Archive for category Dunedin Council

Power poles for the people

Well the report is out, the head has rolled, the fix is in. The saga of the rotting and dangerous power pole network operated by Dunedin City Council-owned Company Delta/ Aurora has come to an end.

Power Pole crashes in wind. Photo credit to Hamish McNeilly: Fairfax NZ LtdSTUFF

Power Pole crashes in wind. Photo credit to        Hamish McNeilly/ Fairfax NZ Ltd

Of note is that it was the Chairman of the company whose head rolled not the CEO, which is as clear an indication as you will get that this was not a management failing. The CEO was actually endorsed by the upper echelons as having done a good job in difficult circumstances. Which is spin- speak for: the CEO was just doing as he was ordered and had found the copy of the Board minutes to prove it. Damn his efficient filing system. Those minutes would have included a copy of the report highlighting the urgent need for a drastic increase in maintenance work on the power poles; that report was presented to the Board six years ago, in 2010; that was the year Dave Cull became Mayor. There was some splutter that the root of the problem was Delta/ Aurora having to contribute $29 million to the Stadium debt. But that payment would not have been necessary if Dave Cull had not committed a $24 million budget for his cycleway project; a budget that went into blowout phase from day one and, if it ever gets completed, will more likely nudge $100 million. If the cycleway does not get finished, then it will be left as a half-cocked disaster. Lose-lose.

The backstory is that, not long after first taking power, Mayor Cull initiated a total overhaul of the structure and personnel of Dunedin City Holdings (DCHL) the governing body overseeing all the Council’s commercial operations. The start of the process was the sudden decision to sell Citibus, one of the companies that DCHL governed. An urgent meeting of city councillors was called for a Friday afternoon; no agenda was advised, no pre-briefing papers offered. But Mr Cull obviously already had the numbers for his cause because, by the time they broke for Friday drinks, Citibus was on the market. After 100 years of history, the Mayor withdrew the City Council from all practical influence in the public transport service of the city in an informal afternoon meeting with not a hint of advance notice of the pros and cons for Councillors nor a consideration for public consultation with the owners – the ratepayers.

There were hints before the move that the City Council had a desire to take over the management of the whole public transport network from the Regional Council and ownership of Citibus may create a conflict of interest. Five years later there is not the slightest hint that Mr Cull was ever serious about that intent.

But that sale was only the start of the process. Soon after the whole Dunedin City Holdings board structure was overhauled. Heads rolled. Heads that had been very astute, in my opinion; certainly men that I would never try to bluff, nor would I ever dare turn up to a Board meeting and tell them I was prepared to compromise public safety to get the profits up. I would have walked out of such a meeting with a cardboard box full of my personal possessions.

At the time I was General Manager of Citibus. From a timing point of view, in terms of maximising company value, it was a very naive decision since Citibus was entering negotiations for a major contract. As part of the sale process, Citibus had to open its books to competitors who requested to go through due diligence for purchase. While the tender bid itself obviously would not be disclosed during due diligence, a lot of operational information had to be exposed. The tender worth over $7,000,000 over seven years was won by one of those companies that went through the due diligence process; they won the contract, from Citibus as the underbidder, by less than $1,000. Then they withdrew from the purchase process and brought their own fleet to town for the contract.

Mr Cull was very defensive about the sale in the press, claiming Citibus was  making huge losses.  In fact Citibus had no problem paying its bills and most certainly never required money from the ratepayers to top it up as was insinuated.

Citibus was structurally a very sound operation, well staffed, well resourced and providing a high standard of fleet, driving staff and maintenance staff. Citibus introduced a living wage policy for its drivers long before it became fashionable in these minimum wage industries. Every time we could muster up another million dollars we would invest further in new fleet and we made impressive progress in upgrading the fleet over the years.

The directors of Citibus set realistic levels of provision for depreciation to ensure that the standards of vehicle maintenance and replacement were never compromised. That level of depreciation meant that the books showed losses. But this was a ratepayer-owned company that set the bar high for all private bus companies to match and we focused on delivering high standards of service and safety to the ratepayers ahead of paper profits. But Mr Cull had a cycleway to build, in spite of the existing commitments to fund major projects like the stadium. He could not afford to risk a big rates increase so soon after being elected, so Citibus was sold after a single meeting on a Friday afternoon.

I can make no comment about Delta / Aurora management; I had absolutely no inside knowledge of their operation except that to note that during my time within the DCHL group of companies I never heard a bad word said about their CEO, Grady Cameron. I also know that the men who I faced in my Boardroom then were the same men that Grady faced in his.

But that all changed. The emperor emptied the seats around the Boardroom table and put his own people into them. He sought nationwide to bring his people from out of town. Sharp businesspeople. People who know how to squeeze a bit of extra profit out of a company when his worship might need it for the cycleway cockups and budget blowouts.

A few years later the power poles start falling over. Now we have to ring in the changes. But when you hear that ringing, Mr Cull, ask not for whom it tolls……

 

 

 

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Not a pot to piss in

That’s how gran would describe someone who had really reached the bottom rung of our civilised society. It also applies appropriately to the perception of a city that has lost its civilised ablution and waste disposal infrastructure.

I don’t like to claim to be prophetic but you, good loyal reader(s?) will recall my departing words last Thursday when I predicted Cave Dull  would cry ‘budget constraints’ when faced with issues of maintaining our water and waste infrastructure (the essence of our civilisation) while conveniently ignoring the costs of his pet cycling project. You can understand that, from his perspective, no-one (that I recall) ever got a knighthood for their contribution to waste and water infrastructure. Even Thomas Crapper is a mere commoner. Whereas the list of Knights of the Realm is filled with self-serving, tax-squandering bureaucratic twats and our Dave means to be placed high amongst their ranks.

So it is uncanny that in this Thursday’s ODT, front page, Dave says once more ‘we need to have a conversation.’  This time it is not the end of times for South Dunedin, but rather we need, apparently, to start making some serious cut backs in our spending and, you guessed it dear reader(s?) top of this list, at 70% of total cuts to be made, are the water and waste services, including essential maintenance. And the elephant on the list of cost savings is, again you guessed so well done,….. the cycleway project. Not a mention whether all that cost earmarked for the grand cycleway is still absolutely essential.

So what is still simmering away in the background on the great cycleway project? To save you trolling through DCC archives, let me clarify that there are in fact thirty-seven (37) sub routes identified in the great Dunedin cycleway scheme, just have a look at this link. The priority #1, you will recall, was the South Dunedin cycleway network which contained six sub routes. And, if you want a laugh, just have a look at the “Lower cost excl. contingencies” column. Someone popped in, just as the thin edge of a fat wedge, that this 25 km project could, without unforeseen contingencies, theoretically cost $497,000. We expect a few unexpecteds, of course. But at the halfway mark of 12 kilometres the cost was up to $5.5 million dollars. As Peter Sellars would have said, that’s an awful lot of pies. So then they stopped to start the fix up of all the cock-ups, and the cost has gone over the six million dollar mark. That’s an awful lot of contingencies. Now they are halfway along the Dunedin to Port Chalmers route with no idea how to get the job finished. They suddenly realised there is no easy way to put a cycleway along the second half of the route. Yes it might have been a good idea to work that out before they did another half-cocked job, but half-cocked jobs seems to be our DIY Mayor’s modus operandi. He might say we are looking in hindsight, we might ask why he did not use a little foresight. Can you even imagine what the “contingency” cost will now be to get from halfway to Port Chalmers to all the way to Port Chalmers? But following the six South Dunedin routes, only partially completed and still waiting to be fixed up along Portobello road, and the four harbour circuit routes, also still to be finished, there still remain on the plan:

8 x Northern city routes,

6 x Hills routes

3 x Town belt routes

6 x Dunedin – Mosgiel routes including Dunedin to airport and Dunedin to Outram

1 x Dunedin to Central Otago and Southland route
Dunedin city cycle network

I wouldn’t have thought there would be much cost in a Town Belt cycle network, just a sign saying “road closed to all cars.” Put a 1.5 metre cycle track right through the Town Belt and there is no room left for a car width.

The original “budget” (stop snickering you at the back), was $27 million. Council has already put us on notice that the real cost may be closer to $100,000,000. That’s a hundred million dolleroes in case your eyes watered with all the zeroes. Who will ever forget Dave Cull’s statement (ODT Letters to Editor response, 7-11-15) that a 3-400% cost increase was NOT a budget blowout, it just means that the project would cost three to four times more than he originally thought. That sort of sums up that this project is happening, come hell or high water (but that is a sore point with him building a cycle network over the South Dunedin area which he also claims will soon re-claimed by the rising water table).

And so when Dave Cull draws up his hit list of projects that may be deferred or abandoned in order to meet the budget, it is the urgent maintenance on the water and waste pipes of the city that tops that list. The city plumbing, he presumes, is just a whimsy. What, in his mind, is so strategically critical that it is a non-negotiable item on the city’s plans is that we can in future ensure that cyclists have a separate lane up to the top of every bloody hill in Dunedin as they return home on a cold, blustery winter’s evening after a hard day’s toil. That and that they can cycle to the airport to catch their flight.

So there it is; keep voting in the same Council, dominated by the Greater Dunedin Party (ironically the GDP) of Cull, McTavish etc, and this cycle project will continue to suck the money from essential city infrastructure. We may, in twenty years of this policy, become “the city of cycles” if that is their objective, but we will also be a city smaller than Invercargill and  our water and waste pipe system will be as crippled as was Christchurch’s after the quake; but for Dunedin there will be no emergency Government bail out for what was nothing other than Council neglect.

Dunedin campaign_1 Dunedin campaign_2

 

 

 

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The seat of civilisation

So what is it that absolutely defines civilisation? That tipping point when our species moves from uncouth barbarian to civilised being? Let me jump, with no further ado, to the answer: it is plumbing.

I remember making that decision back in 1978 while watching what was the original reality TV show when twelve couples and three children were placed in a re-created iron age village. These original Greenies were frothing with romanticised anticipation of the opportunity to demonstrate that man and the planet were so much healthier back in the pre-industrial ages and life itself so much more satisfying.

It was hilarious. One of the first tasks, being practical people, was to arrange for their communal latrine. There is nothing more ‘back to nature‘ than taking logadvantage of an already fallen log as the communal lavvy seat and digging a trench beside it for the containment of the communal waste. Job done, now for a well deserved communal dinner. They spotted a hen and thought that will do nicely. I would have kept it for the eggs but what do I know about sustainability, I bow to the wisdom of the village earth mother who they elected (I forgot, they did that just before designing the ablutions block). Eventually, after an extraordinarily clumsy hen-butchering effort during which, I suspect, the hen decided to pretend to be dead just to get it all over with, they had their chicken dinner. And so to bed for the first self-satisfied night (not intended as a euphemism, but may well be)  in their communal bed-hut.

And, in the middle of the night, the chook got her revenge. Oh dear, you have to be so careful with chook; it can be dodgy if not butchered and cooked correctly and this chook was a long, long way from being undodgy. It was probably still technically alive when they ate it. So as their second mistake dawned on them (their first mistake was the design of the latrine, but more of that later) it became clear why such romanticists were, forever after, referred to as the greens; nothing to do with the colour of grass, everything to do with the colour of the faces of this lot as they stumbled barefooted in their hemp undies to where the fallen tree lay and then fought like primal beasts for the spot with the least bark upon which to place their soft white bums while they communally sprayed arse-gravy into a far-too-shallow trench.

And so morning dawned on these twenty seven very unwell greenies. Their first day in the iron age now seemed as romantic as a newly married couple waking with a stinking hangover and a squashed turd in the bed. And they just realised they would no longer have eggs for breakfast. It all went downhill from there, apart from the trench filled with arse gravy which just sat there attracting flies and awaiting their return.

And so, in spite of the subsequent impact of the internet into our lives, my conviction remains unwaveringly that the tipping point between civilisation and barbarism is with our ability to instantly turn a pile of poo into a shiny white bowl of clean, clear water with a hint of citrus. Thomas Crapper was, to my mind, the founding father of our civilisation.

I raise this now because it is our local body election year and the time for us to elect our village leader upon whom we will depend to ensure our latrines are well plumbed and that we are not served dodgy chicken. So first let us reflect on our current village earth elder, Dave Cull. What did we know of him when we elected him? Well he was a TV presenter and a published author on all things DIY. Handy about the house. Knows a few things about pipes and drains, the fundamentals of our civilisation. Perfect. The sort of good practical bloke to whom you can give a miner’s hat with torch and leave him to happily wander through our sewers and mud ponds to ensure all is well. 

FloodThen came the big flood of June 2015. What happened? Even I know that floods occur when drainage inflow exceeds the outflow. The official response came quickly. A prophetic mayoral announcement in the local newspaper, headlined, “End game for South Dunedin” or something similarly dramatic, put the blame squarely on mother nature and her annoyance with our failure to remain in the Iron Age where we belonged. “The seas are rising” said the wise old one, “we are being punished for offending Gaia with our toxic fumes. We will have to have a conversation about abandoning South Dunedin, either that or find a few virgins to sacrifice”. A year later after many hundreds of paid hours of ‘investigation’ we find that the cause was, as the common man said at the time, the failure of Council staff to sweep up the autumn leaves off the streets, check the pumps and clean out the mud tanks before the rains came.

The Otago harbour tide gauge has shown an average annual rise over the past one hundred years of 1.28 millimetres. The current level is almost the same as it was forty years ago. The problem is confirmed as being that the mud tanks, put in after we reclaimed the harbour shallows for housing, were simply too full of mud. They need regular cleaning out. In spite of having a DIY expert as Mayor, this did not happen. Under questioning from Radio NZ the mayor spluttered that it wasn’t his fault, the system was designed to cope with a one in fifty year flood and this flood occurred within the fifty years. Excuse moi?? The last South Dunedin flood was ten years ago so did our DIY mayor think he had another thirty nine years before having a bit of a look at them?

Well just for the record, long before we could ever be accused of excessive carbon emissions, Dunedin experienced regular major floods that did not have anything to do with any fifty year deal with mother nature. In the first century of our city’s history it was North Dunedin that suffered the wrath of the gods of flooding. Major floods, with the Leith River bursting its banks, occurred in: February 1868, January 1870, February 1877, November 1883, December 1911, August 1913, April 1923, March 1929, November 1933, April 1944, September 1946, February 1955.

But there were no Mayoral proclamations during that century saying ‘we need to have a conversation about the end game for North Dunedin”. The North Dunedin flood protection just got better and better as experience was built up. In the late 1950’s the water channel from George Street to Great King Street was straightened with a high velocity concrete channel. Boulder traps were built upstream of George Street and in the late 1960’s  a larger boulder trap built upstream of the Malvern Street bridge. North Dunedin is now safe and happy.

So South Dunedin just needs a basic programme of sweeping up leaves before they wash into drains, clearing out the tanks before each rainy season and making sure the pumps in the pumping station are working. It may even require a bit of channeling work like the Leith did or more sea-wall construction. Then, Dave, I really do not think we are needing to ‘have that conversation about the end of days’.

But what we really need is a total review of Council priorities (which means who we choose on the upcoming village earth-mother elections). For the South Dunedin mud tank problem is just the start of our city plumbing issues. If our mud tanks were neglected because they are out of sight out of mind, when was the last time the mayor went for a wander through our sewers? The job we elected him for. The preservation of the very basis of our civilisation. And what is the state of the water pipes to feed our showers or fill our baths. Close behind the essential need to have a civilised crap, is the need to have a nice hot bath or refreshing shower on demand. It is for good reason that we have the age-old maxim, cleanliness is next to godliness.

Truth is, the plumbing of our city is old, very old. Some sections of piping are an ancient hundred years old when clay pipes may not have been as robust as today’s standards and our population was half what it is today. Would the Dave Cull that we thought we knew from TV’s Home Front tolerate that? As author of such riveting reads as “NZ backyard DIY Projects” and “Kitchen Essentials“,  our plumbing should have been a DIY job right up his alley, so to speak. Condition critical. Priority #1. But it is not. In this city, under this mayor, priority #1 is that a couple of dozen middle-aged men can park their SUV’s in South Dunedin on a Sunday morning, put a black pudding down the front of their Lycra’s and pedal off on one of the city-wide routes that will take them to the cafe of their choice for a latte and slice of cheesecake. ‘Yoghurt not cream thank you, my body is a temple’.

We are now being fed alerts from Council that the budgeted $20-30 million earmarked for the cycleways could well head northwards to $100 million and this money “will be found” quote/unquote. And the city plumbing can wait a few years until we have completed our priority of building end to end cycleways through the city.

What we need to do is take Dave Cull and his Council, feed them some dodgy chicken and make them spend the night sitting bare-arsed on a log in the dark. That should re-set their priorities for a civilised society in Dunedin.

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There’s nothing like a cock fight

 

Two roosters in the henhouse is always going to provide a bit of pre Christmas entertainment. And so it was with the last Dunedin City Council meeting for 2015. A fitting finale to an awful lot of clucking, puffing and ‘sky is falling’ from this Council this year. The issue on the table this time was the drafting of the Council’s new Procurement Procedures Manual. Cr Vandervis was persistently requesting assurance that the Manual would prevent in future the sort of skullduggery from Council Managers that he had experienced as a former contracted supplier to the Council; that is, specifically, the need to ‘cosy up’ to the manager and slip him/her a back-hander to get a contract. Cr Vandervis was seeking assurance from the presenter of the draft document that a procurement manager who would be put in place to provide accountability for the actions of individual managers who were putting tenders out to contract. He wanted a timeline for this appointment and he was refusing to be fobbed off by the bureaucrat-speak with which he was being fobbed off.

That was the signal of a cock fight challenge for the mayor (with a small m) who halted proceedings while he gathered himself for the response and was immediately comforted by a couple of black hens who clearly steeled him for his bout. Suitably prepared he then indignantly announced that Cr Vandervis could not make such allegations in council without evidence. The mayor’s indignation might have had a tad more substance had it not been that a Council Manager had been caught last year selling off, and pocketing the proceeds of, 150 odd cars from the Council fleet over a long number of years. A scandal that saw the manager involved take his own life and 5 council staff including three senior managers resign for failure in their duties of diligence and also saw the Council pay $1.5m for the forensic audit of the scandal. An impartial observer would think that Cr Vandervis had substantial cause to put the structure of the Procurement Procedures Manual under the microscope in respect to its ability to address historical problems in avoiding Council staff impropriety.

Cr Vandervis then reminded the mayor that he had presented the evidence, privately to him directly and to two different Council CEO’s, of his own personal experience in paying a back-hander to a Council manager in the past to win a council contract. Since this would also involve Cr Vandervis as a party to an illegal action, one would assume it is not an allegation he would make lightly.

Silkie bantom rooster

Silkie bantam rooster

At this suggestion that he had prior knowledge and evidence of the allegation, the little bantam mayor leaped up with puffed feathers and ordered Cr Vandervis from the meeting (again). And followed it up with the dramatic “you, sir, are a liar” which he must have picked up from a re-run of an old, B grade black&white movie.

 

 

Aseel fighting cock

Aseel fighting cock

Cr Vandervis purposefully gathered his papers and walked from the meeting with a self-assured strut that left the hens, who were all watching proceedings furtively, with no doubt that he would return to fight another day. The mayor observed the departure with a very subdued and unconvincing crowing; even he could see the cock-fight was far from over.

But the entertainment value aside, once again the mayor demonstrated deplorable chairmanship skills in failing to manage an outspoken member of Council. Once again he abused his authority by resorting to evicting Cr Vandervis from the meeting of elected Councillors, thereby denying the rights of those ratepayers who elected Cr Vandervis to represent their views. This was little more than an admission that he could not match Cr Vandervis in a debating chamber and made the mayor look very weak.

It was not really a difficult situation for an experienced Chairman. The mayor needed only to state that proposing and discussing such verbal allegations as fraud in a public forum would put the Councillor and the Council at risk of legal consequences and request that Cr Vandervis should put his allegation formally, in writing, to the Chief Executive, along with his evidence, to be properly investigated. The mayor could then assure the Councillor that once documented in Council minutes there is a paper trail for the process now that will prevent any further ‘I said/he said’ allegations on the issue raised.

This leaping to his little bantam feet and dramatically evicting an elected Councillor from the Council debating chamber really has to stop.

 

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Plant a tree, man

“Cocky, Cocky, the most exciting news…” spluttered Henny

“Tell me?” responded Cocky, eyes wide with anticipation.

“Its official! its from the most impeccable source; the Parliamentary Environment Commissioner’s Report no less. They have confirmed our astute predictions and it’s better than we could have ever hoped.” Henny was simply beside herself with excitement.

“What did they say?” Cocky leapt up and down on his perch with anticipation.

“Global warming is here to stay! South Dunedin is doomed, just as we predicted; over 2,600 homes, 116 businesses and 35 kilometres of road. Isn’t that simply the most wonderful news? Oh Cocky, I am so so excited I think I have just laid an egg, probably a double-yolker.” 

“So what do you think we do now Hen?

“Oh we will have so much to do Cocky it is hard to know where to start. Imagine it ! Imagine the meetings; the new committees set up; the new chairmanships allocated; all the reports, the consents hearings, the amendments to the District Plan. Just imagine Cocky!”

Yes another “official report” designed to spook the population about the impending doom for the planet has been produced by who knows who at who knows what cost. And, on cue, our City Council henhouse is all full of feathers, dust and squawking as announced on the front page of the ODT on 20 November with the mayor seeking government emergency handouts for a disaster that has not happened.

So is global warming happening? Of course it is; the climate is in its natural recovery phase from the last ice age. It would be really scary if the climate stopped changing because that would be unnatural. The question to ask is, is this current climate trend unusual? is it unnatural?

Temperature Trends

Global temperature 450,000BC to 2013

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 10.01.40 PM

Global mean temperature 1998 to 2013

The chart on the left trending global temperature trends over the past 425,000 years showing the natural cycle of ice ages and inter glacial periods. Clearly we are, today, in a predictable inter-glacial warming period. We are at the same level the planet was 410,000 years ago and again 240,000 years ago. But we but still well below the  earth’s temperature 340,000 years ago and again 135,000 years ago. As far as we know, there were no combustion engines back then.

And if we focus on the most recent 15 years, there is no apparent concern that anything is any different from previous centuries.

The question that we need to address is whether the analysis of these actual global temperature trends should give us any concern that areas of our city are on the brink of being inundated. Is it going to get significantly warmer in coming decades or will the little line drop back down as it has before?

The question is will the trend move upwards towards a burnt out planet or back towards our next ice age over the next couple of thousand years?

The answer is, quite simply, we don’t know. Just like we don’t know about life after death even though there are many religion merchants who preach the doomsday message and try to persuade us that they do have the exclusive agency and, for the very reasonable price of a 10% wage tithe, they can sell us an eternal home in paradise. But for a more generous bequest you can get an upgrade, its all location, location, location in paradise. So we can each place our bets wherever we choose, and for whatever motives, but nature will do what nature does; without consultation with us humans.

That is not to say we should carry on clearing the forests and jungles, polluting the air and fouling the waterways. That is just the global extension of people living in domestic squalor; an unhealthy concrete jungle with open sewers. The original greenies started off as being well meaning, relatively harmless, hippies; but that movement just became corporatised by the GreenPeace Organisation with its doomsday marketing strategy and its political ambitions for global economic and social policy control  through its Green Party division? Old school hippies are now replaced by High Street hipsters buying into the GreenPeace branding, merchandising and social tribalism.

The GreenPeace Geniuses don’t see the hypocrisy of flying all around the globe to knock on our doors to tell us that if we don’t reduce our carbon footprint the planet will die. They don’t see the irony of explaining their wind-power alternative for energy production on i-pads and smartphones that leave behind the legacy of lakes of toxic waste from the extraction of rare earth minerals required for the making of those very i-phones, i-pads and for the magnets required to make the wind generators work.

People just get overwhelmed with a constant, illogical squawking about the hopelessness of our situation and. as a result, the positive message of we humans having a bit of a clean up of our habitat and planting a few trees just gets missed. There are still some very good, positive ecologically minded citizens in our communities, grown-up hippies they may be, but the GreenPeace Corporation simply bulldozes over the top of them with their doomsday message, an age-old trick for making a buck without doing anything of use. And in our panic we agree to committing monthly direct debit contributions to their crusade and to tick a vote for their political division.

“Do you think we should sweep up the autumn leaves in South Dunedin a bit earlier and more frequently next year Hen?”

“What on earth for Cocky?”

“Well, to reduce the risk of more flooding, Hen.”

Are you serious, Cocky? How can people take global warming seriously if we interfere with nature by sweeping up leaves? Leaves are part of nature; the fall of leaves is a natural cycle. We cannot interfere. We must reinforce to the fools that flooding is the result of our car emissions. Cycling is the only alternative. Cycleways are essential. How many times do I have to repeat this before you get it into your silly little cocky brain? 

“But what if the water level does not actually rise above ground level in South Dunedin while we are still on Council Hen?”

“Precisely Cocky, that is why we must not hinder the natural process by sweeping up leaves, nature’s little autumn blanket. One more decent sized flood and we will have an open cheque-book for cycleways.”

And so we just get overwhelmed by the hopelessness and we keep paying the money. But why not start with planting a tree or three? Start a movement. Maybe we cannot prevent Indonesia cutting and burning their forests, but we can easily double or treble the number of trees growing here. Plenty of land available for that. And if New Zealand can do it how many other countries would follow suit to replace the destruction in Indonesia and the Amazon regions?

And we cannot force people out of cars and onto bicycles, but we can promote a trend of walking a bit more. I recently decided to give up on the frustration of driving around and around a block to park my car within a few short paces of my destination. Now I deliberately stop about half a kilometre or more away and spend five or ten minutes walking to my destination. The parking cost is either free or cheap; the exercise is absolutely the most beneficial thing I can do for my health and general well-being; I see many very interesting things along the way that I used to miss; I meet up with people whom I haven’t seen in a while; and I reduce my fuel consumption and carbon emissions by about 10%. A minimal amount of time management has quickly become an enjoyable pattern that I just would never go back from. Imagine that simple practice getting some social-media global traction?

The GreenPeace doomsday industry is not part of the solution. They peddle the same snake oil as so many religions. We just need to deal with the challenges. The solutions are there and life is beautiful. Plant a tree, take a walk; and stop your cow shitting in the creek. Its not socket rinse, man.

 

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its only money

“Just slip it in when no-one is watching.” purred Henny.

“Do you  really think no one will notice a four hundred percent increase in the cost of your cycleway?” queried Cocky.

“Our cycleway, Cocky, ours. And our legacy for generations to come, always remember that during the unpleasantness ahead.”

“Of course Henny, of course you are right as always; its just….. well.. it is an awful lot of money.”

Listen to me. We will put it in the agenda for the meeting during the rugby world cup finals and most people will be too distracted to give it too much attention.  There will be the odd stirrer but if we just present the facts honestly then they will quieten down. Trust me, Cocky I have studied these people.

“So, we just say, ‘sorry but there will be a four hundred percent budget blowout’?”

“No, no no, no, you silly thing……..

firstly we soften it to a three to four hundred percent increase. Have you got that?”

Cocky nodded sheepishly.

“Then we tell them it is because they have changed the parameters of the project. We are simply responding to their feedback, as a truly democratic council. Yes?”

“Yes” Cocky whispered

“And finally we say it is not an actual increase yet, but we are just alerting them that if they want us to proceed to the standards they demand, then this is what it will cost; but only if that budget is approved; sometime in the future. And that, little Cocky, is what these rugby people would call a slam dunk.”

“So the project may not actually proceed then?” asked Cocky

“Of course it will proceed; it is already proceeding. It is only necessary to tell them about the increase in advance so they cannot complain afterwards. But they don’t vote on the budgets, we do. And the money will follow the project as night follows day; because to stop would be to admit we should not have started and none of the councillors will admit to that. Please just trust me, Cocky.”

And so it came to pass. The notice of the budget blowout was presented to the Council Infrastructure and Networks Committee by Ruth Stokes, DCC General Manager of Infrastructure and Networks on the Thursday before the All Blacks’ semi final  with South Africa. It was duly noted by the Committee and the decision made to proceed with the more expensive designs. Whether further funds would be made available would be voted on in coming years, according to Mrs Stokes.

And when the Mayor was duly challenged through the press, he responded (letters to the Editor ODT Sat 7 Nov) that this was not a 3-400% budget blowout, it was simply that the project would cost 3 to 4 times more than they originally thought.

That is a response of which George Bush would be proud. If there is a difference between a blowout of 3-400% and an increase in cost of 3 to 4 times, then it lives only in the marshlands of a muddled mayoral mind.

To summarise: stage 1 of the project for South Dunedin was budgeted at $4.5 million for 25 km of cycleway. By the time it got to 12 kms the cost had reached $5.5 million. So they had to stop and have a think about how to spin that one. Then, because what they did do was such a cock-up, much of it still had to be dismantled and patched up. The transport manager responsible for the logistics of the roll-out suddenly resigned while on a three month holiday in Europe, sacrificial goat is a delicacy in Europe, and he has been replaced by someone from the NZTA, which organisation also appears hellbent on putting cycleways through state highways. Normally the buck stops with the GM, but the man is always wrong and Ruth Stokes, GM infrastructure and networks, lives to fight another day.

And the reason that the original budget of $24 million will rapidly head northwards to $100,000,000 and beyond, is officially noted in the council minutes as being that we, the ratepayers, have demanded the more expensive option. We the ratepayers are therefore responsible for the budget realignment with the new parameters.

Mayor Cull is now saying, “All of our original designs and budgets were based on being total cock-ups, just like the South Dunedin sector. But now you people are demanding the non-cock-up version! Well why didn’t you say so in the first place? But if you are now going to exercise your democratic rights to change the rules and demand a ‘non cock-up’ design, well then my rate-paying friends, that is going to cost you; and cost you big-time. Democracy does not come cheap you know. Let this be a lesson to you all.

But, at the same time, may I nonetheless acknowledge your courage in demanding that the Sir David Cull Cycleway is internationally applauded as the finest example of an urban cycleway on the planet. And we will certainly need this cycleway as, with the interest bill on our projected Council deficit, half of you won’t be able to afford to run a car in ten years time.

Then this cycleway will be seen as truly visionary. Fifty thousand brave citizens cheerfully cycling through rain, sleet and a brisk sou-sou-easterly, up misty hill and down frosty vale,  as I pontificate with self-satisfied smugness, that I am leading the good fight against pollution in our fair city. You, ruddy of cheek and riddled with pneumonia, will be doing this because nothing short of the finest non-cock-up cycleway on the planet is acceptable to you. $100 million? $200 million?  Who cares? It is just money. A vision such as ours should not be sullied by talk of money.

And then, all going according to plan, I, David Charles Cull, will bend my knee to Her Majesty’s sword and receive the appropriate royal recognition for my vision and leadership.”

And I for one will look forward to that. I hear the Rt. Hon. Sir Jerry has a rather tidy backhand.

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The village within

I have meandered through the Otago University campus a couple of times recently; it is the same but different to the campus I attended a lifetime or two ago. But I find it a very happy experience. The feeling I have of wandering around the university today must be similar to the feeling that people find when they return to their hometown to find it has progressed positively while still retaining the essence and familiarity of a hometown.

The Otago University campus has a wonderful muti-generational atmosphere. It blends dignified respect for its heritage buildings with youthful boldness in its modern architecture; adapted villas sit just along the pathway from purpose-built laboratories;  stone and cement infrastructure is softened by the grassed terraces that embrace the banks of the babbling Leith river. There is a positive vibe and the buildings and grounds are beautifully maintained.

All very well to have  a beautiful campus, but does it do the job? is it a great educator? The revised 25th edition of the World list of Universities and Higher Education facilities lists 16,000 such institutions in 180 countries. But for truly international assessment standards purposes, the QS TopUniversity lists 4284 Universities. The rankings are based on surveys of 76,000 academics and 44,000 employers. According to the QS 2015 rankings Otago University, at #173, sits comfortably within the top 5% of the QS TopUniversities list. Now that is not in the top 1% of ivy leagues like Harvard or Princeton, or the Royal and Ancients of Oxford and Cambridge, but it is still in the same academic conversations as Dartmouth or Michigan State Universities in USA or University of Bath in the Uk, Stockholm University, the University of Bern and the University of Barcelona. Given our geographic isolation from the major academic resources of the planet, that is an achievement. Within that overall score Otago ranks a very impressive #8 in the world for dentistry sitting between Kings College of London at 7 and Harvard at 9 .

Beyond that, Otago is acknowledged as New Zealand’s leading research university, often featuring on the international news for the quality of its achievements. As a born and bred Dunedin resident I have to say I am more than happy with that status and, in fact, quite proud of the efforts of those who have administered the University over the decades. They have done great credit to the City’s founders who had the foresight to establish New Zealand’s first university here in Dunedin.

The University is self managed and regulated. They have around 4,000 staff, just over half of who are ‘general’ staff managing the general operations, the bureaucracy, the buildings and property; they even have their own security staff. This is indeed a village within, containing around 20% of Dunedin’s population. The village is overseen by a Council of 18 including the Chancellor. Members are a 50/50 mixture of appointments and elected representatives. Three are elected by academic staff, one by general staff, two by the students and three by the Court of Convocation (graduates of Otago University). The other 9 are appointments made by the Ministry, the City Council, the University on consultation with the central organisation of employers and the central organisation of workers; and the university appoints its Chancellor and Vice Chancellor.

It sounds at first like a ‘jobs for the boys’ arrangement, but when you walk through the campus and examine the University’s academic status, what can you say but ‘it works’.

What would Dunedin be without this university? Much the poorer we would have to concede. Possibly to say we would be nationally and internationally irrelevant would not be too harsh. Why is it then that this village within is globally so successful yet the city without just muddles along?

Start at the top. It always starts at the top. Ask any political party, any business, any organisation at all. I would think that the University Council holds significantly more status than the Dunedin City Council. The Vice Chancellor and Chancellor positions are more respected in our community than the mayor and deputy mayor of the City Council. And that just should not be the case. People do not fire off letters to the editor challenging the intelligence, integrity or professionalism of the Chancellor of the University, but the current Mayor’s performance, or lack of, is a regular subject in those columns. People just do not seem to respect that office any more.

At the local election, everyone has a given number of boxes to tick; most voters have absolutely no idea whether the person they tick is the best qualified to do the job, or even qualified at all. They may recognise or even know one or two candidates at some level, but they have to tick fifteen names. Well they don’t have to tick them all but it is their democratic right and duty. So if truth be known, if you vaguely recognise a name, or think it is familiar from somewhere, then it often just gets a tick. This is totally random democracy. Anyone reviewing that system of democracy would conclude it is doomed to fail. And, to be frank, fail it does.

If we took the lead from the University and had a system that ensured a balanced council representing the interests of all key groups and a balance of skill sets and experience then we might have a council made up of:

  • one Councillor appointed by the members of the Otago manufacturers association;
  • one appointed by the members of the Otago retailers association;
  • two appointed by the members of the combined workers’ representative organisations of Dunedin;
  • one appointed by the combined senior citizens associations;
  • one appointed by the University of Otago;
  • one appointed by each of the combined secondary and primary school teacher/parents associations;
  • one appointed by the emergency relief organisations of Dunedin and
  • one elected by residents of each of five districts in Dunedin: West Dunedin, South Dunedin, North Dunedin, East Dunedin and Rural.
  • Then we would separately elect the Mayor, a largely honorary, figurehead position, to chair the Council meetings and host visiting dignitaries. Council would appoint their own deputy chair.

At least then we would be electing / appointing people who truly represent the critical sectors of our community who provide the skill sets that are needed to drive a city forward. Its got to beat the random ticking and electing of people about whose administrative skills we know little or nothing..

At least we probably would not have a Council forgetting to sweep up the autumn leaves before the winter rains washes them into the drains, causing flooding, and then having a Mayor running around town squawking ‘the end is nigh, the end is nigh; oh woe is us the end is nigh’.

 

 

 

 

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