Creative accounting bid denied

Documents suggest a Gore District councillor asked council bosses to do some creative accounting so the council could pay for his lawyer.

Cr Graham Sharp, a dairy farmer who was in tense negotiations with his own council at the time, is recorded in the minutes of an August 2010 meeting making the suggestion of how his legal fees could be paid.

Yesterday, however, Sharp denied the minutes were correct and suggested the council was trying to set him up.

Sharp is a member of the Sharp Trust, which owns a farm near Gore that has the Cooper's Wells water bores on it.

The bores supply water to the Gore township.

Documents provided to The Southland Times under the Official Information Act show Sharp and fellow trust members met Gore District Council bosses in August 2010 to discuss issues around the Cooper's Wells water bores.

The aim of the talks was for the council to ensure its water supply to Gore was protected while the Sharp Trust ran their farm without unreasonable restrictions.

Minutes of the meeting quote Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks suggesting that Sharp get legal advice, adding that he did not believe it was the council's responsibility to pay for Sharp's lawyer.

The minutes record Sharp as responding with: "You probably won't like what I've written here. I am going to float an idea. No-one knows about it. We send you a bill for $500 for [the previously] uninvited McNeil drilling rig in our paddock and $1500 for the permit we gave you to drill.

"That will allow me to pay for the lawyer so it doesn't show on the bank statement so we have the BNZ saying what you are paying a lawyer for.

"If we get a lawyer, I am paying for it not out of the farm chequebook. I've just bought a whitebait stand. I don't get paid anything like anyone else gets paid around here. Am prepared to pay for the lawyer personally. That gives us $2000 to pay for a lawyer and any excess would be paid for by the council."

Hicks responded: "Can't agree with that," the documents show.

Hicks, when contacted for comment yesterday, said council bosses at the 2010 meeting were shocked by Sharp's comments, which were "not appropriate".

Sharp's comments were an example of why the council had ultimately gone down the costly path of an independent hearing to get certainty around the future of the water supply to the Gore township, he said.

The process had cost the council more than $280,000 in legal and consultant and planning fees.

"Had there been good faith and trust on behalf of all the parties involved, I believe we could have got a very similar result to what we ended up with at a fraction of the cost," Hicks said.

Sharp, when asked to comment on his reported comments at the 2010 meeting, said: "That sounds like a crock of bulls.... I don't believe that . . . they are setting you and me up."

He said he did not recall making the comments at the meeting.

"I am stunned. I didn't say anything like that."

Sharp went on to say he was an honest person and that he "didn't buy that at all", before referring questions to his lawyer.

Council chief executive Steve Parry, who was also at the meeting, said Sharp had made the comments.

"We were pretty stunned, to be honest . . . I remember thinking, this is decidedly untidy."

Documents show that a month after the August 2010 meeting, the Sharp trustees wrote to Parry formally asking the council to cover its normal legal expenses because the council was responsible for ensuring the quality of the water supply.

Parry wrote back to Sharp in October, saying the council had agreed to meet the trust's legal expenses up to $3000 plus GST.

The Southland Times