Council prosecutes itself, pays fine into own coffers

By Wayne Thompson

Waitakere City Council has taken itself to court and won ... and lost.

The authority chose to prosecute itself in the name of even-handed administration of regulations after it failed to get consents to move six houses.

In Waitakere District Court, the council was fined $4800 and ordered to pay $780 court costs.

It will now pay most of the money - aside from the court's 10 per cent share of the fines - to itself.

"We feel vindicated by this decision," said councillor Vanessa Neeson, who is chairman of the planning and regulatory committee.

The council had been mocked for prosecuting itself but it was showing that it was not above the law, she said.

The council brought the charges after learning it had contracted out and approved the removal of the homes from a flood plain - without ensuring that building consents had been obtained before removal.

It also prosecuted the two house removal firms - Fistonich and Craig Walker - for doing the job without getting consents first.

Although the council had pleaded guilty, it also hired a lawyer to represent it. The cost of the lawyer's service was not yet known.

Before bringing the case, the council had obtained an outside legal opinion which cost about $3000.

The fate of the two contractors, who have pleaded guilty to three charges each, is to be decided in May.

Nick Fistonich said: "We are quite happy the council only got a small fine. Hopefully our fines will be only small too."

In sentencing the council, Judge Paul Barber said the prosecution was properly brought.

However, a mitigating factor was that the council had "turned its mind" to the need for consents by making it a term of the removal contracts that the contractors ensured consent was obtained before starting work.

But the judge said in some cases the council had not applied sufficient supervision to ensure that consent was actually obtained from its consents arm.

Council legal services manager Denis Sheard said internal procedures had been reinforced to prevent further breaches.

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