for the KDC’s District Plan. The matter will now proceed to the Environment Court.
The Independent Commissioners made their decision on behalf of the KDC and modified the harshness of the fire rules in the District Plan. FENZ wants to enforce the full rigour of the rules. Ironically, ratepayers are now aligned with the KDC opposing the FENZ appeal
FENZ is determined to turn Mangawhai into a tank farm denuded of trees and shrubs. Despite its Code of Practice being well outside its statutory parameters, and being an advisory document only, FENZ is doing all that it can to compel local authorities (including the KDC) to adopt as mandatory its draconian and costly provisions through the RMA consent processes.
FENZ has a bottomless pit of money to achieve it ends, all derived from the Fire Service Levy charged on the insurance policies that we all pay. That levy has just been increased and enables FENZ to play power games that are well outside its statutory powers.
Legal Eagle wrote to Tracey Martin the new Minister of Internal Affairs, who is responsible for FENZ, pointing out the blatant unlawfulness of the Code of Practice and the unlawful actions of FENZ in making a voluntary code mandatory. She refused to take any action.
It is now over to individual ratepayers to join the appeal proceedings as parties, so that they can have a voice in the mediation proceedings in trying to resolve the issues before the actual proceeding is heard by the Environment Court.
There is no cost. The KDC website states that there is a fee of $100 dollars per person to be a party. That is incorrect. The Court has advised that there is no charge because the matter commenced before a price rise took effect.
It is not necessary to have a legal representative at any stage.
It is not possible for parties to combine together to become a joint party. However, once individuals become parties they can appoint a representative/s to represent their interests.
Who can be a party?
A. Anyone who has already made a submission.
B. Anyone who has not submitted before but has an interest greater than the general public. (e.g. they live in Kaipara, they are concerned about amenity values in Kaipara, they are planning to build, or to extend their existing house etc.)
Those who have been forced to comply with the ludicrous rules re dedicated tanks for firefighting might want to avail themselves of this opportunity of exposing the stupidity of the whole process.
Further information on how to go about becoming a party is here.
BUT THE DEADLINE FOR FILING A NOTICE IS THIS THURSDAY 15 MARCH
DUFFY J GIVES LEAVE TO APPEAL 23.02.2018
Duffy J has issued her judgment (see here) giving Bruce and Heather Rogan leave to appeal her High Court decision to the Court of Appeal. There was no automatic appeal from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and a hearing was held a couple of weeks ago to seek the leave of Duffy J to the appeal
In her earlier decision she held that section 60 of the LGRA precluded a ratepayer from defending an action of the recovery of rates in the District Court on the grounds that the rates were invalid. Even the District Court itself was not allowed to enquire into the legality of the rates.
That earlier decision flies in the face of the basic rule of debt collection, namely that claimant has to “prove the debt”, and the right of the defendant to establish that the debt is not due and payable.
It also means that ratepayers are deprived of their fundamental right to defend an action in court, something that Parliament can do through legislation BUT only by express and unambiguous words. Duffy J admitted that there were no express words to that effect in section 60, but that it was ”implicit”.
She has now acknowledged that the interpretation advanced by the Rogans was not only an alternative interpretation but also a viable one that should be considered by a superior court.
An important consideration is that the meaning of section 60 is pivotal to the whole scheme of the LGRA and the obligations of local authorities throughout the country. If the Court of Appeal adopts the reasoning of the High Court then local authorities are effectively given a special place outside the law.
So far the High Court has failed to mention the fundamental rights of ratepayers (such as the right to defend oneself in court) which are supposedly guaranteed by the NZ Bill of Rights. Those rights may only be overridden in legislation, as stated above, by clear and unambiguous words, not by implicit meanings or, more quaintly, by a ‘side wind”.
The Court of Appeal case will be one of the most important in New Zealand and will be a real test for our judicial system. It will decide if local authorities are above the law, and how far the courts are willing to stretch the law to preclude the fundamental rights of New Zealanders.
The case of the KDC and NRC v Rogan is no longer about the legality of rates. It is about the fundamental principles of law and natural justice that should underlie our judicial system.
NATIONAL PARTY’S CLEAN SWEEP IN MAYORALTY RACE 23.02.2018
The two candidates with National Party connections or sympathies swept the polls in the KDC Mayoralty by-election.
Jason Smith topped the field with 3044 votes, followed by Peter Wethey with 2874. Bruce Rogan came in third with 1432. All the results can be seen here.
Despite no longer being in government, the National Party continues its stranglehold on Kaipara and the direction it will take. That means that the massive EcoCare debt will remain unchallenged and will have to be repaid by current ratepayers, future ratepayers and generation to come. The debt was declared to be unlawful by the High Court and still is unlawful, but during the past 6 years the National government carefully manipulated the situation to ensure that ratepayers alone bear the financial burden of the historic EcoCare rorts.
What the National government did to the people of Kaipara was utterly unconscionable and it is no wonder that the National Party was so desperate to cling on to power. With the reins of power secured, with control of the local press, with its rewriting of history, all of its past incompetence, its underhand dealings and blatant illegalities will be safely buried without a shred of accountability. At the same time, those whistle-blowers who tried to bring the rule of law and simple honesty and integrity back to Kaipara will continue to be demonised and hounded.
Interestingly, only 43 per cent of eligible voters actually voted. The vast majority of those voted for National Party sympathetic candidates, so, presumably, they are quite happy to bear the burden of the unlawful debt. And, again presumably, the 57 per cent who did not vote at all obviously don’t care about the debt.
PLAN CHANGE 4 23.02.2018
Yesterday, 22 February, was the last day for filing an appeal in respect of the Commissioners’ decision in respect of KDC Plan Change 4. The Hearing Commissioners decided in December last year that most of the references to the Fire Service code of practice should be removed from the District Plan, which means that there would be no need for dedicated water tanks for fire fighting. It was a victory for common sense and the rule of law over the bullying tactics of the KDC and the NZ Fire Service.
It is not yet known in the Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ), as it is now called, or any other party, has filed an appeal, although it is expected that FENZ will file one. Anyone who made a submission has to be notified of an appeal within five days of an appeal being lodged.
NEW MAYOR ELECTED 18.02.2018
Dr Jason Smith will be the new Mayor of Kaipara. Preliminary results indicate that he has won a majority of votes. Peter Wethey was second and Bruce Rogan third. it is understood that it was a close race. The final result will not be confirmed until tomorrow. Monday 19 February 2018.
VEHICLE CROSSINGS 07.02.2018
The KDC are still hunting down those whom they consider have sub-standard vehicle crossings despite the fact that they have no lawful justification.
i have apprised acting Mayor Peter Wethey of the siutation on several occcasions but he has not responded. He has not taken any action to rein in Council staff.
I have emailed him again today setting out the legal situation and asking pertinent questions as to why this campaign is being carried out, and how the targeted properties have been selected.
Importantly, I have asked him to suspend all further action by Council staff until all the issues have been identified and resolved.
It would therefore seem sensible for targeted property owners to cease any compliance action until Peter Wethey and his councillors have had an opportunity to rein in the KDC chief executive and his staff. The election result is only just over a week away and there is also the chance that a different mayor with a different approach may be elected.
If you know anyone who has been targeted by the KDC then please pass on this information to them.
THE VOTING SYSTEM 06.02.2018
Postal voting in the mayoral By-election has started and you should have received your papers by now.
I looked at mine and was throughly confused by the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. It looks simple if you just list your candidate preferences as 1, 2, 3 etc. But if you try to understood what happens to the votes after your first preference then it gets very complicated. It is so complicated that it is done by computer.
Essentially you vote for the candidates in order of preference, so your No1 vote is very important. That is why candidates have been pressing people to vote for them as No 1.
The best explanation that I have found is here.
If you find it complicated then relax.
It's a job for a computer
Votes are counted using specially developed computer software - the formulae involved are too complex for counting to be done by hand.
The computer programme:
## Works out the quota needed by each candidate to be elected
## Keeps track of the preferences each candidate receives including transfers between candidates
## Calculates the result.
If you only want to vote for one candidate then simply write in 1 next to the name and leave the other boxes blank.
THE ILLEGAL DEBT -THE BIG ELECTION ISSUE 06.02.2016
The commissioners and Greg Gent ensured that the illegal EcoCare debt was set in concrete and that ratepayers are obliged to repay it. Acting Mayor Peter Wethey has endorsed that approach and gives credit to his council for the small debt reduction it has achieved.
The problem is that the debt is simply too big for Kaipara to handle. It will be a mill-stone around ratepayers' necks for generations and will prevent any further borrowing for infrastructure for development. We are already way past what was once considered prudent borrowing limits and there is nothing to spare for the future.
Former Mayor Greg Gent recognised that the magnitude of the debt was going to make lif difficult for Kaipara, and that may have been a contributing factor to his early departure.
We are tehnically insolvent and in a normal borrowing situation would be in receivership. The only thing that saves us is that the debt is now with the Local Government Funding Agency. The LGFA is a centralised banking agency that can exceed normal prudent limits of lending because of the different levels of solid guarantees it can draw on. Every local authority member of the LGFA cross-guarantees every other member. So Kaipara gurantees the debt of every other local authority member and in return its debt is guaranteed by the other members. Not only that, the Local Government Act has specific provisions to protect local authority loans from legal challenges, and the courts tend to liberally interpret local authority legislation in favour of local authorities. The big bonus for the LGFA is that all ratepayers guarantee their local authorites debt, and ,because of the cross-guarantee, effectively guarantee the debts of every local authority in New Zealand. And that applies, as the law stands, whether the debts are imprudent, or illegal.
This enables the LGFA to advance funds without any concern for repayment. If things go pear-shaped then all of us Kiwis will be lined up to pay.through extraordinary levies of rates.
This reckless borrowing can only be funded by higher and higher rates. Rates in Kaipara have more than doubled in just a few years and are now about double those in Auckland for similar priced properties. Those on fixed incomes and those approaching retirement simply can no longer afford to live in a basic home in Mangawhai. Any further capital development will mean further borrowing and that must mean higher rates. Those on modest incomes will be forced out.
To try and create more cash flow we have seen the various strategies that the KDC has adopted to raise more income from consent fees. We only have to look at the ludicrous water tank provisions requiring resource consents at $1 thousand a pop. And now we have the vehicle crossing saga.
The only alternative is for the KDC to challenge the validity of the debt (which is still unlawful pursuant to a High Court ruling) and to pressure the government to meet Winston Peters' promise to reduce the debt. It is beyond doubt that the debt blow-out was the direct responsibility of the National Goverenment, its Ministers, and its agencies such as the Auditor-General and Audit NZ, and the commissioners. There is an opening there and we need a Mayor and councillors who will start acting in the best interest of ratepayers and force the isssue with the government.
Remember that in 2006, before the EcoCare rort, the KDC debt was only $9 million. It is now $58 million and probably much more if internal debts to ratepayers such as the MELA fund are taken into account. All we have to show for that extra debt it is a sewerage system that services less than 2,000 connections and which will need tens of millions of dollars spent on it in the years to come.
Voters at the By-election have a clear choice. Do they vote to pay the debt in its entirety? Or do they vote to challenge the debt and give Kaipara some hope for the future?
KDC BULLYING CONTINUES 06.02.2018
The KDC is continuing its unlawful bullying of Mangawhai property owners in respect of what it alleges are substandard vehicle crossings. That is the access from the road over the grass berm and footpath on to one’s property.
It appears that several hundred properties have been targeted with the allegation that a bylaw has been breached with a demand that a compliant vehicle crossing be constructed within three months.
As stated in earlier posts, the demands and the threats are completely unlawful and one presumes that they are a part of another strategy by an insolvent council, along with the unlawful requirement for dedicated tanks for firefighting, to rort more money out of ratepayers.
Normally, when a house is built, certain conditions (including constructing a vehicle crossing) have to be fulfilled before a code compliance certificate (CCC) is signed off. It appears that the KDC has failed to do that in many instances. It signed off the certificates without any vehicle crossings being constructed. It is now going back and trying to use a badly drafted and unenforceable bylaw to retroactively fix a problem created by its own incompetence.
The relevant bylaw is dated 2007 and cannot operate retrospectively. Likewise the standards for construction of crossings is dated 2011 and cannot be retrospective. Not only that, the bylaw only applies where the crossing crosses a footpath or water channel. The KDC is hounding property owners where there is no footpath. That has no basis in law and threats in such circumstances could be a criminal offence.
One targeted owner challenged acting Mayor Wethey on the issue. Peter Wethey said that he knew nothing about the issue but had heard some staff members talking about it. That is in spite of the fact that I wrote to him about it in September and November last year.
I have now made a LGOIMA request to the KDC requesting the number of properties targeted and advice as to who is driving this campaign, the acting Mayor and his councillors, the acting chief executive, or the KDC staff.
I shall be interested to see if other townships have been targeted or whether Mangawhai alone has been singled out. I shall also be interested to see if those properties in Cheviot Street, Mangawhai Heads without compliant vehicle crossings - which include the acting Mayor’s residence - have been targeted. They are no different from properties in Seabreeze Road which have been targeted.
In the meantime, I suggest that anyone who has been targeted simply write to the KDC and ask on what legal basis the threats and demands are being made.
The issue will have to be resolved because we do not want the KDC unlawfully tagging property files. Hopefully, following the mayoral election, we might have a council that considers the legal situation before threatening its ratepayers.
RATES INVOICES STILL UNLAWFUL 06.02.2018
The latest KDC and NRC rates invoices for those with arrears are still unlawful. Rates Invoices must specify the current instalment which has to be paid by the due date, and if not paid by that date a penalty will be added. All ratepayers have the obligation and the right to pay that instalment by due date to avoid a penalty. However, the KDC snd NRC have for many years denied those with arrears the right to pay instalments as they fall due. They include on the back of the rates invoice an "oldest debt first" policy. That policy states that any payment made is debited from the oldest debt first. So, even if a ratepayer with disputed arrears attempts to pay the current instalment, the monies paid will be debited from arrears. The current instalment will be treated as unpaid and a penalty added.
I and others have challenged the KDC on the issue on several occasions but without any success. I also spoke to acting Mayor Wethey about it before Christmas. He said that the policy is adopted to pressure ratepayers into paying their arrears, and is common in the commercial world. I pointed out that in respect of rates there are statutory obligations and rights that cannot be overridden by a local authority and one of those is the right to pay rates as and when they fall due without penalty. I also pointed out that inclusion of such a provision in a rates invoice renders the invoice invalid.
Again, it appears that my advice has fallen on deaf ears as there has been no change in the latest invoice. And so the unlawful saga goes on and on…………..
ROGAN APPEAL 05.02.2018
There will be a hearing in the High Court, Whangarei at 9 am on this Friday 9 February 2018 before Duffy J concerning the application for consent to appeal to the Court of Appeal by Bruce and Heather Rogan. The hearing is set down for one hour.
If the application for the appeal is turned down, the decision of Duffy J will stand and deny any ratepayer the right to defend any action for the recovery of rates in the District Court on the grounds of invalidity. Effectively local authorities will be able to set rates without any compliance with the legislation. That will apply throughout the country.
The KDC is opposing the application and supports the denial of ratepayers’ rights.
Peter Wethey and his councillors have not responded to my representations on the matter and my request for them to act in the best interests of ratepayers and agree to the appeal. All decisions in respect of this vital matter for ratepayers are being made by the chief executive (who has absolutely no knowledge of the issues) under delegated authority from the council and under direction from Peter Winder as the Crown Manager. Peter Winder is of course one of the commissioners who led the persecution of whistleblowing ratepayers and allowed those responsible for the EcoCare rort to escape liability
Acting Mayor Peter Wethey acknowledged at a mayoral candidates meeting that the issue of unlawful rates were too complicated for him and his councillors and he clearly is not concerned about the fundamental rights of ratepayers being extinguished because of his council’s actions.
DIRTY TRICKS FROM THE FOCUS 01.02.2018
I have long been of the view that the Mangawhai Focus has not served Mangawhai and Kaipara well. It was an apologist for the Tiller/McKerchar regime and served as a propaganda sheet for the commissioners. It has a record of treating Bruce Rogan unfairly and with disrespect and in the edition of 15 January stooped to the lowest of the low. It published what purported to be a sole Letter to the editor headed People need to know. It then proceeded to malign Bruce Rogan with some broad allegations but more importantly it made accusations against Mr Rogan that are plainly false. The so-called letter stated that Mr Rogan had “bailed out” by not serving his full term as a KDC councillor in 2002-2004, and “instead of staying and negotiating a better deal for his constituents and possibly saving millions of dollars, he simply bailed”.
The allegations, presented as facts are completely untrue. Bruce Rogan served his full three year term and during that time fought tooth and nail to stop the EcoCare rort. He still continues that fight today and is standing for Mayor so that he can right the wrongs of the past
The statements in the Focus are clearly false and are defamatory and were clearly calculated to attack Bruce Rogan’s reputation and influence voters in the Mayoral election. They were also published at a time just prior to when the voting papers for the election were mailed out so they could have the maximum effect on Bruce Rogan’s candidature.
We do not know who the author of the letter was. At the foot of the document it states: Name and address supplied. That in itself, given the outspoken statements in the letter, raises the question whether this was a genuine letter or an attempt by the Focus itself to defame Bruce Rogan.
The Focus includes a disclaimer on page 2 of each edition stating that opinions expressed are not those of the Focus. The defamatory statements in the letter were not opinions, They purported to be statements of fact, and those statements of fact were completely wrong. Not only is the author of the letter liable for a claim in damages for defamation, so is the Focus as the publisher of the defamatory comments.
There can be little doubt that the Focus acted deliberately and with malice. The allegations were serious, especially given the impending election. All the Focus needed to do was to lift the phone and speak to Bruce Rogan to check on the veracity of the allegations. He would have gladly obliged, as would anyone else who has in interest in these matters.
The malice of the Focus is also reflected in its CORRECTION in the edition of 29 January 2018 . Note that it did not apologise for the incorrect information and any damage that it may have caused, but simply issued a mealy-mouthed correction. And it prefaced its correction with the words “Though he missed three meeting during that time …..”. Again, malicious innuendo. Missing only three meetings in three years due to sickness, pneumonia and business commitments would normally guarantee local government sainthood, but the Focus could not help twisting the knife.
DEMOCRACY AND THE MAYOR 01.02.2018
At one of the Mayoral candidates meetings I asked all the candidates (except Jay Tane who was absent} what their attitude was to the Crown Manager’s role in the KDC. Most of them did not know that there was a Crown Manager and what his role was. But when advised that he was appointed by the National government and could effectively make decisions on behalf of the KDC in certain areas, all candidates except Peter Wethey indicated that it was contrary to democracy and opposed such an arrangement.
When Peter Wethey originally stood for council in 2016 he and Greg Gent did so on the basis that the historic rating issues would be dealt with by a government appointed and directed Crown Manager. Now he is standing for Mayor, Peter Wethey maintains that stance. He argues that the issues relating to the historic rate issues are too complicated for him and his councillors to understand.
That raises several issues.
1. Is it acceptable that the National Government should effectively dictate to Kaipara “from the grave”? The Crown Manager, Peter Winder, was one of the three commissioners who left Kaipara’s finances in dire straits, were negligent in pursuing those responsible for the EcoCare debt, and spent massive sums of money persecuting the whistle-blowers who brought down the corrupt Tiller/McKerchar regime. Peter Winder has cost ratepayers dearly. The legal action against Bruce Rogan and others has cost ratepayers $2 million in legal fees and is still climbing. To that must be added his own charges plus the costs to the KDC and NRC in staff time and expenses.
2. It is not only the Crown Manager. Why did Greg Gent and Peter Wethey need both a Crown Manager and a Crown Observer to baby-sit them? No other council in the country has two minders? It may well be that the National government wanted to ensure that the KDC made decisions in line with its policies. But the Nats have long gone and both minders are still there. Why?
3. Should the statutory powers of the new mayor and council be limited by an arrangement that was imposed on and agreed to by a previous mayor and deputy with a previous government? Whilst Greg Gent and Peter Wethey may have been more than willing to accept a curtailment of their statutory powers, another successful candidate for mayor may have strong views about the matter. The new mayor is being elected on the basis that the mayor and the elected members will have full powers under the LGA and LGRA. There is no provision in the Local Electoral Act for a mayor to be elected with restricted powers and rights because of the prior appointment of a Crown Manager. The role of the Crown Manager should therefore terminate when the new mayor is elected. If the Minister subsequently considers it appropriate to restrict the statutory rights and obligations of the new mayor and council then it must do so after the election and by following the appropriate procedure under the LGA.
4. Under the Local Electoral Act we as voters are exercising our democratic right to elect a mayor who will have the full powers of a mayor under the LGA. Anything less is an infringement of our democratic rights under the Local Electoral Act.
5. Every new council inherits issues from the past. Any new mayor or councillor, of in fact most new Ministers, are often inexperienced and faced with complex issues from the past. That is the nature of standing for a position of responsibility. The issues relating to historic rates are incredibly simple and could have been resolved fairly and reasonably years ago. Resolving those issues is also the key to the future. Any new mayor should insist on exercising full powers to resolve all issues and not be hamstrung by political attitudes from past regimes. We have had enough of costly and confrontational stances driven by political motivation.
MAYORAL BY-ELECTION CANDIDATES MEETINGS 15.01.2018
Mayoral condidates meetings are as follows:
|Monday 15 January 2018||7:00 pm||Kaiwaka Sports Complex, 2 Gibbons Road, Kaiwaka||Kaiwaka Sports Association
|Tuesday 16 January 2018||7:00 pm||Mangawhai Golf Club, Molesworth Drive, Mangawhai||Mangawhai Business Association
|Wednesday 17 January 2018||7:00 pm||Maungaturoto Centennial Hall, View Street, Maungaturoto||Maungaturoto Residents Association
|Thursday 18 January 2018||7:00 pm||Paparoa Hall, Paparoa Valley Road||Progressive Paparoa Inc.
|Wednesday 24 January 2018||7:00 pm||The Lighthouse Function Centre, Harding Park, Dargaville||Federated Farmers
These are the only meetings currently planned, so this is your only opportunity to hear the candidates and their vision and plans for Kaipara.
Democracy in Kaipara did not exist under John Key's government. We wtill have a Crown Manager, Peter Winder, who was appointed by the National Cabinet and who is still making important decisions on behalf of the Council which are not in the best interests of the district.
When is the new government going to respond to the Kaipara issues?
VOTING PERIOD Voting documents will be posted to all eligible electors from Friday 26 January 2018.
The three week voting period is Friday 26 January 2018 to noon on Saturday 17 February 2018. Electors may post their completed voting document back to the electoral officer using a pre-paid envelope sent with the voting document.
A polling place for the issuing of special voting documents and for the receiving of completed voting documents will be available over the voting period from the following locations:
• Council’s Main Office, 42 Hokianga Road, Dargaville;
• Council’s Mangawhai Service Centre, Unit 6, The Hub, 6 Molesworth Drive, Mangawhai
;• by phoning 0800 922 822, where one will be posted out.
To be counted, all completed voting documents must be in the hands of the electoral officer or an electoral official, by noon on Saturday 17 February 2018.
Preliminary results will be known as soon as they are available after the close of voting on by-election day, and final results (including approved special votes) will be available on Monday 19 February 2017. All results will be accessible on Council’s website (www.kaipara.govt.nz).
MAYORAL CANDIDATES 23.12.2017
This is a preliminary list of candidates for Mayor (as at noon 22 December 2017) is as follows:
Voting papers will be delivered from Friday 26 January 2018 and must be returned by noon Saturday 17 February 2018.
SUMMARY OF COMMISSIONERS' DECISION 22.12.2017
A summary of the Commissioners' decision on Plan Change 4 can be seen here.
SO, WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US? 23.12.2017
Fire and Emergency New Zealand
Note the resources that the FENZ poured into this hearing, and every other similar hearing throughout the county.
FENZ was, represented by:
• Kerry Anderson, Legal Counsel;
• William Donoghue, National Adviser Fire Risk Management;
• Perri Duffy, Consultant Planner; and
• Two representatives from the local NZFS
One has to ask why FENZ has exceeded its legislative powers by unlawfully extending the ambit of the code of practice to no urban areas, using its vast resources to compel local authorities to adopt what is a voluntary code and therefore making it mandatory.
The new legislation has confirmed that the code is voluntary but FENZ is still determined to make it mandatory, and continues to use its interpretation of the RMA to compel local authorities to adopt the cod.
FENZ is financed by the Fires Service Levy on each insurance policy taken out. It has just increased.
Code of practice unlawful and unlawfully incorporated into District Plan
The Commissioners made no comment on the legality of these matters, as argued by Legal Eagle. That is perfectly correct. The lawfulness of the code of practice is an issue that the KDC failed to tackle when the code of practice became part of the District Plan. But it remains an issue that needs to be resolved.
Why is FENZ allowed to exceed its statutory authority?
Why did the KDC adopt the code without even enquiring into what the code said and its relevance to Kaipara and its reasonableness?
Was it because Beca was both adviser to FENZ and to the KDC?
The KDC commissioned a legal opinion which apparently states that the code of practice was lawfully referenced in the District Plan. Greg Gent’s council refused to produce it to the Hearing Commissioners. I finally received a copy under LGOIMA but 95 per cent of it was redacted (blacked out). Why? Did the opinion actually say what the KDC says it does? Why keep it secret if it supports the KDC’s view?
KDC’s head in the sand
The District Plan was adopted during the reign of Honest John, Winder & Co. They did not have the slightest concern about turning our settlements into tank towns. Once they had filled their wallets and done John Key’s dirty work they would far away from Kaipara. What is perplexing is why Greg Gent’s council sat on its bum, put its head in the sand, and did nothing about the situation. The code of practice is not only unlawful but it is an affront to common sense. Why did the elected members not take control and stop the silliness? Or were they simply content to gouge $1,000 a pop out of those building houses?
The Hearing Commissioners approached the issued with intelligence and fairness. They listened to what the submitters had to say, and, very importantly, they refused to be bullied by FENZ. Their decision is like a breath of fresh air. That is something that we are not used to in Kaipara.
The KDC has to pick up the pieces and decide how it is to react. The same with FENZ. This has been a serious blow to its strategy. With an endless stream of money from its levies it may appeal and commit the KDC to another long drawn-out legal battle in the Environment Court.
But the good thing is that all the nonsense about tanks has gone. Those that were installed totally unnecessarily and at huge cost to home builders will serve as reminders of the stupidity of the KDC and how it put money before common sense and the attractiveness of our settlements.
Many will feel seriously miffed that they were forced to spend many thousands of dollars complying with rules they may well be unlawful, but which are certainly unreasonable, and totally inappropriate for Kaipara. They may well considerer legal action to recover their costs.
PLAN CHANGE 4 -FIRE SAFETY RULES 20.12.2017
The decision of the Commissioners has just been released and can be seen here:
WHO MAKES THE DECISIONS AT THE KDC? 20.12.2017
The chief executive has gone and we have an acting chief executive.
The Mayor has gone and we have an acting Mayor.
The elected councillors have been in power now for over a year, but are they actually making the important decisions?
I recently wrote to each councillor about the unfortunate decision of Duffy J in respect of unlawful rates. The KDC had argued that ratepayers do not have a right to challenge the lawfulness of rates and rating documents in a District Court action for the recovery of unpaid rates. Justice Duffy agreed. She even went further and stated that even the District Court itself could not enquire into the lawfulness of the rates.
Effectively that negates the fundamental right of individuals to defend themselves in a court of law. It takes us back to pre Magna Carta days, when those rights were established in 1215.
It is also contrary to the rule of law in civilised societies where fundamental rights can only be negated by clear words in legislation. Duffy J made her ruling based on convenience to local authorities.
The ruling has huge significance for all ratepayers in New Zealand. It means that local authorities no longer have to comply with the requirements of the Local Government Act and the Local Government (Rating) Act. Those enactments were introduced by Parliament specifically to make local authorities more accountable to ratepayers. Their prescriptive provisions can now be safely ignored, unless the Duffy judgment is challenged.
Ratepayers still have the right to apply for judicial review in the High Court but that is hugely expensive and local authorities use ratepayers’ monies to fight a war of attrition. Even if one gets to court the black letter of the law appears to be swamped by other judicial considerations.
In my email I pointed out to our elected councillors the enormity of the decision that Duffy j had made, and that it had been made at the behest of the KDC. I asked them to reconsider their stance.
I received no written reply from the Mayor or any of the councillors. I can only presume that I am black-listed as I was during the reckless rule of Jack McKerchar. But I did receive a letter from the Crown Manager, Peter Winder. He reminded me that, as Crown Manager, he had the power to direct the Council on such issues pursuant to his terms of reference. He advised that had directed the chief executive and now the acting chief executive who were entitled to make the actual decisions under delegated authority from the council.
So, this important decision was made by Peter Winder, the man who helped set the unlawful EcoCare debt in concrete, allowed all the miscreants to escape, and has burdened Kaipara with a debt that it will never recover from. He is also the man who has fought a vindictive and pointless battle against whistle-blowing ratepayers that has sucked the KDC dry in legal costs.
We must not forget that the Crown Manager only directs the Council and it is Peter Tynan the acting chief executive who must bear the responsibility for making the actual decisions. No doubt Peter Tynan thinks that he is safe in that a local authority is obliged to comply with the direction of a Crown Manager under the Local Government Act (LGA). But if I was Peter Tynan I would be referring such major issue back to the elected councillors. Why should a lackey of the National Government still be giving directions when we now have a new government that is fundamentally opposed to the restrictions on democracy that he represents?
In addition, clearly Peter Tynan, with no experience in local government, is not aware of the obligations that a local authority owes to its ratepayers. Under the LGA a local authority has “full capacity to do any act” and “full rights, powers and privileges. A local authority "must exercise its powers principally for the benefit of the district". The courts have decided a local authority has a duty of care to its ratepayers, and that it is in a fiduciary position.
There is a clear legal conflict between what is called the power of general competence which entitles a local authority has to act independently in all matters, and the political motivated direction from a crown agent that cuts across that independence and purports to negate the obligation that a local authority owes its ratepayers.
Greg Gent was happy to bury his head in the sand, and it appears that Peter Wethey and the rest of his councillors are heading down the same track. In my email I suggested that they vote on the issue and record their votes for and against for transparency reasons and accountability to ratepayers. Not even a response, so we can assume that they are not interested. Those who were councillors under Jack McKerchar have learned that no matter how badly they perform, and no matter how unlawful their decisions, they will never be held accountable and ratepayers will always be made to pick up the tab.
Perhaps the only way to have a council that is proactive and alive to the rights of its ratepayers is through the ballot box. We have an election in February for a new Mayor. It would be good to hear ratepayers and candidates demanding the return to full democracy for Kaipara, and campaigning for a council with transparency and integrity. One that can face up squarely to its problems and resolve them fairly and honourably.
Having a council that buries its head in the sand will take us nowhere.
Nominations for Mayor must be lodged by 12 noon on this Friday 22 February 2017.
No response from the KDC. Who is actually driving this revenue gathering attack on ratepayers?
ROGANS CHALLENGE DUFFY DECISION 20.12.2017
Bruce and Heather Rogan are continuing their fight to bring the rule of law back to Kaipara. They have applied to the High Court for leave to appeal the decision of Duffy J to the Court of Appeal. There is no appeal as of right. Their application was filed last week.
As stated above, Peter Wethey’s council is opposing the application and have until 19 January to file a response in opposition.
RECKLESS RATES INVOICES
See WARNING below. No response yet from the KDC. It is likely that they can't decide who is to carry the can. it is outside the terms of reference of the Crown Manager. Peter Wethey and his councillors won't want to know. So it looks like Peter Tynan gets the short straw.
The KDC is back to its ruthless self. Those who have outstanding legal actions for the recovery of rates have just been targeted with an unlawful demand for monies in a letter from the KDC.
The letter states that judgment has been entered against the ratepayer in the outstanding case and claims payment of the judgment amount, additional arrears of rates, legal costs and daily interest.
The truth is it that it is a complete falsification and has no basis in fact. Only last week in the Court of Appeal legal counsel for the KDC and NRC assured the Court that all the legal claims except the Rogan case were stayed.
I have also checked with the Registrar of the District Court in Whangarei who confirms that the stayed cases remain just that, and that no judgment has been entered in any of them.
To state that someone of good reputation has a judgment against them when it is palpably false is defamation of the worst kind. It is deliberate and malicious.
It is also utterly disgraceful that a local authority that is statutorily bound to comply with the law should bow to extorting money from its ratepayers.
At this stage we do not know the whys and wherefores of this disgraceful demand for money. The letter emanated from KDC staff so ultimately it is the acting chief executive Peter Tynan who must bear the responsibility. It may have been within his discretionary power or it may have been ordered directly by the Mayor and the elected members.
It also comes within the responsibilities of the Crown manager, Peter Winder, and he could have directed the Council to take the action.
Whoever is responsible should be fired immediately. We have suffered enough under the regimes of McKerchar and the commissioners. The last thing we want is more unbridled lawlessness.
We are awaiting to see how the KDC responds to its latest fall from grace.
COURT OF APPEAL 29.11.2017
Last week we had our day in the Court of Appeal. The NRC was appealing the finding of the High Court that its rates were unlawful for 5 years, and the MRRA was challenging the High Court’s finding that rating penalties could be charged on the GST added to rates, and that the KDC had followed the correct procedure in its penalty resolutions.
As expected, David Goddard QC, legal counsel for the KDC and NRC, dominated proceedings in his own inimitable way. He had few legal arguments on his side but he made a great fist of arguing that local authorities were effectively beyond the law, that matters of non-compliance were mere irregularities, and, because of the cost an inconvenience that would result to a local authority, such irregularities should be ignored.
The Judges seemed impressed ,but they have some very detailed legal submissions before them and one hopes that they see through the rhetoric and make the two councils responsible for their fundamental and important errors. it will be some months before the judgment is delivered.
This latest legal excursion probably cost the NRC the best part of $200,000 and that would be easily matched by the KDC’s fees. That puts the total amount of combined legal costs in pursuing ratepayers at over $2 million. And so far they have not recovered a single penny.
If all the penalties on rates withheld by whistle-blowers during the rates strike of 2012 had been remitted, there would have been none of this nonsense. The rates were withheld to force the government to take action to rein in an out of control KDC. The rates in question were all held to be unlawful, so, in law, no penalties were payable. It is one thing for Parliament to validate the rates retrospectively but to insist on payment of retrospective penalties on rates that were unlawful and not payable at the time was unfair, unconscionable and vindictive.
If the KDC had accepted the tender of rates (without the penalties) amounting to $1 million by those whistle-blowers in 2014, then all of this would have been dead and buried. Council could then have spent the monies on potholes and fixing our crumbling roads. Instead they have given ex-commissioner and KDC Crown Manager Peter Winder and KDC and NRC legal advisers Simpson Grierson an open ticket to treat KDC rates as a war chest to use against ratepayers to enforce and vindicate their misguided version of rating compliance that they have persuaded local authorities in New Zealand to adopt.
Peter Winder was formerly chief executive of Local Government New Zealand. That organisation is largely responsible for the unlawful rating documents that are inflicted on ratepayers throughout New Zealand. Simpson Grierson advises many local authorities and endorses rating processes and documents which many of us versed in rating law regard as blatantly unlawful. Local authorities tend to follow the advice of the so-called experts. So far it has cost the KDC and the NRC dearly.
In effect Simpson Grierson and Local Government New Zealand (through Peter Winder) are using the monies of Kaipara ratepayers to fight their own personal battle for legal credibility.
CROWN MANAGER 29.11.2017
Despite my predictions, the Crown Manager, Peter Winder, still appears to be on the KDC pay-roll. He was in Wellington last week at the Court of Appeal to oversee his continued persecution of ratepayers, all of course at the expense of ratepayers. Hopefully it will be his last trip. It is hard to see how he can survive with Winston Peters now ensconce in power and given the Deputy Prime Minister’s antipathy to the role of Crown Manager.
It is also no doubt the appropriate time for the new government to look afresh at the legality of the appointment and re-appointment of the Crown Manager and the argument that all of his actions and decisions made on behalf of the KDC have been ultra vires and are invalid.
FIRE SERVICE RULES 29.11.2017
There is still no decision from the hearing commissioners on the status of the Fire Service code of practice in the district plan. It is a massive legal problem given that the code of conduct has been applied unlawfully to non-urban arrears. That means that those applying for consents have been forced to comply with requirements that are unlawful.
It is one heck of a mess, and one wonders how the Fire Service (as it was) could be allowed by its supervising Minister to operate outside its legal parameters and inflict unlawful legal costs on home-builders.
Even under the new legislation the code of practice is still not, and deliberately not, mandatory but Emergency New Zealand is ignoring that. It is pouring massive funds (paid for out of our Fire Service Levy in our insurance policies) into pressuring local authorities (through purported RMA requirements) to incorporate the unlawful parts of its current code of practice into their district plans, thus making non-mandatory rules mandatory.
The rules are irrational and a joke, but not to those ratepayers that have been forced to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to comply with the nonsense.
Rumour has it that the bureaucrats who enforce the rules are easing off. Have they seen the writing on the wall? And if, at the end of the day, the KDC got it wrong (again), is it going to compensate those house-owners who were compelled to comply at huge cost with rules in the district plan that were unlawful?
VEHICLE CROSSINGS 29.11.2017
Some time ago I wrote to the KDC about its purge on home owners who in the KDC’s view have a non-compliant vehicle crossing from the roadway to their properties. It appears that the KDC has launched a campaign against errant owners and one can only presume that it is because of the windfall in fees that it can recover.
The permit for such work is about $380, but the KDC also charges a bond of $5,000. Even if no damage is done, a sizeable chunk of that amount is deducted on repayment to cover various costs of the council. Multiply all that by at least 100 and you get a nice little earner for a council that is desperately short of money.
I have not received a reply from the KDC to my letter but some homeowners are still being hounded by the KDC. It appears that so-called non-complying properties in Seabreeze Road have been given a deadline to comply with the KDC by-law.
It appears that the road in question was a private one that was transferred to the KDC at some time. I know nothing about it, but there would have been some agreement in respect of outstanding matters of compliance at the time. The KDC and the residents affected need to look at what arrangement was agreed to see who is responsible for matters of non-compliance.
The problem that KDC faces is that in the past it has issued Code Compliance Certificates (Note: not Code of Compliance Certificates) where in fact there were outstanding issues of non-compliance. The KDC has compounded the errors by failing to note the matters of non-compliance in its property records and in its LIMS. The courts have held that such a failure amounts to a breach of the duty of care that the council owes to its ratepayers, and the council accordingly becomes responsible for compliance.
I have again written to the KDC asking it to cease harassing house owners on the issue until it has fully ascertained the legal situation. I have also requested details of the Seabreeze situation under LGOIMA.
Please let me know if you have received similar demands from the KDC. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
NZ FIRST AND LABOUR COALITION 20.10.2017
Those of us who have fought to have the rule of law returned to Kaipara will be pleased to see that we have a new government.
Winston Peters has consistently blasted the National government for its treatment of Kaipara ratepayers and has promised that if he got the balance of power he would "fix" the Kaipara problem.
The Labour Party must also be annoyed that the legislation of 2002 (the LGA and the LGRA), which was designed to make local authorities more accountable to ratepayers, has been deftly side-stepped by local authorites and virtually swept away by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
It will also be annoyed that the KDC commissioners and the Gent council broke the promise of an indemnity on penalties charged on Kaipara whistle-blowers' withheld rates, and have spent millions of dollars of ratepayers' money blindly and vindIctively pursuing those whistle-blowers. (See the quote of Phil Twyford under IMPORTANT QUOTES above.)
We can only hope that the new government will put pressure on the KDC to take steps to settle all the Kaipara issues on a fair and equitable basis. Then, at last, we can all concentrate on, as the current expression goes, "going forward".
THE COST OF BLIND VINDICTIVENESS 18.10.2017
I now have details of the amounts spent by the KDC and NRC to extract penalties on withheld rates from whistle-blowing ratepayers.
Remember that ratepayers withheld rates to force the government to act in respect of many years of unlawful rates of the KDC and the EcoCare rorts.
The government obtained cross-party support (except for New Zealand First and Mana) for a validation act to validate 6 years of illegal rates and other illegalities on the basis that those responsible for the rorts would be held accountable and, and that the penalties charged on withheld rates would all be remitted.
The government-appointed commissioners refused to do either and demanded payment of the penalties.
The whistleblowers tendered the rates due but without penalties. The commissioners rejected the offer and sued over 100 ratepayers for the rates AND penalties.
The whistle-blowers would have paid the instalments as they fall due but the KDC, under both the commissioners and Greg Gent, have unlawfully denied ratepayers the right to pay each rates instalment as it falls due. Any payment made is debited to the oldest debt first and another penalty is added to the unpaid current instalment.
Effectively, the legal actions instigated by the KDC and the NRC were to recover the penalties as the whistle-blowers had agreed to pay the rates. The case against the Rogans was a test-case.
The NRC sued the Rogans for $1,708.97 of which a small part was disputed penalties. The High Court declared five years of NRC rates to be unlawful and quashed them.
The KDC sued the Rogans for $20,449.52. of which perhaps $5,000 was disputed penalties. The High Court ordered the Rogans to pay that amount, not because the rates were lawful but because it held, somewhat surpringly, that ratepayers had no legal right to defend an action to recover rates, whether they were legal or not.
The cost to ratepayers of the KDC so far is set out below.
This figure does not include costs awards made by the courts against the councils.
To this should be added the wages and costs incurred by the staff of the KDC who have been deeply involved in this dispute, Plus the costs of the Crown Manager and Crown Observer who were appointed to oversee the legal actions.
In addition the NRC has indicated that it will spend another $200,000 on appealing the case to the High Court.
At this stage it is uncertain if there will be an appeal to the Court of Appeal in respect of the KDC rates.
Full details of the legal costs incurred can be seen here. (click ok and yes)
GENT COUNCIL DENIES RATEPAYERS THE RIGHT TO CHALLENGE UNLAWFUL RATES 17.10.2017
Greg Gent’s council, along with the NRC, is refusing to consent to leave being given to Bruce Rogan and his wife Heather to file an appeal to the Court of Appeal in respect of Duffy J’s recent judgment.
Brookfields, the lawyers for the KDC and NRC have advised that their clients will not give consent.
In the High Court judgment Duffy J held that ratepayers have no right to defend proceedings in the District Court by challenging the validity of rates, even if those rates are patently unlawful.
This is a fundamental denial of the rights of citizens to defend themselves in court, established by the Magna Carta, and a denial of the rights supposedly protected by the NZ Bill of Rights Act.
Because the matter was appealed from the District Court there is no appeal as of right to the Court of Appeal. Application has to be made to the High Court for leave to appeal, but that is usually granted if all parties consent. The refusal of the two councils to cooperate on what is a fundamental issue to be decided by the courts is yet another blow to the accountability of councils to their ratepayers..
This is an issue that concerns the fundamental rights of all New Zealanders. At present local authorities in New Zealand have a cavalier attitude towards legal compliance in the rating process, but, if Duffy J’s judgment is allowed to stand, local authorities will be placed outside the law. They will be able to completely ignore the mandatory requirements of the LGRA and the LGA knowing that ratepayers have no right to defend themselves in the District Court.
It is all part of the Gent’s councils continued persecution of whistle-blowing ratepayers who exposed six years of illegalities of the KDC and the rorts of the EcoCare scheme. Other political parties supported the validation of the illegalities in Parliament on the understanding that those responsible for the EcoCare rorts would be held to account and the penalties on the rates withheld would be remitted in full. The National government did neither. Through its commissioners it refused to accept payment of the rates from whistle-blowers without the draconian penalties and since 2014 has conducted a campaign of legal attrition against those whistle-blowing ratepayers to force them to pay the penalties.
After three years the net result is that the NRC rates have been declared unlawful by the courts, and Bruce and Heather Rogan have been ordered to pay $20,000 in rates and penalties to the KDC. Not because the rates are unlawful, but because they are simply not allowed to challenge the rates even though they may be unlawful. The Rogans had already offered to pay the rates so the whole legal vendetta was to recover about $5,000 in penalties.
The total cost of this outrageous and unprincipled attack on whistle-blowers (who were determined to uphold the rule of law in Kaipara) was close to $2 million dollars, all paid by ratepayers.
Greg Gent and his council have for the last year put their heads in the sand about this appalling wastage of ratepayers’ money. There was an arrangement with the National government that the Crown Manager Peter Winder would be solely responsible for decision-making and the council itself could turn a blind eye to the actions of the government in persecuting the whistle-blowers. The Department of Internal Affairs stuffed up immensely and in what Winston Peters calls “a comedy of errors”, committed a stream of blatant illegalities which it has covered up with the usual smoke and mirrors.
The end result is that all decisions in respect of whistle-blowers are the responsibility of the elected members and no one else. Whilst the Crown Manager has the power to "direct" (if his second appointment is lawful) it is the elected members who make the final decision on what actions are to be taken. Under the LGA they obliged to exercise their powers for the benefit of the district, not to pursue the political ends of the government.
The government directed commissioners did Kaipara a massive disservice in rejecting the offer of the whistle-blowers to pay the rates in 2014. But clearly they had a strategy to use the force of the government, and the coffers of the ratepayers to crush what they saw as rebel ratepayers who wanted to ensure compliance with the law.
The sad thing is that Greg Gent had the perfect opportunity a year ago to tackle the issue on a fair and sensible basis and put the whole thing to bed. He shied away from that, and by allowing Peter Winder and the DIA a free and utterly incompetent hand, he has acerbated the whole unsavoury fiasco.
No wonder Greg Gent is quitting. But he must rue that he ignored the opportunity to resolve an issue that has torn Kaipara apart. The whole matter could have been easily compromised if Greg Gent had not been so blinkered by his political allegiances, had examined the underlying equities of the situation, and had not been driven by his personal antipathy to those on the other side.
if you want to help the Rogans and the MRRA continue this fight to bring the rule of law back to Kaipara you can:
Donate directly to the MRRA bank zccount: 38-9012-0318164-00
Donate via https://givealittle.co.nz/ — search for Mangawhai Ratepayers and Residents Association.
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GREG GENT GOING, GOING ....... 11.10.2017
I have been overseas for 10 days and out of touch with NZ. I arrived back yesterday morning to find that Mayor Greg Gent had gone. Not gone by lunchtime, but he has indicated that he will resign after the next council meeting on 14 November 2017.
Local authority mayors are specifically elected so a new by-election will be required to fill the vacated position. The Local Electoral Act stipulates that the election cannot be held until 17 February next year.
Ratepayers will be obliged to foot the bill for the election. The amount has not yet been revealed. But at leasst there is no severance pay issues. Mayor Gent will receive no compensation because of his early departure. . .
In the meantime the deputy mayor, Peter Wethey will assume the role of mayor.
Other reports on the Mayor Gent’s resignation can be seen here:
STAFF QUITTING THE KDC 11.10.2017
A few weeks ago it was the chief executive. Now it is the Mayor. Both leaving for "personal reasons" with a refusal in both instances to provide further information. The Kaipara Cone of Silence.
Rumours are rife of staff issues at the KDC. We know that Alison Puchaux has left. In her role as Revenue Manager her name was on the documents served on whistle-blowing ratepayers who were sued by the KDC
A recent comparative report for local authorities revealed that the KDC was over-staffed, and had higher salaries for staff.
The Northern Advocate reports that the KDC has had four chief executives in the last five years. Huge concern were expressed at the time about the appointment of Graham Sibery in 2016 for the maximum term of five years by the outgoing commissioners. He had no experience in local a government and seemed totally unsuited for the job. He lasted just over a year.
It appears that Sibery had worked with commissioner Peter Winder during the Rugby World Cup. He reported left for “personal reasons” but the truth has yet to come out, including the size of the severance pay that ratepayers have been obliged to pay.
The Northern Advocate article referred to above makes some pointed remarks about the recent appointment of Peter Tynan as acting chief executive and his links with Mayor Gent:
The current acting chief executive, Peter Tynan, was appointed a month ago, after being recommended for the job by Mr Gent.
A qualified accountant with no local government experience, Mr Tynan had been chief executive of Southern Cross Health Society, on whose board Mr Gent is the chairman.
Mr Gent was also chairman of Kaipara's Remuneration Committee which recommended Mr Tynan to the full council.
Mayor Gent has also announced that Richard Booth, one of the original four commissioners appointed to Kaipara, has stepped down from his role of chair of the Audit Risk and Finance Committee of the KDC. He is being replaced by Stana Pezic who has the appropriate experience and, as it happens, Mayor Gent records that he has “been part of an audit committee that Stan has chaired”.
CROWN MANAGER 11.10.2017
Richard Booth advised that he was standing down so that “council can truly move on from that phase of its history”. He was referring to the commissioner phase.
Unfortunately that is not possible. Peter Winder, one of the ex-commissioners is still ungainfully employed by the KDC as Crown Manager. His role as a National Cabinet appointee is to extract every last cent out of whistleblowing ratepayers who were betrayed by Parliament. So far he has spent over a million dollars of ratepayers’ money and has done nothing but expose the unlawfulness of the actions and rates of the KDC and the NRC.
It is uncertain whether he is still employed as Crown Manager. His first appointment as Crown Manager and his terms of reference were challenged by Legal Eagle, and as a consequence the Crown Manager’s role was terminated (several months before it was publicly announced). He was reappointed for a second time after Mayor Gent and Deputy Mayor Withey indicated to the government that the Associate Minister had misled them and they might possibly resign.
The second appointment of Peter Winder as Crown Manager is also unlawful, as are the terms of reference. He was again appointed by the Associate Minister who did not have the appropriate signed authority from the Prime Minister as required by the Local Government Act and the Cabinet Manual. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is fully aware of this but is refusing to acknowledge the unlawfulness of his appointment..
The government is digging a deeper and deeper hole for itself. Sooner or later, one way or the other, the truth will come out, and the delay in accepting the inevitable will create an insoluble legal mess. Despite what the Associate Minister is advised to say publicly, all of the actions and decisions of the Crown Manager during the first and second appointments will be ultra vires and a nullity.
That day may not be too far away. Winston Peters has made no secret of the fact that Peter Winder was a government "mate" and that his appointment, firing, and reappointment were "a comedy of errors". Peter Winder may be well advised to look for another job, and quickly.
Graham Sibery, chief executive: GONE
Greg Gent, Mayor: GOING
Richard Booth, chair Audit Risk and Finance Committee: GONE
Barry Harris, Crown Observer: MISSING IN ACTION
Peter Winder, unlawfully appointed Crown Manager: GOING
SURPRISE DECISION FROM THE HIGH COURT 30.09.2017
Duffy J has finally made her decision in the Rogan appeal to the High Court. It can be viewed here.
She has found that the Rogans do not have to pay the NRC rates because they are unlawful, but she has ordered that the Rogans pay $20,449.52 to the KDC.
She did not find that the KDC rates were lawful. She endorsed the submissions of the KDC and held that a ratepayer does not have the right to defend recovery proceedings for rates arrears in the District Court on the grounds of invalidity.
Ironically she suggested that if the same arguments had been presented in a judicial review application to the High Court the result may have been different
The whole decision hinged on the meaning of section 60 of the Local Government (Rating) Act (LGRA). It is a bizarre provision, atrociously drafted, that has been used by local authorities to deprive ratepayers of their fundamental right to defend a legal action in court.
Section 60 states:
60 Invalidity of rates not ground for refusal to pay rates
A person may not refuse to pay rates on the ground that the rates are invalid …..
The section then goes on to state that a ratepayer may refuse to pay rates if an application is made to the High Court challenging the validity of the rates on very narrow grounds. The Rogans case did not fit within those grounds.
So what do those few words actually mean? Ratepayers already have a clear obligation under the LGRA to pay rates, just as a local authority has obligations to set, assess and invoice rates in compliance with the law. Section 60 allows those who come within the narrow grounds to withhold rates. Not completely, but until their challenge in the High Court has been resolved.
Those like the Rogan’s have no such latitude. They do not come within the special grounds so they have no lawful reason to withhold their rates. Their obligation to pay the rates under the LGRA remains and, if the rates are not paid, the KDC has the power to commence proceedings in the District Court pursuant to section 63 of the LGRA. We all agree with that.
Section 63 states that a local authority can recover unpaid rates in the District Court as a debt and the court has the power to hear and determine the proceedings. That section appears to suggest that the procedure is the normal debt collecting process where the claimant has to establish that the debt is due and payable and the defendant has the right to present any defence to the claim. At the hearing Duffy J agreed with that scenario.
Duffy J now sees it differently. She has interpreted the simple words of section 60 to mean that a ratepayer is precluded from defending any action in the District Court to recover rates where the defence is based on invalidity of the rates. It is hard to imagine what other grounds could be argued, so effectively the High Court has decided that ratepayers have no right to defend themselves in a rates recovery proceeding in the District Court.
There is no clear explanation in the judgment for this interpretation. Duffy J simply states that because the invalidity is not a reason for not paying rates this precludes “a defence based upon invalidity being run in rates recovery proceedings”.
It is a massive non-sequitur that seems to contradict the whole basis on which our whole legal system is based. There are prohibitions against all sorts of things in our laws, but that does not mean that if someone fails to comply with a prohibition that they are denied the right to defend any charge in court.
Duffy J supports her interpretation:
 The interpretation of s 60 that I have reached is consistent with the language of the section and with the scheme and purpose of the Act.
I challenge anyone to find any words in section 60 that refer to the right to defend an action for recovery of rates being precluded.
As for the scheme and purpose of the Act, the LGRA was heralded as making local authorities accountable. The LGRA states in section 3 that the purpose of the LGRA is to promote the purpose of local government set out in the Local Government Act (LGA). Section 3 of the LGA lists the purposes of local government, one of which is:
(c) promotes the accountability of local authorities to their communities;
Duffy J’s decision does the opposite and completely removes any accountability.
Duffy J also argues that her interpretation - that any defence to rates recovery is precluded - is based on the intentions of Parliament in drafting the provision:
 The reason for this is plain. Parliament wanted to ensure that enforcement of the liability to pay rates could proceed in a timely and efficacious manner. The recovery process is about debt collection; it is not to be delayed or hindered by legal arguments about whether any aspect of the rating process was validly or otherwise correctly performed.
She produced no evidence to support this hypothesis and no such evidence was adduced at the hearing.
As for the comments about debt-collecting, lawyers will be surprised to learn that the High Court considers that debt-collecting in the courts should not be hindered by legal argument.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the judgment of Duffy J negates the fundamental right of New Zealanders to justice under section 27 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (NZBORA) and the basic right to defend oneself in court under the general law. These were argued by the Rogans but completely ignored in the judgment, even though section 6 of NZBORA places an obligation on the court to adopt an interpretation of a provision that is consistent with the rights in the Act.
Under section 5 those fundamental rights may be overridden in the public good if that can be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”. However, there is a large body of precedents that state that if the rights of individuals are to be limited by statute then the wording must be explicit, clear and unambiguous.
Readers can judge for themselves whether section 60 explicitly, clearly and unambiguously deprives ratepayers of the right to defend an action for recovery in court. If that was Parliament’s intention, why did it not make such an important restriction on fundamental rights absolutely clear? How about:
A person may not raise the defence of invalidity of the rates as a defence in any action to recover rates.........
Duffy J must realise that the consequence of her judgment is that there can be no challenge to the lawfulness of rates set by local authorities. There is, of course the option of judicial review but that is completely out of the reach of the average New Zealander.
Local authorities already take a cavalier approach to rate setting. They now know that their rates cannot be challenged for any reason. As Duffy J stated, the recovery of rates “is not to be delayed or hindered by legal arguments about whether any aspect of the rating process was validly or otherwise correctly performed”. No need for consultation on rates. No need to set or assess rates in compliance with the LGRA. No need to send out rates assessment notices or invoices. A local authority can add in any other charge it feels like adding. All it has to do is to apply to the courts to recover any sum it likes under the guise of “rates” and there is no defence that the ratepayer can present.
Without exaggeration Duffy J has taken us back to the 13 Century when King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta and acknowledge that he was subject to the law of the land. One of the clauses in that historic document sets out the right to justice:
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.
To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
The High Court has taken a decisive step backwards in respect of the rule of law and individual rights in New Zealand. It has thrown down the gauntlet to all New Zealanders. It will be interesting to see whether the people will fight for those rights.
KDC AND NRC, WAS IT WORTH IT 30.09 2017
Now that the High Court judgments are out the KDC and NRC can sit back and assess whether the pursuit of ratepayers was worthwhile.
Remember that the whole issue in this dispute was the penalties added to the rates withheld by whistle-blowers.
The rates strike of 2012 was instigated to alert and compel the authorities to take action in respect of the illegalities of the KDC. As a result of the strike the council resigned and commissioners were installed. All the illegalities were finally recognised and validated by Parliament. There was cross-party support for the legislation (except for New Zealand First and the Mana Party) on the understanding that those responsible for the illegalities and blow-out on the sewerage system would be held accountable, and that the penalties on whistle-blowers’ rates would be remitted.
Two penalty charges only were remitted. The government-controlled commissioners refused to remit the balance, perhaps as a warning to ratepayers not to mess with “City Hall”. The whistle-blowers felt betrayed. They had acted in the public interest, to maintain the rule of law, and they were being punished unfairly. They dug their toes in and refused to pay their rates until the penalties were fully remitted.
In 2014 the whistle-blowers tendered all the outstanding rates (but not the penalties) amounting to nearly a million dollars to the KDC in full and final settlement of the dispute. The KDC commissioners returned the payments and instituted over 100 legal proceedings against ratepayers. As well as pressuring the mortgagees of many more ratepayers.
The MRRA had no argument with the KDC and tried to set up a system whereby its rates could be paid directly rather than channelling them through the KDC. The NRC refused to cooperate.
The pressure brought to bear by the KDC compelled many ratepayers to pay the rates and penalties, and at present there are only five or six still refusing to pay. They are willing to pay the rates as and when they fall due but the KDC and NRC have a totally illegal repayment policy denying a ratepayer the right to pay an instalment as it falls due. Any such payment is used to pay off the oldest debt, and yet another penalty is added to the unpaid instalment.
The Rogan case was a test-case for the other cases. The KDC and NRC sued the Rogan’s for $20,449.52 and $1,708.97 respectively.
The District Court found in favour of the councils on the basis that the Rogans were not allowed to defend the claim under section 60 and that they should have applied to the High Court for judicial review. The Rogans applied to the High Court and that court held that the HRC rates were unlawful and quashed them. It rejected the very limited challenge to the KDC rates. In the appeal from the District Court the High Court has now held that the NRC rates are unlawful and has ordered that the Rogans to pay the KDC $20,449.52.
So how did the two councils fare? Note that the ratepayers had tendered the rates and were prepared to pay them, so the dispute was only about the penalties.
The NRC sued the Rogans for $1,708.97. That includes rates and penalties. The court held that their rates were unlawful and that the NRC was not entitled to recover the rates or penalties. In addition it opened up the NRC for liability to refund the rates to all their ratepayers in Kaipara and also in Whangarei and in the Far North.
The NRC has advised that its legal costs were as follows:
• The total amount of legal costs incurred by the NRC in respect of the judicial review brought by the MRRA. $205K
• The total amount of legal costs incurred by the NRC in respect of the District Court action against Bruce and Heather Rogan to recover arrears of rates. $108K
• The total amount of legal costs incurred by the NRC in respect of the High Court appeal from the District Court action against Bruce and Heather Rogan. $5K
That is a total of $318,000 of ratepayers’ money in an attempt to recover $1,708.97 in rates and penalties. But as the Rogans had offered to pay the rates, the amount at stake was perhaps $300.
The NRC has appealed the decision and has stated that it expects to spend another $170,000 to $ 190,000 of ratepayers‘ money.
The KDC has a court order for the $20,449.52 that it claimed. The Rogans had tendered payment of the rates, so the dispute was only in respect of the penalties. They would have amounted to about $5,000 at the most.
I have not yet received from the KDC its figures for the legal costs but I suggest that they be as high as $500,000. If the Rogans decide to appeal they will be higher.
The facts speak for themselves.
KDC TARGETS HOME-OWNERS 27.09.2017
We should have known that something was afoot when we saw a car with KDC markings driving slowly along Margaret Street in Mangawhai Heads with the passenger taking photos of properties.
We now know what the KDC was up to. Some properties in Margaret Street, Holiday Crescent and Roberts Street have received a rather threatening letter from the KDC advising them that they have no right to access their properties by car.
The letter states that “Section 207.3 of the Kaipara General Bylaws prohibits a person from driving any vehicle across any footpath or water channel other than upon a crossing properly constructed under the provisions of this bylaw”.
The letter goes on to allege that the existing vehicle crossing for the property is non-compliant. It requires the house-owner to apply for a permit to construct a compliant crossing.
Some of those people have lived in their houses for 30 or 40 years or more and are now being advised by the KDC that they are committing an offence by driving their cars onto their properties and effectively have been committing an offence since they bought the property.
All the properties in question have a concrete footpath with kerb and channelling. There is a concrete access strip into each property but for some reason the kerb is continuous along the front of those properties. There is no dip in the kerb to allow easy access by motor vehicle. To overcome this some owners have a length of wood, others a concrete strip in the gutter to ease access.
The notice does not state what the problem is but that would appear to be the issue.
The KDC’s sudden targeting of property owners after so many years raises some very obvious and questions that abound with common sense.
• First, when the KDC or its predecessor was kerbing and channelling the roads, why did it not allow for a road crossing for each separate property? Unfathomable.
• Second, all of the properties that have been targeted have fully compliant building permits or building consents. We all know that when a house is being built the provision of a vehicle crossing is a vital part of the process. The consent will not be signed off until the vehicle crossing is compliant. So why were all the properties in question signed off if the vehicle crossings were unlawful and the owner and emergency vehicles was not allowed to drive onto the property? Farcical.
The property that I own which is being targeted has a code compliance certificate. That mean that all building work relating to the property is compliant, and that includes the vehicle crossing. If the KDC was negligent and signed off building consents and issued code compliance certificates negligently then it has to suck up and bear the responsibility for that. It cannot go on a witch-hunt and try and retroactively enforce regulations that it failed to enforce years ago.
• Third, what about the Land Information Memorandum, the LIM? Most of us get those when we buy a property. They are statutory documents under the legislation (LGOIMA) which require the local authority so show all adverse matters relating to the property. I bet that not one single LIM issued for the properties targeted refers to the unlawful vehicle crossing. That is the sort of problem that the LIM was designed to highlight. The courts have held a local authority is negligent if it fails to warn a purchaser about an outstanding issue with a property. So, if there is a non-compliant vehicle crossing that the KDC failed to reveal then it is the KDC must bear the responsibility. Negligence.
• Why has the KDC suddenly decided that this is a matter of urgency and a reason for bullying home-owners when it is decades old and the reason for any non-compliance, if any, sits fairly and squarely with the KDC?
What to do?
If you have been targeted you can accept that the KDC is right and comply with the notice.
You can take legal advice on the matter. That will be expensive and it is unlikely that any lawyer will be well-versed in the law relating to vehicle crossings.
Legal Eagle is challenging the legality of what the KDC is doing. I have had little time for research but there are some obvious responses.
The KDC bylaws are prefaced with the following:
Relationship of this Bylaw to Statute Acts and Regulations thereto:
To avoid any doubt, where there is any conflict between this Bylaw and the provisions of the Operative District Plan of the Kaipara District Council or any Statute Act or Regulation, the Statutory Act, Regulation or District Plan, shall prevail.
The Local Government Act 1974 offers some help. It states:
335 Vehicle crossings
(1) Where vehicles are being taken or, in the opinion of the council, are likely to be taken, on to or from any land across any footpath on any road or any water channel on or adjoining any road otherwise than by means of a crossing properly constructed under the provisions of any bylaw made by the council, the principal administrative officer or other officer authorised by the council may, by notice in writing, require the occupier or, in any case where there is no occupier, the owner of the land to pay to the council such sum of money as the council from time to time fixes as payment for the cost of the construction of a crossing by the council.
(2) Within 28 days after the service of the notice, the occupier or owner, as the case may be, may object in writing to the council against the requirements of the notice, and the notice shall thereupon be deemed to be suspended pending the determination of the objection or, where application is made to the court to confirm the notice, pending the decision of the court.
The first thing that stands out is that the provisions relating to the notice in subsection (1) do not accord with the wording of the KDC notice The LGA 74 provision enables the local authority to recover a sum of money for the authority to construct the crossing. The bylaw notice requires the owner to apply for a permit to construct a crossing.
Clearly under the preface to the bylaws the LGA 54 prevails. That necessarily means that the notices delivered to home-owners by the KDC are non-compliant with the legislation.
Just to be safe, Legal Eagle will be sending a letter to the KDC objecting to the notice. That has to be done within 28 days of the service of the notice.
To the Chief Executive Kaipara District Council
Attention: Denise Hopkins
Vehicle crossing: (Address)
I refer to your notice of (date) and object against the requirements of the notice pursuant to section 335 of the Local Government Act 1974.
The notice is then suspended. From then on it is a matter of determining the legality of the KDC’s notice and working out who is responsible for the fundamental omission.
Anyone who is in the same boat is welcome to use the form of response set out above. Send it by email to email@example.com,nz
I will also be requesting the KDC to treat my application as a test-case and not to take any action against any other party until the legality of the KDC’s notice has been established.
If you have received a notice then please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will keep everyone advised of progress through this website.
SIBERY RESIGNATION – ANOTHER MCKERCHAR SETTLEMENT? 23.09.2-17
In 2011 the KDC announced that Jack McKerchar was resigning as chief executive “for personal and health reasons”.
That was a lie. The truth was that the KDC secretly paid $240,000 to get rid of McKerchar in a deal brokered by Mayor Tiller and Deputy Mayor Geange. That is the infamous agreement which contained the full and final settlement clause which prevented the KDC recovering substantial damages for McKerchar’s incompetence.
Persistent pressure and LGOIMA requests finally exposed the truth about the resignation.
In August this year the KDC announced that chief executive Peter Sibery had resigned. No reason was given. Graham Sibery has made no comment and Mayor Gent refuses to give any reasons .
The Lifestyler reported Mayor Gent:
Asked for further details, Mr Gent said that employment agreements remained a private matter under the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Privacy Act 1993.
One might say that Graham Sibery’s departure is clouded in secrecy. There is a wall of silence around it.
Graham Sibery - Was there a financial settlement?
I have suggested in an earlier post that it looked likely that the KDC and Sibery have parted company under a confidential agreement. That may entail a sum of up to a million dollars, given that there was almost four years to run on his contract.
The departure was sudden so it seems that there was no time for the appropriate performance procedures and review under his employment contract.
He could have been fired on the spot, or constructively fired, in which case there will be legal claim and a hefty award in damages.
Or Sibery may have decided to quit for personal reasons.
Looking back, there has to be some concern about the motivation behind Sibery’s original appointment just over a year ago.
• He had no experience in local government when that was desperately needed. the KDC had to have a qualified and experienced skipper at the helm capable of tackling the muddy waters of Kaipara.
• Why did Peter Winder and the commissioners appoint Sibery when it was the right of the newly elected council to appoint its own chief executive?
• And why a contract for the maximum term of five years allowed under the LGA?
• Did Sibery and Winder work together during the Rugby World Cup?
In short, why appoint a square peg to fill around hole for a term of five years when it was pretty clear that it would never fit. Was that a ploy to ensure that when there was an inevitable parting of the ways there would be a virtual guarantee of a hefty golden handshake?
Of course all this is speculation, but that is what happens when those in powers slam down the portcullis on transparency. And that is what they have done. This is the response of the KDC to my LGOIMA request for information regarding the resignation of Graham Sibery:
Whilst there may well be community interest in this matter, there are good reasons under section 7(2)(a) and 17(a) of the LGOIMA for withholding this information at this time to avoid infringing upon Mr Sibery’s personal privacy. There is also good reason for withholding under section 7(2)(c), to protect information which is subject to an obligation of confidence because the release of the information would be likely to damage the public interest by detracting from Council’s ability to manage its employee relationships in confidence. I am of the view that those good reasons for withholding outweigh the public interest in the matter.
If a chief executive suddenly leaves a job in breach of his contract then the reasons for his departure should be public knowledge. Ratepayers pay the salary of the chief executive and any golden handshake that he may be given. Ratepayers also pay the wages of the Mayor and councilors. Under the basic principles of accountability and transparency it is fundamental that such matters should be publicly revealed.
Mayor Gent’s reference to the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Privacy Act 1993 are just smoke-screens.
Graham Sibery’s personal privacy has nothing to do with it. He is a public figure and, if he quits after one year into his contract, those who pay his salary are entitled to know why. If he resigned for personal reasons then that is all that we need to know. But the way Mayor Gent has gone about this suggests that there is something far more costly to ratepayers that is being hidden.
As for the other ground quoted by the KDC in its response, section 7(2)(c) of LGOIMA only applies where there is an “obligation of confidence”. That appears to suggest that there is a settlement agreement of some sort with a confidentiality clause, probably with a financial payout of some kind.
In the McKerchar resignation, the KDC simply lied to ratepayers. In the Sibery resignation the KDC has not lied, but it has refused to tell the truth.
In the McKerchar resignation the truth finally emerged when the annual report revealed the golden handshake paid to McKerchar. The annual report is a statutory document and is required by the LGA to include details of all remuneration paid to a chief executive during the year in question.
Unfortunately for ratepayers, the year in question ends in June 2018 and the KDC has three months in which to publish that report. That means that we will not know whether the KDC has paid an inducement to Graham Sibery to resign until the end of September 2018.
The alternative is that the KDC rethinks its obligations to ratepayers and comes clean on the matter. If it has got nothing to hide then it should make a statement stating that Graham Sibery resigned for personal reasons and that there was no financial settlement. If it does that then we can put that issue to bed.
THE BIG ECOCARE FRAUD 20.09.2017
Chris Sellars (aka Worzel) has been very brave in his article Worzel’s Fraud Report in the latest Mangawhai Focus. (not yet online) He pulls no punches in stating that those responsible for the EcoCare shambles were guilty of fraud.
He is in good company. Winston Peters has repeatedly stated that the EcoCare was fraudulent.
Last year Worzel wrote an article on organised criminal gangs. He commented:
What then do organised criminal gangs do? Do they meet in secret to conspire and break the law? Do they engage in lies and intimidation in order to obtain compliance with their wrongdoing and suppress opposition? Are they a burden financially and socially to their communities? Do some of the more powerful gangs have friends in politics who can pull a few strings and ‘fix’ things for them? Does this sound like the Mongrel Mob, Headhunters, Hells Angels or Ulysses Motorcycle Club to you?
Sounds more like the Kaipara District Council to me.
This website went on to comment:
When you look at the financial damage the KDC has done to our communities, businesses and families then you can safely say that the KDC is the most destructive gang in all of our lives.
The KDC fraudulently and illegally entered into a Ponzi type arrangement that was planned to enrich those involved with full knowledge that the ratepayers of the district would be dumped with a massive illegal debt.
They lied and misrepresented the situation for years, they pilfered all the funds set aside for other purposes to feed their rort and stole the Mangawhai Endowment funds monies. They created a smoke pall to disguise the financial realities and the utter ineptness of the EcoCare scheme and they even persuaded Parliament to force the luckless ratepayers to pay their illegal tithes plus vindictive penalties.
As ex detective Mike Sabin said about the Councillors who were responsible for the Kaipara rorts: "if they had been company directors they would all be in jail now."
And that's where they should be, along with all the others who suspended their judgement and their obligations to the community and to their professions, and allowed the Kaipara rorts to proceed, condoned the excesses and incompetence and illegalities, and stood by and watched as the people of Kaipara were fleeced.
They are all now sitting back with smug smiles on their faces while the current gang continues to pursue and harass the only people who come out of this indecent shambles with clean hands - the ratepayers of the district.
THE BIG ECOCARE LIE 20.09.2017
The Big Lie was that EcoCare was necessary because of the pollution of the Mangawhai harbour caused by septic tank outflow, thus necessitating a modern sewerage system that would fix all the problems. There was, in fact, no evidence at the time that the harbour was polluted but it gave the rorters an ecological and emotional peg on which to hang their fraud.
That lie has finally been exposed by the results of water quality testing in the catchment area for the harbour that have just been released. See the report on the KDC website. Not surpisingly the catchment area for the harbour is seriously polluted.
MEDIA COMMENTS ON NRC’S DECISION TO APPEAL 15.09.2017
Note how all reports regurgitate the spin of the media statements without any critical assessment. By repeating the statements over and over again they add to their credibility in the minds of readers.
For a critical assessment of the media comments of the NRC scroll down to COMMENTS ON NRC MEDIA RELEASE 13.09.2017
It is important that sight is not lost of the REAL ISSUES.
• The Kaipara Validation Act was enacted by Parliament in 2013 on the understanding that those responsible for the unlawful Kaipara debt would be held to account and that penalties on the withheld rates of whistle-blowers would be remitted. The government controlled KDC commissioners did neither, creating a deep bitterness within the community. Many ratepayers refused to pay the rates unless the historic penalties were remitted.
• The ratepayers had no issue with the NRC and tried to make some arrangement to pay the NRC's part of the combined rates directly to the NRC. The NRC refused to cooperate.
• In 2014 ratepayers paid approximately $1 million in withheld rates to the KDC on behalf of the KDC and NRC but without the penalties. The KDC returned the monies and responded by issuing over 100 separate proceedings against ratepayers in the District Court to recover the KDC and NRC rates and the penalties, as well as pursuing many more ratepayers through their mortgagees.
• Some rebel ratepayers have tried to pay rates instalments as they fall due, as they are entitled to do under the Rating Act. However the NRC (and the KDC) deny ratepayers that right because of their unlawful “oldest debt first” policy. Any payment of an instalment is applied to the oldest debt and not the instalment. This is in blatant breach of the requirements of the Rating Act.
• Most ratepayers succumbed to the legal pressure and paid the rates and penalties. About seven are still defending court actions with the action against Bruce and Heather Rogan being the test-case. In that case the District Court rejected the Rogan’s defence that the rates were unlawful and ruled that the Rogan’s were liable for the rates and penalties because they failed to file judicial review proceedings in the High Court to challenge the legality of the rates. The Rogans immediately filed an appeal against the ruling and, with the MRRA, applied for judicial review of the rates. The High Court held in the judicial review that five years of NRC rates are invalid. The judgment on the District Court appeal has still to be delivered by the High Court.
• Following the judgment of High Court the MRRA approached the NRC and suggested a meeting to see if settlement could be reached by the parties. The NRC CEO Malcolm Nicolson responded on behalf of chairman Bill Shepherd as follows:
Having given the matter careful consideration and having sought legal advice, Council has decided to process with the lodgement of an appeal to the High Court decision. We therefore conclude that there is little merit in meeting at this time.
• The amount of legal costs incurred so far to recover the penalties on whistle-blowers withheld rates will soon be revealed following LGOIMA requests but it is many hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition the NRC is also planning to spend the best part of $200,000 dollars on the latest appeal plus any costs that may be awarded against it. All of that is ratepayers’ money.
• The amount of rates and penalties owed to the NRC by the Rogans and the other six ratepayers is approximately $17,700.
NRC TO APPEAL HIGH COURT DECISION 13.09 2017
The NRC has just issued a media release advising that it is lodging an appeal against the two judgments of Duffy J in the High Court relating to the validity of its rates.
COMMENTS ON NRC MEDIA RELEASE 13.09.2017
The NRC media release is full of the smoke and mirrors that we have come to expect from our local councils. The release is set out in full with comments from Legal Eagle in blue.
For further background information scroll down to:
WHAT IS THE REAL REASON BEHIND THE LEGAL CHALLENGES TO KDC AND NRC RATES? 06.09.2017
NRC COUNCILLORS FACE DILEMMA 06.09.2017
Media Release 13 September 2017
Urgent hearing sought for appeals against Mangawhai rates rulings
The Northland Regional Council (NRC) is to file an appeal against a recent High Court decision quashing several years of its rates in the Kaipara district and is seeking to appeal the court's earlier related decision which found two issues with the council's rating practices.
These issues were how council set due dates for the payment of rates and its arrangements for rate collection within the Kaipara district. The council is also seeking an urgent hearing for the appeals.
The NRC failed to include the dates for payment of instalments in its rates resolutions. This is a fundamental part of statutory process for making the rates lawful. It also unlawfully delegated to the KDC the power to assess NRC rates, add penalties to them, and to recover overdue NRC rates.
The High Court last month made an order setting aside the regional council’s rates for the Kaipara district for the five rating years 2011/12 to 2015/16 inclusive and any penalties imposed by – or on behalf of – NRC over that same period.
However, the High Court was clear that there was to be no order requiring the council to refund the rates and penalties involved, despite finding for the plaintiffs (the Mangawhai Ratepayers and Residents Association and Richard Bruce Rogan and Heather Elizabeth Rogan) on the legal status of the rates.
The High Court did not order repayment of invalid rates simply because the remedy of restitution is not available under a judicial review application. That would require a separate application.
Soon after the release of the most recent High Court decision, regional council chairman Bill Shepherd said at the heart of the case – which had implications for local authorities nationally – was the council’s use of its Kaipara district counterpart to collect rates on its behalf.
The heart of the case was the failure of the NRC to comply with simple legal requirements that it had been warned about on many occasions.
The Rating Act allows another local authority to collect rates on its behalf, but that is all.
The judgment certainly has implications for other local authorities. Most local authorities, like the NRC, have an arrogant disdain for compliance with the law and believe that they are protected from any challenge by the indifference of the Auditor-General and the government, and the unfairness and cost of our judicial system. If any challenge does survive then they expect to be rescued by a sympathetic government passing validating legislation.
Compliance with the law appears to be outside their contemplation.
Chairman Shepherd confirmed Wednesday, 13 September that appeal documents will be filed with the Court of Appeal.
He says in its decision, the High Court had noted the NRC had acted in good faith with the judge commenting the council “may have fallen victim to legislation that was less precise than it needed to be”.
A generous comment from the Judge that is not quite in accord with the facts.. The omission of dates from the rates resolutions was a fundamental error that should never have happened. How hard is it to comply with a requirement to include four dates in a legal document? The unlawful delegation was based on a complete ignorance of the law. The agreement drawn up between the NRC and the KDC was based on legislation repealed in 2003.
How would the NRC councillors feel if they were the object of a botched operation where the surgeon committed basic procedural errors and used outdated practices? Would they be happy if the hospital pleaded that the surgeon had acted in good faith and that some of the procedures were unclear?
With that in mind, in addition to the appeal, Chairman Shepherd says the council will also approach the Department of Internal Affairs asking it for a law change clarifying the section of the Rating Act covering rates collection arrangements.
And while he is at it, how about a nice little validation act to sanitise all the NRC’s illegalities? And how about the ludicrously drafted and incomprehensible section 60 of the Rating Act which is used by local authorities to persecute ratepayers. A little clarity there would not go amiss.
Note the red herring. Its the law's fault. Nothing to do with fundamental incompetence.
Chairman Shepherd says that if an urgent hearing is granted, the council's appeals could potentially be heard before a three-member bench of the Court of Appeal within three to five months; much less than the nine to 12 months likely under a standard appeal.
Initial estimates were that the appeal could cost the NRC in the order of $170,000 to $190,000.
The rates are invalid because of the incompetence of the NRC and the incompetence of its legal advisers. The NRC has already paid a king’s ransom in legal advice in respect of rates and in pursuing whistle-blowing ratepayers to recover vindictive and unconscionable penalties on withheld rates. The councillors of the NRC are happy to spend more and more of ratepayers’ money pursuing their victims down a blind and endless tunnel because they know that they will never be held to account. Meanwhile their lawyers cast off any blame for past incompetent advice and salivate at the thought of further rich pickings in the Court of Appeal.
While appealing will be costly, the council feels the issues at stake are too important not to appeal. The collection of rates by the district councils in the region on behalf of the regional council provides significant cost savings which benefit the region's ratepayers.
Indeed the cost savings are important. But not if you fail to comply with simple legal requirements and pour hundreds aof thousand of dollars down the gullets of your lawyers..
Referring to the years at the centre of the High Court case, Chairman Shepherd says ratepayers can be assured “our council has not acted irresponsibly and blatantly flouted the law”.
The NRC has legal obligations that it did not comply with. The Court stated in its interim judgment:
 In short, the NRC has failed to exercise its statutory powers properly when determining rates resolutions and it has unlawfully sought to delegate the performance of a number of its functions in relation to rates to KDC. These are substantial and grave errors that warrant recognition by this Court making declarations of invalidity.
No amount of spin can disguise the gravity of the errors.
“We have arranged the collection of our rates by the Kaipara, Whangarei and Far North District Councils using standard sector practice in the interests of saving our ratepayers the additional cost of maintaining a separate rates collection department within our council.”
On the contrary, you have cost your ratepayers a huge amount of money because you failed to comply with your fundamental but very simple legal obligations. Good intentions mean nothing if accompanied by incompetent performance. And a tip. Don't follow "standard sector practices" unless you are absolutely sure that they comply with the law. Otherwise you could end up like ..........the NRC.
Chairman Shepherd says it’s also important to remember that all the rates collected during the years covered by the court case had been spent in good faith on a wide range of projects and work programmes that had been clearly outlined in the relevant Annual and/or Long Term Plans at the time.
“These plans are widely consulted on and outline how we fulfil our purpose for our communities; including outlining how much we will collect in rates and how and where we will spend them.”
All the more reason to be careful. You are obliged to balance your books which mean that you have an absolute obligation to ensure that the rates are set and assessed lawfully so that you can meet your statutory obligations. You failed to do that. There are no excuses.
Lastly, he says it’s important to remember the judge’s decisions do not relate to the rates for the current financial year, or the 2016/17 financial year.
That’s right. But, sadly, you rating documents for the current rating year suffer from ongoing defects and non-compliance with the Rating Act. Your rates invoice denies ratepayers with arrears their fundamental statutory right to pay that instalment by due date without incurring a penalty payment. You apply an “oldest debt first” policy whereby ratepayers with arrears are denied that right, with the payment being used to pay the oldest debt, and a penalty added for non-payment of the instalment.
Your legal advice on this matter is completely wrong and the fact that many other councils apply the same policy is completely irrelevant. The reality is that when the issue comes before the High Court, which it will, the inclusion of that policy in your rates invoices will invalidate them all. Be warned.
COMMENTS ON REBELLION IN PARADISE 13.09.2017
There have been a lot of online comments about this article. Go to the article here and scroll down to the bottom.
REBELLION IN PARADISE 10.09.2017
The ratepayers who fought the law and won. See today's article by Susan Edmunds in the Sunday Star Times.cataloguing the fight for justice in Kaipara.
Watch the video interview with Bruce & Heather Rogan. Not only does it show our beautiful estuary but it also sums up why the KDC and other councils throughout the country must comply with the law.
The MRRA was represented in the latest District Court and High Court cases by Jeremy Browne of Henderson Reeves in Whangarei. Thomas Biss, one of the other directors of that firm, sums it all up with his comment:
"It's important that people stand up and say 'if the Government is going to rule, it's important that it acts in accordance with the laws'.
RATES RULING AND RESIGNATION ROCK KAIPARA 10.09.2017
See the article in Local Matters.
INTERIM CEO APPOINTED 07.09.2017
The Lifestyler has just announced the appointment of an interim chief executive for the KDC. He is Peter Tynan who was previously chief executive at Southern Cross Healthcare where Mayor Greg Gent is chairman. He is currently on the board of Osteoporosis NZ.
The new appointee will remain until a permanent chief executive is appointed and will be on the same salary as Graham Sibery
Many of us were alarmed last year when Graham Sibery was appointed KDC CEO by the commissioners for five years without having had any experience in local government. The KDC is seen as the cot-case of local authorities with a track record of incompetence, non-compliance with legislation, and blatant flouting of the law. Many felt that an experienced captain at the helm was essential to offer the guidance and advice that the KDC desperately needs to get back on track and win back the trust of ratepayers.
It is therefore disappointing that the new appointee has no experience in local government.
It may well be that the adage “beggars can’t be choosers” applies. Moving to the KDC as a career move is a bit like moving to the “Warriors”. Not many takers, especially in an interim role. But there is no doubt that Peter Tynan has many other qualities. If he can break away from the political mind-set that constrains Greg Gent’s council, he could bring a fresh pair of eyes and a dose of practical common sense which could help resolve some of the deep-seated issues that divide Kaipara.
THE REASON WHY .........................
WHAT IS THE REAL REASON BEHIND THE LEGAL CHALLENGES TO KDC AND NRC RATES? 06.09.2017
The High Court has declared that five years of NRC rates are invalid. The MRRA is overjoyed. The NRC is in crisis. Many ratepayers and outside observers do not understand what is going on.
Many think that ratepayers have an unchallengeable obligation to pay rates so that our local council can fulfil its role and meet its financial obligations. I have heard people stating that because of the recent High Court ruling the roads will now be neglected, even though the NRC is not responsible for roads. Others suggest that a small group of discontents have used minor legal technicalities to avoid payment of rates for their own personal gain. Mayor Gent muddies the waters with his obfuscatory comments. (See Anthony Roberts’ letter in the latest Mangawhai Focus.)
Many of the elected councillors have no idea why there is so much bitterness about the past rating issues because they were not around at the time. And they are unlikely to find out. Mayor Gent and his Deputy Mayor Wethey endorsed the government’s appointment of a Crown Manager to deal with those historic issues under direct instructions from Wellington and have carefully steered councillors away from any involvement.
So, it is time that the real reasons were laid bare so we can all understand what is driving the defiant ratepayers .........(More)
NRC COUNCILLORS FACE DILEMMA 06.09.2017
Very soon the Councillors of the NRC will have to decide if they are going to appeal the judgment of Duffy J that invalidated five years of NRC rates.
The problems they face are:
Judgment is very tight
The judgment of Duffy J is very tight. That means it is argued very methodically and carefully. There is not much doubt that the NRC’s rates were seriously defective. The Rating Act lays down procedures in the rating process which must be followed if rates are to be lawful. Despite what has been suggested the requirements are quite straight forward and simple to understand. Compliance is not hard. Putting four instalment dates in a resolution is not beyond the expertise of most people, never mind the expertise that a local authority should have or can call upon.
Even David Goddard QC (counsel for the NRC) struggled to counter the non-compliance of the rates. He tried hair-splitting arguments like suggesting that because the rates has been declared to be unlawful in the interim judgment it did not mean that they were invalid. His main thrust was to persuade the Court to use its remedial discretion, which is available in judicial review applications, and decline to make any award against the NRC. He relied on the Armageddon argument. That is, any negative finding would result in disastrous financial and administrative consequences for the NRC and it ratepayers. Affidavits from costly experts were provided to support the scenario.
Duffy J systematically and clinically dismissed all of the NRC’s arguments and it is unlikely that she will be overturned on appeal.
NRC’s lack of awareness of legal outcomes
The NRC should not be surprised at the outcome. The Knowhow Guide to the Rating Act published by the Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM) is the “Bible” for setting rates in compliance with the law. It was legally reviewed by the NRC’s own solicitors and contains warnings about making simple errors in rating processes and the dire consequences that can result. (The Guide can be seen here. See page 6, the paragraph starting with “Rates are a tax…”)
The NRC should also have learned from the Kaipara Validation Act of 2013 that minor errors as well as major errors can result in rates being set aside. That Act contained 73 clauses in its Preamble setting out the defects in KDC rates and other matters from 2006 to 2012. The important message to be learned is that even one simple error could result in the rates being deemed to be unlawful. The NRC shares rates assessment notices and rates invoices with the KDC and should have been on high alert.
Poor legal advice
There has to be a question mark over the legal advice the NRC received. It is unclear whether the defective rates and penalty resolutions were vetted by the NRC’s lawyers but the fundamental errors should have been picked up. For five years they were missed.
The omission of the dates in the rates resolution was a glaring fundamental error that should never have happened. The unlawful delegation to the KDC of the assessing of NRC rates, the adding of penalties, and the recovery of NRC rates was simply inexcusable. The delegations, all set out in a formal Rating Services Agreement (presumably prepared by a lawyer), were blatantly unlawful. The law allowing such delegations was repealed in 2003.
Offers to settle declined
It is hard to comprehend why the NRC got involved in the dispute in the first case. The real issue was the punitive penalties charged on whistle-blowers’ rates that were withheld as a protest in the rate strike of 2012 (see post above). The NRC had two opportunities to resolve the matter fairly.
o It could have accepted payment of the rates tendered in 2014 and written off the penalties. The penalties on rates withheld by whistle-blowers were an unconscionable windfall and insignificant.
o It could have accepted Bruce Rogan’s offer for the NRC rates to be paid directly.
Instead the NRC threw its lot in with the KDC and unlawfully hounded the whistle-blowing ratepayers through their mortgagees and the District Court. It is important to note that the NRC argued in the District Court that the Rogans did not have the right to defend the action to recover rates arrears in that court unless they filed judicial review proceedings in the High Court. The Rogans and the MRRA therefore filed the judicial review proceedings at the instigation of the NRC. The rest is history.
Enormous cost of litigation
The only amount at stake in this whole dispute was the historic penalties on whistle-blowing ratepayers’ rates. What that amount was is unknown but it was certainly many, many times less than the NRC has spent on trying to recover the penalties.
Over the years with the threats to ratepayers, pressure on mortgagees and court actions, most ratepayers have understandably succumbed and settled with the KDC and NRC. For some years now there has been a staunch rump of about seven ratepayers who have legal actions against them stayed pending the outcome of the test case against Bruce and Heather Rogan. On the figures provided by the KDC the total amount outstanding in rates and penalties is approximately $195,000. That is for the NRC and the KDC. On a rough calculation I estimate that the amount owing to the NRC in rates and penalties is about $17,700 in total. A large part of that is made up of rates which the ratepayers tendered in 2014 and was returned. The negligible balance is the penalties, the pound of flesh that the NRC was so desperate to secure, clearly at any cost.
To recover that amount the NRC has shared legal costs with the KDC. Legal Eagle is seeking the amount of those costs under an official information request, but with lawyers’ costs (two top New Zealand law firms and a top QC and senior solicitor), expert witness’s costs and court costs, the final figure for the NRC alone will amount to several hundred thousand dollars. Costs have yet to be awarded by the Court but to cap it all the NRC may have to pay the legal costs of the ratepayers. Plus there is the contingent liability to refund rates paid, if legal action is taken by ratepayers.
The pursuit of ratepayers for those unconscionable penalties has been a disaster for the NRC. It must look back with regret to 2014 when it had the opportunity to settle on a fair and reasonable basis, and on a basis that was anticipated by parliament, and to put the whole acrimonious dispute behind it.
Continuing invalid rates
Despite the two judgments of Duffy J, and the clear warning that she has delivered to local authorities, the NRC rates for 2017/2018 are unlawful. Or, more accurately, the combined rates invoices of the KDC and NRC are non-compliant with the Rating Act, which means that the rates are not payable by ratepayers.
One of the issues relates to the payment of rates. A rates invoice is an invoice for the current instalment of rates. The ratepayer is obliged by the Rating Act to pay the instalment and if payment is made by the due date a penalty of 10 percent on the instalment is avoided.
However, where a ratepayer has arrears of rates the NRC denies the ratepayer the right to pay the instalment in accordance with the legislation. It has an “oldest debt first” policy. If a ratepayer with arrears pays the amount of the current instalment the amount is deducted from the oldest amount owed, and, as the current instalment has not been paid, an instalment penalty is then added.
This unlawful device is widely adopted by local authorities presumably to compel ratepayers to pay arrears. It is included on the advice of lawyers and Local Government New Zealand but is fundamentally unlawful.
Such a policy may be used in commercial arrangements but the setting, assessing and invoicing of rates are statutory procedures with strict requirements set out in the Rating Act. A local authority cannot override those requirements. The fact that the policy is widespread does not change the situation, it simply means that more local authorities have opened themselves up to legal challenge, with dire consequences if a challenge is successful.
One of the difficulties facing local authorities is that their legal advisers have advised for many years that the “oldest debt first” policy is compliant with the law. There is a huge reluctance for those adviser to now admit that they were wrong and perhaps face the prospect of being held responsible for many years of unlawful rates.
Who is to blame?
Who is to blame for the whole fiasco? Clearly responsibility lies with those who made the decisions to fritter away so much money on a futile legal foray that was doomed to disaster. With common sense and a fair approach the whole dispute could have been settled sensibly years ago.
There are two issues. When suing to recover a debt one has to be absolutely sure that the debt is due and payable. That means, in respect of rates, that one must be absolutely certain that the rates have been set, assessed and invoiced lawfully. If the NRC launched into court with over one hundred claims for rates arrears without having those rates thoroughly legally vetted for compliance, then it was grossly negligent.
If those rates were legally vetted then the NRC has to ask itself whether it is going to hold its legal advisers responsible for missing such elementary errors.
One of the problems with local authorities and legal advice is that no one in a local authority has any “skin in the game”. They are playing with other people’s money and stand to lose nothing personally and, as things stand at present, are going to be protected by central government from any liability for incompetence or negligence. It is also worth noting that litigation lawyers make their money out of long drawn out legal disputes, not out of quick settlements on a fair and sensible basis.
But the big issues is why the NRC got involved in the political decision to persecute whistle-blowing ratepayers of the KDC. It was those whistleblowing ratepayers who through their rate strike and legal submissions finally forced the KDC and the government to acknowledge that the KDC had acted illegally and incompetently for 6 years.
How did the NRC come to be party to the ruthless pursuit of unfair and draconian historic penalties levied on the withheld rates of KDC ratepayers??
The reality is that this was a political issue driven by the National government and the Department of internal Affairs which is responsible for the administration of local government. Local government in New Zealand skates on very thin ice both financially and in respect of legal compliance. The last thing the government needed was for a group of rebel ratepayers to challenge the fundamental legality of rates, the competence of a local authority, and raise concerns about the cracks in the façade of local government. Ruthless retrospective validation acts, and vindictive treatment of those daring to blow the whistle are the weapons of choice. No doubt it was expected that the rebels would have succumbed years ago under the sheer oppression of the government-driven action. But that did not happen.
The Kaipara commissioners, appointed and instructed by Wellington, turned down every approach for settlement, including the tender of the outstanding rates. Although the commissioners are gone, one of them Peter Winder was appointed on instructions from the Cabinet to continue as KDC Crown Manager to assume the complete responsibility for decision-making in respect of the outstanding KDC rating issues and the current litigation. In other words, all that KDC rating decisions in respect of this rating litigation have been made by the government through the commissioners and now through Peter Winder. And that is exactly where most of the responsibility for this legal and financial disaster lies.
WHO IS RUNNING THE SHIP? 3.09.2017
Graham Sibery’s role as chief executive of the KDC terminated on 1 September according to Mayor Gent. Sibery will be asked to help on an ad hoc basis “if needed”. That raises and important legal question: Who is now running the good ship Kaipara?
Under the Local Government Act (LGA) a local authority must have a chief executive. It cannot function legally without one. That becomes apparent when you look at the role the chief executive plays, as set out in section 42 of the LGA.
The KDC is therefore obliged to appoint an acting chief executive until a permanent one is appointed following a selection process.
Will it be a current member of KDC staff? Will ex acting chief executive Jill McPherson come back to claim that position? Or the role may suit Peter Winder when he gets stood down, again, as Crown Manager. Or, and this is a long shot, will Jack McKerchar, with his vast experience and unsullied record, return to the seat he kept warm for so many years?
GENT ON SIBERY RESIGNATION 31.08.2017
Paul Campbell of the Kaipara Lifestyler reports on Mayor Gent's statement in respect of the Sibery resignation:
A statement from Mayor Greg Gent said Mr Sibery “resigned on Friday 25 August 2017.
“The council wishes to acknowledge the contribution that Graham has made while in the CEO role and wishes him well for the future. His last day in the office is September 1, although he will be available ‘if needed’ after that date for a short period. A process will begin immediately to find a successor.”
Asked for further details, Mr Gent said that employment agreements remained a private matter under the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Privacy Act 1993.
Not much transparency there. We do not know if Sibery simply quit, whether a deal was done behind the scenes, or whether there will be a prolonged employment dispute. In the case of Jack McKerchar his departure in 2011 was flossied up for the public as a resignation for health reasons. It turned out that there was a contactual agreement for him to quit on the basis of $240,000 being paid.
The truth will come out sooner or later.The annual report is obliged to show all remuneration paid to staff but that will not come out until next year..
FRANK NEWMAN'S COMMENTS ON NRC RULING 31.08.2017
Frank Newman comments on the NRC judgment can be seen in Breakingviews here.
One may ask, why does it matter? It matters that council's not only act within the law, but that they act fairly and with a duty of care. Not so many years ago the NRC could have been considered the best managed of the four councils in Northland. To its credit then, it was sharply focused and had a culture of professionalism that put ratepayers first. Nowadays its focus seems to be to please everyone about everything, and exercises might over right.
(The Rogans) are exceptional people and without such righteous folk all-powerful ratepayer funded organisations like local governments would have become even more totalitarian as they already are. Heavens knows how much ratepayers money the NRC has spent on the matter - much more than $300k I suspect as true to form the Council hired expensive top-ranked (“Band 1”) legal counsel to put its case. The NRC should tell us how much their mistake has cost ratepayers and whether anyone will be held accountable, and save the trouble of the question having to be asked under the Official Information Act.
It's time our councillors at the NRC had a serious think about what their organisation has become, and where it is going. That's what they are elected to do.
WHAT’S THE SIBERY SETTLEMENT WORTH? 28.08.2018
Are ratepayers of the KDC going to have to fork out for another golden handshake that will make Jack McKerchar’s $240,000 pale into insignificance?
In 2011 the KDC paid chief executive McKerchar $240,000 to persuade him to leave and it looks as though history is repeating itself with the departure of current chief executive, Graham Sibery who “resigned” on Friday. (See post below)
McKerchar’s departure case in 2011 was described as a “resignation”. An infonews post reported it as follows:
Mayor Tiller advised the Council had accepted the resignation which has been tendered for personal and health reasons. “Jack has been with Council since 1993 and has achieved many significant outcomes for Council in that time” said Mayor Tiller. “We wish him well for the future and thank him for his loyal service to Council.”
Mr McKerchar noted he was not getting any younger and his health, affected by diabetes, was not as robust as he would like. “I want to increase my fitness and get the health benefits that will bring so I can lead an active and healthy life as I get older” said Mr McKerchar. “The stresses of the position mean I cannot devote the time I need for myself and this will give me an opportunity to do some things for myself, including supporting my family.”
The reality was rather different. The KDC had been desperate to get rid of McKerchar. Mayor Tiller and Deputy Mayor Geange had negotiated a secret settlement agreement with McKerchar whereby he was paid $240,000 with the provision that it was in full and final settlement of all claims between the parties.
The KDC refused to release details of the secret arrangement but after pressure from ratepayers and a LGOIMA request from Legal Eagle the KDC finally relented. (See Lifestyler report.)
In January 2013 the KDC sent three documents to legal Eagle, including the settlement agreement. They can be seen here.
In respect of Sibery’s departure no reason has been given so far by Mayor Gent. That does not look good. Normally in such situations the departure arrangements are agreed in advance and dressed up in suitable spin in a media statement, with the truth well-removed from public scrutiny. The lack of any gloss on the departure suggests that trouble lies ahead.
Sibery had nearly four years to run on his contract. He moved from Australia to take up the KDC position. There is no suggestion that he was dismissed following the normal and requisite procedure. These are all signs that KDC ratepayers are in for another substantial flogging. This time we may be looking at the $1 million dollars, plus all the legal costs if the matter goes to court.
At this stage we do not know what the situation is, the reason why Sibery has resigned, and why the Mayor is refusing to make any comment. Legal Eagle will apply for that information through a LGOINA request. What we do know is that the KDC has been left high and dry without a chief executive and with its breadth of problems and poor reputation it is going to struggle to find anyone of sufficient capability.
We also know that the Crown Manager Peter Winder, wearing his hat as commissioner, played a large role in the appointment of Sibery. The commissioners shocked everyone by gazumping the new council and appointing Sibery, with absolutely no local government experience, for a term of five years.
The appointment met with widespread criticism, which, of course, has now been vindicated.
KDC CHIEF EXECUTIVE QUITS 26.08.2017
Graham Sibery, the KDC chief executive has suddenly handed in his resignation.
According to a Northern Advocate report, he handed in his notice yesterday. It is understood that he is going to continue working for an undefined period until a replacement is found.
Mr Sibery was appointed by the KDC commissioners just over a year ago for a five year term. That appointment raised eyebrows in the community because many felt it was up to the newly elected council to appoint its own chief executive. In addition, a term of five years was considered far too restrictive for the incoming council.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of the appointment was the fact that Mr Sibery had absolutely no experience in local government. Whilst some may argue that a good track record in business is an important asset, there is no doubt that, given KDC’s poor track record in legal compliance, someone with broad experience in local government was an absolute necessity.
To add to the mystery of the sudden resignation, Mayor Gent is refusing to make any comment on the matter beyond the fact of resignation