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Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Rudman's city: Westies pay dearly for old crocks

By BRIAN RUDMAN

Last December, I declared the seven-year tussle between Crown Lynn pottery expert Richard Quinn and Waitakere City the looniest battle of the year. Six months on, it has finally ended - and what an expensive fight it turned out to be for Westie ratepayers.

Not only has the city council been forced to pay Mr Quinn $130,000 for past wrongs plus his legal expenses, but by its actions, it has effectively waved goodbye to an irreplaceable part of West Auckland's heritage.

As part of Tuesday's settlement, Mr Quinn has been gagged, so I'm not certain how large his legal bill has grown. But in previous conversations a sum of $20,000 was mentioned.

Then there are the city's burgeoning costs. Last December, the council admitted to expenditure of $53,028.59. But this related only to the costs of spiriting the Quinn collection to a secret address in South Auckland in September 1999 and subsequent storage until its return 16 months later.

When you add in the council's legal expenses and other incidentals, my guess is there won't be much change for ratepayers out of $250,000.

And that figure doesn't include the innumerable staff hours involved.

The farce began in 1988, when a kiln committee was formed to preserve the old commercial pottery kiln in Ambrico Place, New Lynn. Unemployed Mr Quinn was soon leading the way in excavating and collecting relics for the planned kiln museum. But by 1993, he had fallen out with the committee and, after a dispute about the security of "his" collection, he endeavoured to remove it for safekeeping at his home.

On September 7 1993, police were called to toss him off the site. Years of claim and counter-claims about who owned what ensued, culminating in September 1999 when Mayor Bob Harvey childishly ordered that the collection be hidden across town.

Infantile might be a more appropriate tag than childish for a lot of what went on over this time, and the council and Mr Quinn have subsequently expressed regret - if not face to face - about some of their antics.

In November last year, Ombudsman Anand Satyanand criticised the city's role in the key September 1993 flashpoint, declaring that "it should not have been necessary to summon the police in order to try and resolve what was essentially a civil dispute."

After Mr Quinn's years of effort, changing the locks and calling the police was "somewhat unreasonable."

Wisely, Mr Satyanand skirted around the reams of written abuse that bounced back and forth.

Some of the choicest came from the pen of Mayor Bob Harvey. Mr Harvey might be a leading peacenik in the campaign against nuclear weapons, but when it comes to literary nukes, he can't keep his finger off the mayoral red button.

May 11, 1999: "Dear Mr Quinn, As mayor of the 5th largest city in New Zealand, I wish to see an end to this emotional blackmail and nonsense which gives you both pleasure and pain. Mr Quinn I am sick of it and you ... If this continues I will take you and this nightmare to Television New Zealand ... "

A year later, Mr Harvey suggested the collection be "given to Te Papa or the Victoria and Albert Museum in London as colonial crockery."

Mr Quinn gave back as good as he got. But you do expect rather more from a mayor.

After the ombudsman's report, councillor Ross Dallow, a former senior police officer, managed to pull together a settlement to this unfortunate battle. Sadly, Mayor Harvey might have got his way on one point.

What he regarded as throwaway crockery, Te Papa sees rather differently. The national museum's concept curator, Ian Wedde, regards it as "collection of enormous national importance," which has to be secured in the national interest.

Whether that can be done in an Auckland setting, we'll have to cross fingers and see. But if it does disappear south, Westies have only their mayor and local council to blame.

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