Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Auditor-General's V8 whitewash smells fishy

File photo / Christine Cornege
File photo / Christine Cornege

Catching up on my Greek history, as one does during the Olympics, I learned that in the Classical era, a cuckolded husband had the legal right to shove a spiky fish up his rival's bottom.

There must be a few Auckland councillors wishing such a salutary punishment was on the statute books for errant bureaucrats after reading the Auditor-General's whitewash of Ateed, the council's standalone tourism and events fiefdom, over its handling of the V8 saga.

After escaping unscathed from the train-wreck that was the Rugby World Cup opening night, you might have thought Ateed would be a little contrite in the presence of its elected masters, even treat them with a modicum of gratitude and respect. But far from it.

In the machinations over the signing of the V8s for Pukekohe series, Ateed has played our elected representatives for fools again, and the A-G has gone along with it, forgiving Ateed's bad behaviour with a whispered tut-tut.

Ateed had been negotiating with V8 Supercars since last November. On July 5 this year, it went to a meeting of the council's strategy and finance committee with a report which, in its opening words, "seeks a decision on an application from V8 Supercars Australia ... for an annual V8 Supercar event to take place ... at Pukekohe Park from April 2013".

The promoters wanted $10.6 million from Auckland ratepayers.

Ateed supported the application but told councillors that "although the decision to approve or decline the proposal is within Ateed's financial delegation, the Ateed board has referred the decision to host and co-fund the event to the strategy and finance committee in recognition of the possible wider public interest in the proposal".

At the time it seemed such an obvious passing on of a potential "hot potato" that I mocked Ateed's timidity.

After a majority of councillors voted in favour, two opponents, right-wing councillor Cameron Brewer and his usual left-wing sparring partner Cathy Casey dispatched a joint complaint to the A-G about the inadequacies of the report and how Ateed had withheld vital financial information from councillors.

This week, after obtaining "additional information from Auckland Council", the A-G said she would pursue the complaint no further.

"We discovered that there was some confusion about what decision the committee was actually being asked to make. Most of the complaints to us assumed that the council was being asked to make the final decision on whether to proceed with the contract ...

"In fact Ateed was simply intending to brief the council on a decision that it had already taken."

The A-G says council officials, Ateed and V8 Supercars "signed a heads of agreement on July 2".

That was three days before the councillors met to deliberate.

Then, in a masterly piece of understatement, the A-G conceded that "in our view, the [briefing] paper [to councillors] did not make clear that Ateed had already made the decision. The paper gave the impression that the council committee was being asked to make a decision on whether to proceed."

Not true. The paper didn't just give "the impression" councillors were making the decision, it said as much. The proposed resolution in favour could have been nothing else. And at the meeting to clarify any misunderstandings was Ateed's chief executive, Brett O'Riley, and its general manager for destinations, Jennah Wootten.

But nothing was clarified - councillors and reporters and other on-lookers left the meeting believing the councillors had made the decision to proceed with the V8s then and there.

Now, from the A-G report, we learn that the decision had been made three days before and the July 5 act of democracy was just a joke. A secret joke only the bureaucrats were in on.

I'm intrigued now to know what would have happened if the councillors had voted against the proposal.

The A-G says "we are satisfied that Ateed's decision-making process has been reasonable", but asks for "clearer" decision-making processes in the future.

Could I suggest the threat of a spiky fish might clarify the mind rather quicker than a wet bus ticket.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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