Hamilton City Council should introduce tighter guidelines between the roles of governance and management after a report found its mayor wrongly involved himself in planning and discussions to buy and bowl buildings along Victoria St, an Audit NZ report has found.
The independent Audit NZ report released today cleared the council of giving the two developers, Matt Stark and Leonard Gardner a material advantage when they were given the heads up about the proposal to expand Victoria on the River.
In the 20-page report, Audit NZ recommended council create clearer boundaries between governance and management and who is responsible for what and have set guidelines around what should be included in proposals to councillors.
It also found the council took an unusual process to how it would usually consult on significant Long Term Plan proposals, but accepted it was due to time constrictions and commercial sensitivity.
Hamilton mayor Andrew King's involvement in meetings with the two developers after a council meeting in September where the council resolved council chief executive Richard Briggs approach owners to gauge their willingness to sell has been criticised by Audit NZ associate director of audit and assurance services Lyn Daken.
"The mayor subsequently met with property owners (at the invitation of the chief executive) and briefed the architect on the "vision" to be captured in the concept designs," the report said.
"There may therefore have been a blurring of the lines between governance and management in the development of the proposal post the 21 September meeting."
Audit NZ said management had been delegated the responsibility for developing the initial feasibility, design and costing and did not believe the mayor should have been involved.
King had a different view, the report said.
"If management needed additional input about the scope or direction of the proposal, in our view this should have been sought from the council as a whole."
King, according to the report, also recommended the architect Edwards White because it had been used for the initial Victoria on the River park and briefed the architect on his vision.
His vision for the park also changed from one of a passive green space that initially he shared with elected members to one with activation and some buildings remaining, which the auditor said may have been influenced by his conversations with Stark and Gardner.
As a result, the costings of the park carried out by staff at the same time were for a passive park and did not reflect the new plans, which with fewer buildings being bowled may have been a different price.
Allegations around Stark and Gardner being given a commercial advantage were unfounded and the investigators were unaware of any properties being purchased by the developers under a joint company it set up in November last year.
Council chief executive Richard Briggs was also found to have followed out his responsibilities relating to the council's resolution as the best he could in the time frame he had.
Briggs, in a statement released today, said the report confirmed the council's processes including discussion in closed meetings were appropriate and quashed allegations that property owners were given a commercial advantage.
"The report finds it reasonable to conclude one property purchase was not due to these discussions, and it categorically states there is no possibility other nearby purchases were impacted as these transactions occurred well before any discussions."
The report will be tabled at a council meeting next Thursday.