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Sunday Star Times "covert enquiries" questioned

Media release, July 31 2008

Motives for Sunday Star Times "covert enquiries" questioned by North Shore Mayor

North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams is questioning the motives behind Sunday Star Times reporter's enquiries regarding the North Shore Mayor, in both North Shore and Auckland circles, and wonders what is the purpose of such enquiries.

"I was alerted to these "covert enquiries" by a number of other senior local body politicians around the Auckland region who contacted me advising that the Sunday Star Times had approached them looking for comment about my Mayoralty and how I run North Shore City" says Mayor Williams.

"Each of these leading regional politicians have been embarrassed and concerned that disgruntled factions within the North Shore are trying to
undermine me, and my council, by engaging the Sunday Star Times (SST) to write "stories" about trivial matters involving North Shore City Council."

"The reporter has asked the most ridiculous questions such as why new leather couches were bought for the North Shore City Councillors' lounge on my instruction (replacing old worn couches) and also why a pohutukawa painting was bought for the same Councillor lounge. My answers to both are detailed in my reply to SST Reporter below."

Other questions canvassed by the SST reporter include how the North Shore Mayor deals with various agencies across the Auckland region including ARTA - the Auckland Regional Transport Authority.

" I am black and white on dealing with what I see as at times obstructive bureaucrats and any unhelpful agencies that come to my Council. I am a pro-active Mayor who wants to see results and action. If they come with facts and figures that can be substantiated then I'm more than happy to roll out the red carpet and welcome them. However if, as happened at the beginning of this year, they front up to my Council and advise they plan to close off the Esmonde Road bus lane and that all bus services from Takapuna to the Auckland CBD will have to queue in car lanes and go via a Tiki Tour of the Akoranga Station adding unnecessary time delays to bus journeys, then I will put them well and truly in their place. I represent the people of North Shore and the best interests of my citizens...and in this case I sent the people concerned packing and told them the Esmonde Road bus lane and dedicated bus onramp to the motorway would not be removed. Now six months down the track my judgement has proved correct and bus patronage continues to increase rapidly".

"As Mayor of the 4th largest city in New Zealand I am required to make hard decisions on a daily basis, always weighing up the pros and cons of every situation. I work long hours for the city that I am very proud of...I am told my workload is at least three times greater than my predecessor because of the level of involvement I have with my North Shore community."

"Yes Minister" type answers from bureaucrats do not wash with me and I will always make sure that decisions are made based on full and detailed analysis. And I will tell our officers if the information is insufficient or does not fairly and accurately assess the situation. They know by now not to try to pull the wool over my eyes" says Mayor Williams.

" We are talking about a major enterprise here, with an annual turnover near $400 million and assets of $4 billion. As the "Chairman of the Board" I am not here to just tread water. North Shore City is one of the fastest growing cities in New Zealand, we have huge demands as a result of rapid growth, and my city expects the Mayor to be the leader and 1st citizen of this dynamic city. As a result I will make decisions, supported by my council, that at times will step on some toes. Unfortunately a few disgruntled politicians, some of whom got rolled at the last election, now choose to run to the likes of the Sunday Star Times and other such tabloid rags to try to undermine the Mayoralty and my Council."

"It's quite pathetic really" says Mayor Williams, in relation to the Sunday Star Times enquiries. "I have had another typically busy week starting with the Local Government Conference covering local bodies throughout New Zealand, significant land slides in residential areas in North Shore City, sorting out the Albany Senior High School, meetings re the Long Bay Structure Plan decision of the Environment Court, Auckland Harbour Bridge issues, the Auckland One Plan project, and preparing for my 10 day visit to Korea and China this Sunday as guests of the Korean and Chinese Governments, not to mention a host of other issues being dealt with every day. It concerns me that the Sunday Star Times has such little knowledge or respect for the heavy workload of large city Mayors that they would waste considerable journalist time and resources on petty mud slinging which has been generated by a few disgruntled minor players, rather than report on matters of significance that our cities and communities would like to be informed on."

" As someone who has been in international business for more than 30 years, and having travelled to the four corners of the globe seeing commerce at all levels, I really do worry about the future for this country when a major Sunday paper can focus its enquiries on the purchase of a few leather couches, a piece of art, and some bureaucrats who have quite rightly had their butts kicked, rather than the bigger picture as to how we are going to lift the overall performance of our cities and our country to improve our economic situation. The Sunday Star Times needs to lift its act a bit and concentrate on real issues facing our nation in this election year, not petty politicking." says the North Shore Mayor.

*****

-----Original Message----- From: Andrew Williams [mailto:Andrew.Williams@northshorecity.govt.nz] Sent: Tuesday, 22 July 2008 10:39 p.m. To: Dale Lott; (SUN) Cc: Councillors; John Brockies; Peter McArthur Subject: RE: SST query

Ref your enquiry relating to couches for the Councillors' lounge and a pohutukawa artwork on the wall in the Councillors' lounge. I understand this issue has been raised with you by Councillor Chris Darby who also raised this matter in the council chamber a month or so ago, and I advised him at the time that I had authorised both purchases.

Your Sunday Star Times may find this type of "tabloid journalism" useful to try to spill dirt on politicians, particularly Mayors or Govt Ministers etc, but in this case I can advise you that this issue is a non event...and perhaps you should be asking the motives behind this from Councillor Darby as to why such frivolous items are being questioned or highlighted in this manner.

As a background...I am a new Mayor, having unseated the previous incumbent of 9 years. I took over on 13 October and spent several months reviewing all aspects of North Shore City Council including the "Governance" of the council. I came with 6 years combined Councillor and Community Board experience so I had a good insight into it anyway, but could see a number of areas for obvious improvement.

In the first 3 pr 4 months of my Mayoralty I was inundated with visits by a huge range of individuals, including official visits by Ministers of the Crown, Ambassadors, Mayors, ARC Chair and so on. I was appalled that the waiting area in the Councillors lounge where many of these people waited to see me between wall to wall meetings had couches that dated back to the original days of North Shore City Council in 1989. I was told they could be up to 19 years old. They were gaudy material couches, well worn, and the arms had a life of their own with grime and dirt from many years hard wear. I was totally embarrassed to receive a great many visitors to NZ's 4th largest city, and have them seated on such very bad seating. Accordingly I asked the management over the Christmas break to replace these disgusting couches with something more befitting one of NZ's major cities....and which also would serve the needs of the 15 Councillors who use this lounge in a far more professional layout manner.

The staff advised they recommended a set of leather couches which would be durable, were of good quality and would serve the city in this important visitor receiving area for the next decade. I saw the quote and advised the staff that couches could perhaps be obtained more cheaply from other sources. I was advised that the cheaper sourced product also was far inferior in quality and would not be good value for money to ensure longevity in this important area of council's governance. I was satisfied with this explanation and accordingly the couches were replaced over the New Year break. At the same time the Council Chamber was also being upgraded (initiated by the previous council) to include a new chamber format, IT equipment, AV equipment etc. Something like $300,000 - $400,000 was being spent on that part of the project which shows the sort of dollars being approved and expended by Cr Darby's previous council compared to this relatively minor couch upgrade for the next decade.

Also, in November I was asked by my support staff and the council Communications staff to approve the annual NSCC Xmas card. I was presented with I think 3 mock-ups and they were all absolutely ghastly. $2 shop type stuff that I would be too embarrassed to send to anyone. Coincidentally in the same period our council arts advisor came and saw me and said an artist had offered NSCC a piece of her original artwork which was a pohutukawa painting. The pohutukawa is the symbol of the North Shore. I put 2 and 2 together, as I am not stupid as I hope you have gathered by now, and asked if we could utilise this artwork if we purchased it for our Xmas card. This was confirmed, and as the council has an annual arts purchasing budget this piece of artwork was purchased for the city and was then used for the council Xmas cards. It currently is on the Councillor's lounge wall, but in future will also be rotate through other public spaces of North Shore City such as our libraries where we have other artworks on display.

You might be interested, although I guess as a journalist you would hate to let the truth get in the way of a good story, that over the same Xmas/New Year break, my analysis of the governance of the council also showed that the working spaces for the Councillors needed a revamp. While you and most other NZers were probably on holiday, I returned in January and instructed the Councillors' workroom area be given a total clean out. There were old files up to 10 years old or more there, totally obsolete and of no relevance, sitting on shelves. There were only 5 computer workstations for the 15 Councillors. The four key Committee Chairs overseeing a $400 million budget did not have any individual work spaces or individual filing cabinets where they could WORK and deliver best performance as senior governors of this council.

Accordingly, and I'm surprised that Cr Darby has not also complained about this, I instructed the Council management to reconfigure on of the two councillor rooms to provide 3 dedicated workspaces for the committee chairs, including filing cabinets and support resources. At the same time I asked for one more workstation for the Councillors, so now including the Deputy Mayor's office there are 9 computer workstations for the 15 Councillors vs 6 before. And each of these areas now has pertinent recent files of value to the Councillors, and the areas are much more usable and productive than were the case before. FYI I don't think the previous Mayor, a former policeman, had ever bothered to look at how this important area of governance was run. But why would he when he had no business background at all.

So, please take your story from Cr Darby and do what you like with it. But I can tell you, I have been in business for over 30 years. I bring well established business practices and efficiency models with me to running this Council. I'm a bit like John Banks in that sense....I don't muck around if something is patently wrong. In this case I looked at the situation, I evaluated what was wrong, and I moved swiftly to make the necessary improvements to help this Council operate more effectively and efficiently. We are a big business....a huge turnover....and the "Directors" which are the Councillors must be able to operate in an efficient environment.

And I as Mayor also have to be able to operate in an environment where I can receive very important guests to the 4th largest city in New Zealand and not cringe at the manner in which it is presented.

I suggest you go back to Cr Darby and ask him as to his motives behind this latest attack on me. I, like many others, find his attitude towards this council increasingly untenable.

Perhaps you will do me the courtesy of speaking with me before you print your article trying to undermine this great city of North Shore.

Regards Andrew Williams

From: Dale Lott Sent: Tue 7/22/2008 5:24 PM To: (SUN) Cc: Councillors; John Brockies; Peter McArthur Subject: RE: SST query

Hi

The four leather couches purchased for the councillors' lounge cost $10,275.56.

The painting was purchased some time ago - it was purchased to enable the council to use the image on various publications including Christmas cards and the cost was $1,000. This secured both the painting and the rights to reproduce the image.

As advised we are currently preparing a report on changes to the council chamber and workrooms. This will be reported to the August Strategy and Finance Committee

If you need any more information please let me know.

Kind regards

Dale Lott

Chief Financial Officer


ENDS

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