Campaign of misinformation by ARC
'Campaign of misinformation' by ARC's ruling faction, says RAM
"The Auckland Regional Council's ruling faction is conducting a deliberate campaign of misinformation," says Grant Morgan, spokesperson for RAM - Residents Action Movement.
"Senior ARC spokespeople are publicly claiming only 41,000 non-payers, whereas an internal ARC report shows there are 97,500. Given that the ARC's spokespeople are well-educated, it seems highly unlikely that such wildly varying figures can be a mistake. This leaves the ARC with a massive credibility gap."
"The ARC is refusing to admit publicly that its latest threatening letter was sent without the authorisation of the ARC's elected councillors. Yet only a handful of councillors, at most, had seen its contents before release, let alone the whole council voting to authorise it. This shows an out-of-control council where senior bureaucrats call the shots in alliance with ARC chair Gwen Bull and a few cronies, acting without the authorisation or knowledge of the full council."
"The ARC is refusing to admit publicly that its phone lines were jammed with angry non-payers for days after they received the council's threatening letter on 12 February. Instead, ARC councillor Ian Bradley makes the misleading claim that the steam has gone out of the Rates Revolt. Bradley is a key member of the business faction who run the ARC."
"The ARC's threatening letter says the council will take action to recover the debt if payment isn't made within seven days. This infers that action will soon follow. In fact, no decision has been made by the ARC to take action against all 97,500 non-payers. The only decision taken is an ARC rating special committee recommendation that the full ARC authorise lawyers' letters to a tiny group of 'test case' non-payers. This committee's recommendation is still to be considered by the full ARC, which will only happen on 23 February. Under the steps laid out in the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002, no such test case will be anywhere near completion before this October's council elections, when the ARC's ruling faction will be rolled by RAM. The first move by a RAM-run ARC will be to stop all legal proceedings and reverse last year's rate rises."
"The ARC's threatening letter also says the council will seek payment of unpaid rates from mortgage holders. The letter implies this will happen shortly. In fact, under the law, the council cannot legally require mortgage holders to pay unpaid rates until after 1 November 2004, as an internal ARC report admits. Before then, in the October council elections, the ARC's business councillors will have been defeated by RAM."
"A reasonable person might believe that one misleading incident was accidental, perhaps even two. But not five incidents which involve the total number of ARC non-payers, the lack of proper authorisation for the ARC's threatening letter, the refusal to admit the ARC has been besieged by angry callers, the empty threat that action would follow if defaulters didn't pay up within seven days, and the deceptive illusion that the ARC could immediately involve mortgage holders."
"This whole pattern of misinformation leads RAM to believe that the ARC's business faction is conducting a propaganda war against the citizens of Auckland," said Grant Morgan.
"Gwen Bull and her political cronies are acting against the interests of the grassroots majority, and that's known by most people. That's why RAM is the fastest growing grassroots political coalition in town. Going on present trends, RAM will have 10,000 or more supporters by mid-year, leaving us poised to sweep away Bull & Co in the October ARC election. RAM will contest all ten seats held by Bull's business faction. It will be RAM versus Bull in the election, and RAM is well placed to win."
"RAM appreciates the support that non-payers are receiving from several dissenting ARC councillors. Sandra Coney, for instance, condemns the ARC's 'draconian and threatening letters' to non-payers. She says these letters contain 'exaggerated' statements. This supports RAM's view that the ARC's ruling faction is engaged in a deliberate campaign of misinformation," said Grant Morgan.
A fact backgrounder follows which gives more information.
REAL NUMBER OF NON-PAYERS Dissenting ARC councillor Mike Lee says the council "has a serious credibility problem with a huge discrepancy in the numbers of ratepayers officially deemed by our [ARC] officers as being 'in default' 41,000, as opposed to those deemed not to be in default but who still merit a threatening letter 98,000". ARC councillor Ian Bradley, a key member of Gwen Bull's ruling faction, told the media this month that there were only 40,000 non-payers. This is flatly contradicted by an internal ARC report. ARC director of operations, Tony Darby, reported to the ARC rating special committee on 4.2.04 on the number of rates non-payers. Darby said that 40,369 ratepayers had not paid any rates whatsoever, and another 57,128 had paid less than the full amount. That makes a total of just under 97,500 rate payers who've paid either none or only a part of their ARC rates. All had been sent ARC penalty notices, Darby said. 97,500 non-payers represents around one-quarter of Auckland's residential ratepayers. Never before has New Zealand seen a Rates Revolt on this scale. LACK OF COUNCILLORS' AUTHORISATION Complaining about the ARC's threatening letter received by non-payers on 12.2.04, dissenting ARC councillor Mike Lee wrote to ARC chair Gwen Bull two days later: "Why didn't we get to see the wording of this letter which... indicates [ARC] officers have exceeded their authority in using threats to contact property owners' mortgagees." Lee also criticised the "unauthorised" use of threatening language in the letters which "in effect has the ARC declaring war on its own citizens". Lee's testimony shows that the full ARC did not authorise the ARC's threatening letter. This was confirmed by ARC director of operations Tony Darby, who said on 16.2.04 that he "believed" just one councillor had seen the ARC's letter before it was sent out. Yet the ARC has 13 councillors. Darby said the letter had been written by "a team" about six months before. This is further evidence that the letter was penned by ARC bureaucrats without reference to the ARC's elected councillors. Yet, according to ARC acting revenue leader Aaron Matich, "the councillors" are the people who will be held accountable for the content of the ARC letter.
FLOOD OF ANGRY CALLS Harold, a RAM supporter from Mt Roskill, said he "couldn't get through" to the ARC on Monday 16.2.04 because "their switchboard was jammed with callers". Hugh, a RAM supporter from Castor Bay, said there was "a 12-minute wait to get through" on Friday 13.2.04. Another RAM supporter was informed by an ARC staffer that "lots" of irate callers had rung following receipt of the ARC letter. Other RAM supporters have related similar problems about getting through to the ARC because of jammed phone lines. ARC acting revenue leader Aaron Matich admitted on 16.2.04 that "we have had some ratepayers who have expressed concern" at the ARC letter. Matich then said the letters were being "reviewed". This is a diplomatic way of saying the ARC has been flooded with angry calls by non-payers, which has forced the council's top bureaucrats to revise their tactics. So, on 16.2.04, ARC director of operations Tony Darby said that "the letter doesn't say we're going to take any action". Darby's retreat from the letter's threat that the ARC would "take action to recover the debt" if payment wasn't received within seven days is a clear indication of the huge number of angry citizens bombarding the ARC head office with complaints about the letter. This is backed up by dissenting ARC councillor Mike Lee, who says the ARC's letter "has only resulted in making a lot of Aucklanders very angry".
INVOLVING THE MORTGAGE HOLDERS The
ARC's threatening letter tells rates non-payers: "If you
have a mortgage, we will notify your mortgagee of the
default and seek payment from them (any such payment is then
added to your mortgage)." When read in tandem with the
letter's demand for payment within seven days or else the
ARC "will have no option but to take action to recover the
debt", there is a clear implication that the ARC has the
power to immediately require mortgage holders to pay any
rate debts to the council and add this to the mortgages of
non-payers. However, a report written by ARC director of
operations, Tony Darby, that went to the ARC rating special
committee on 4.2.04 admitted that the council could only
force recovery of unpaid rates from a first mortgagee after
1 November 2004. This is spelt out in section 62(c) of the
Local Government (Rating) Act 2002. Clearly, the ARC's
implied threat to immediately involve mortgage holders was