Hamilton council votes no on trust increase

By Ged Cann

Hamilton Zoo curator Samantha Kudeweh. Photo / Supplied
Hamilton Zoo curator Samantha Kudeweh. Photo / Supplied

A year to the day after zookeeper Samantha Kudeweh's death, Hamilton city councillors today voted down a proposal to substantially increase the council's contribution to a trust for her two grieving children.

The amendment, which would have seen an additional $80,000 put into T=trust for Billy, 10, and Sage Kudeweh, 4, was rejected in one of the closest run votes of the council's term.

It was put forward during today's Finance Committee meeting during debate on a PricewaterhouseCoopers review of Hamilton Zoo.

"I spent the last hour listening to all the mechanics of this issue. The fences, the animals, the staff - we pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility," councillor Gordon Chesterman said.

He added that nothing would change the outcome but the amendment was about doing something right.

"I haven't once heard anything about the two children.

"I think about the education responsibilities that their father will have to move forward and I think, it's a personal view, that even though the judge has made some decisions around this case that $20,000 for two children isn't adequate for the future."

However, councillor Leo Tooman expressed concern that the council was effectively questioning Friday's decision by Judge Denise Clarke, and councillor Garry Mallet pointed out the Committee was dealing with far less information than the Judge and prosecutors.

"I think the council has been appropriate in our approach. I think it is wrong of us to blast away all that legal precedent and all that legal objectivity, simply because it's easy for us to give someone else's money away.

"No one knows the pain those kids are going through but I don't know all the ratepayers of Hamilton deserve to be fined for that either."

The proposal was eventually voted down.

On Friday, Judge Clarke imposed a $38,250 fine and more than $10,000 reparation to Kudeweh's children.

The judge deemed a $100,000 emotional harm payment was appropriate, but noted council has already compensation payments equaling $116,000.

This also came under the spotlight on Tuesday when councilor Macpherson questioned council CE Richard Briggs on the payments after widower Richard Kudeweh claimed they had not been made.

Briggs said Mr Kudeweh had since retracted the statements and he defended the council's position, both legally and morally.

Mr Kudeweh also worked at the zoo at the time of Mrs Kudeweh's death and Briggs said the $116,000 was all above and beyond what the council was legally obliged to pay Mr Kudeweh under his own contractual arrangements.

Councillor Andrew King questioned whether Mr Kudeweh had been aware the payment being made immediately after the death would be presented to court later as compensation.

Deputy chief executive Lance Vervoort said the money had been paid to Mr Kudeweh without any qualification.

The PwC Review and its recommendations were accepted by councilors.

These included modifications to animal enclosures and related procedures, costing $210,000, and changes to the staffing structure, which included hiring nine new full-time staff.

A two-keeper system was implemented after Mrs Kudeweh's death and the review included recommendations of refining how this new system worked, and extending it to include when keepers were working around African Wild Dogs.

The PwC report also recommended a mechanical interlock system be installed in the tiger enclosure so keepers would never find themselves in the enclosure while critical gates remained open, and CCTV cameras be installed.

- Hamilton News

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