Mayor failed to read report

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 05/07/2013

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Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker never read the initial report that raised concerns about the city council's building consent process.

Instead, he trusted the judgement of council staff and expected any serious issues to be raised with him.

It is a system, he says, that is commonplace in his busy role.

"I'm reliant on a staff system. Governance is only as good as the communication that it's provided with.

"I don't read every piece of mail that comes in to the 3000-odd people who work in this organisation.

"Without trust in the organisation it would grind to a halt."

Council staff never alerted him to the September 2012 audit by International Accreditation New Zealand (Ianz), which identified 17 failings in the way the council performed its building control functions. It was seen as a routine audit that all 69 consenting authorities in New Zealand deal with twice each year.

Nearly all those audits raise issues that need to be dealt with, but at a lower level, Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson said.

However, if they reached a "critical point" they should be brought to the attention of elected members like Parker, he said.

That did not happen.

Council staff, including chief executive Tony Marryatt and regulatory services general manager Peter Mitchell, failed to tell Parker about a much more damning letter Ianz sent to the council on May 30. The letter gave formal notice of its intention to revoke the council's accreditation as a consent authority on June 28 if processing problems were not fixed.

Instead, he and other councillors learnt about it nearly a fortnight later through Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee's "media missile".

"That was the first time we were aware as a governance body just how serious the situation was," Parker said.

At the time senior managers assured councillors they would fix the problems.

Parker said yesterday the Ianz report from Monday which confirmed the accreditation was being revoked "never actually made it to my desk" and he had only seen the covering letter that came with it.

Emails seen by The Press show he and other city councillors were sent the full report that day.

Parker said he only heard via the media that the report showed the council had granted building consents that potentially put people and property at risk.

That was when he realised that significant pieces of information had not been passed on to him or other councillors.

"Information that was vital to the governance decision-making process, vital to the understanding that we need to have of systems and processes here was not readily available," Parker said.

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"You simply can't ignore

something like that," he said.

Marryatt was placed on indefinite paid leave amid concerns about his role in the crisis. His future remains uncertain.

At an extraordinary council meeting yesterday, Cr Tim Carter said the finger of blame could not just be pointed at management.

"We . . . have to look not just at management but also at the governance body . . . and how the leadership around this table allowed this to happen."

Corporate and financial committee chairwoman Cr Helen Broughton said that councillors should never have accepted at face value the reassurance they received from senior staff that the consenting issues raised by Ianz had been dealt with.

Planning committee chairwoman Cr Sue Wells agreed the governance system also needed scrutinising, admitting she had "baggage" of her own.

"We . . . need scrutiny of the governance systems that we had in place that facilitated this happening. We need to be asking what went wrong and why," Wells said. "How did this happen? I don't know yet."

The Press has asked Wells several questions about the extent of her knowledge of Ianz's concerns about the council's consenting process and why she did not do more to ensure they were addressed, but she was too busy to respond yesterday.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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