Stock truck sting used as test case

Environment Southland chairman Ali Timms says she and her councillors were unaware a failed prosecution resulting from a joint regional council and police sting targeting stock truck drivers last winter was essentially a test case.

She has indicated she was unimpressed councillors were kept in the dark by council staff.

The council's staff and police stopped trucks to check for effluent discharge before and on Gypsy Day last year, with the council issuing 14 infringement notices against truck companies and their drivers as a result of the operations.

Some refused to pay and requested a hearing, with Environment Southland subsequently laying charges. The council later withdrew nine of the charges, including against Riverton trucking company Euan Shearing Contracting.

The company subsequently went for and won costs from the council.

Judge Jeff Smith, when finding in favour of the company, said the council's case was untested and brought in an attempt to argue whether a discharge from a vehicle could constitute an offence under the Resource Management Act and the proceedings were "not undertaken in good faith knowing an offence was committed".

Ms Timms has since revealed the councillors were unaware it was essentially a test case prosecution under Resource Management law, as identified by the judge.

"The fact council was unaware of the issue is a management issue. The council should be aware of such procedures and that is something management needs to sort out," she said.

An independent audit of Environment Southland's compliance division, called for by the council in part because of the way it handled the Shearing case, subsequently found last week that its handling of the Gypsy Day operation was "very sloppy" and it identified several problems relating to poor processes and procedures in the council's compliance division.

Despite being "very disappointed" with the audit's findings, Ms Timms said she fully supported the man in charge of the council's management team, chief executive Rob Phillips.

"We all want council to operate at its optimum level. Some issues have been raised and the audit has given clear direction of what needs to be done so these things don't happen again," she said.

The council supports Rob in doing that and we need to let him get on with the job."

Mr Phillips had been very open and pro-active about the situation, Ms Timms said. She said any reprimand was not for the council to determine.

"We are a governance body and don't employ any of the staff . . . that's [the] job of the chief executive."

Cr Robert Guyton also said that news the prosecution was untested had come as a surprise to the councillors and it was disappointing to learn it was untested from the subsequent events that unfolded.

"It would have been very helpful if we had known that that was the situation. Because we didn't we were unable to make judgments around that," he said.

Cr Guyton said he could not say councillors were happy with the findings of the resulting audit but actions had already been implemented to improve the system as a result. Cr Nicol Horrell, chairman of the Environmental Management Committee, said using the RMA to try to prevent effluent getting into water was probably not going to be used in that way again. "Certainly from a public nuisance and safety issue effluent spills were of concern and the Government didn't seem very keen on changing legislation. That's why we tried to do something."

The Southland Times