Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Mayor Julie Hardaker involved in Claudelands promo debacle

Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker.  Photo / file.
Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker. Photo / file.

Hamilton's mayor was involved with a promotional article that talked up an events centre and had to be pulled at the last minute, at a cost of thousands of dollars to ratepayers.

The piece, about the Claudelands Event Centre as it celebrated its millionth visitor, was due to be published in the council's July monthly City News newsletter.

Titled "Claudelands, sorting fact from fiction", the piece listed what it said were three myths.

One of them was "Claudelands is losing money and not meeting targets... It's costing the city mega bucks!"

But the centre is losing money and an explanation under the myth said its net operating deficit was forecast at $1.7m. It said council-owned facilities of this kind "generally run at a loss with the likes of Mt Smart Stadium, AMI Stadium and TSB Bank Arena all in the same boat".

It said the main drive of Claudelands was not to make money but to "operate as efficiently as possible while bringing other benefits to Hamilton, such as quality events and wider economic benefit".

The draft was sent to the mayor and others for review.

A copy, given to the Herald under the Official Information Act, showed Hardaker had put a cross through the explanation showing the loss and made notes, including "too jargon". Some of the notes are difficult to read.

Changes were made by the council's communication team and another draft was put through which had left out the explanation about the loss, but kept the myth. It was sent to the mayor.

Elected councillors were sent a signed-off version with the redacted explanation and councillor Andrew King objected.

He sent an email to chief executive Richard Briggs demanding it be pulled.

"They are not even sugar-coated half truths," he said.

"They are blatantly incorrect and are designed to mislead the public."

The newsletter had already been sent to the printers and 55,000 copies had to be binned at a cost of $7400. It was later printed with a different piece in place of the Claudelands piece.

Hardarker told the Herald it was not her intention for the explanation to be deleted and her style of feedback was to put two lines through wording which looked like a cross. She then put comments on the side.

She said she wrote: "Too jargon. Needs accurate financial information. Too confusing."

She said she did not remember seeing the second draft where the key financial information was removed.

"I absolutely reject that anyone was in some way was not wanting to be clear about that information. I actually think this is people making something out of nothing. It is actually part of developing up the City News.

"Staff based on my feedback should have put the accurate information in. Why the final copy didn't end up having that in after a number of people gave feedback including the chief executive then that's up to them."

In an email to another councillor, Garry Mallett, council chief executive Richard Briggs said he had not seen it until after the print run was initiated and would have pulled the piece regardless of King's intervention.

He also told Mallett he didn't "really know" who authorised it and that it had not been officially signed off.

In another email, he told Sean Murray, events executive director of H3, the council's
facilities management company: "The issue is that we say it is a myth that Claudelands costs ratepayers a lot of money. That' not a myth, it's a fact."

He also told him to "answer honestly" if asked about it.

Murray, whose role includes overseeing the city's venues, defended his team to his boss saying: "You might want to be reminded by our earlier version (see below) where the explanations including that of budget was highlighted in the document by us. That was later removed at the request of others."

Briggs told the Herald he believed the lack of information in the signed-off version was due to a communication breakdown because too many people were involved rather than a deliberate intention to mislead.

The council has since reviewed its approval processes for the publication and Briggs now has responsibility for the final sign off. Prior to the July edition, it was authorized by the communications unit manager.

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