Why ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay for challenging the council

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by Simon Woolf
This month I was prompted to write to Councillors and Officers in response to a Councillor requesting that the City Council seek costs, as a result of the Frank Kitts Environment Court Appeal decision.

My response was as follows:

“I do not support seeking costs against individuals or groups, who are our ratepayers, who are testing decisions in good faith. There are exceptions, where appellants are vexatious, and/or unreasonable. The Council prosecutes, defends, and/or appeals using ratepayers’ funds. But whether we apply for legal costs should be on a case by case basis. Seeking costs from our ratepayers should not be a deterrent to ratepayers testing our decisions in courts, which is usually an expensive process.

As you will all be aware, I am an advocate for qualified independent mediation as opposed to expensive litigation. I am aware that there was a failed mediation in respect of Frank Kitts Park.

It has got to a stage where many of our ratepayers feel it is very unfair and unreasonable that the Council has an unlimited resource in litigating cases, rather than seeking less confrontational, less adversarial and less costly solutions.

In regards to Waterfront Watch, they are a valuable lobby group, made up largely of volunteers. They have proven to be great advocates for our waterfront, and have played a large part in shaping and protecting a Wellington jewel.

I hope that when weighing up of the seeking of legal costs, a fair and reasonable approach is always taken.

I do support the request that Councillors should be made aware of the cost to Council, and ratepayers.”

In respect of the two separate cases re Shelly Bay and Frank Kitts Park, there are a number of issues which concern me about how the Council handled the initial decision-making. In both cases the engagement and consultation was poor at early stages. I have other reservations too.

However my biggest reservation is how we, the Council, are so quick to litigate, using sometimes disproportionate amounts of ratepayer resources and funds. $387,000 is a truck load of ratepayer money to defend an appeal case where a ratepayer advocate group are the appellant.

I will be asking why we felt the Council needed to spend that amount. What is also concerning is that $387,000 could be the tip of the iceberg………..

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2018-04-24T09:11:07+00:00