Legal battle costs $50,000
A legal battle with a business owner has already cost Waimate District Council ratepayers in excess of $50,000, and is likely to cost more.
The issue dates back to December 2010, and despite being thrown out by Timaru District Court on Tuesday, is likely to continue.
Judge Joanna Maze dismissed civil action taken by the council against Keith Williams and his company, Glenkeith Industries, after finding the council's chief executive, Tony Alden, did not have the delegated authority to lay charges.
Mr Williams said he and his company were each charged with failing to apply for a certificate of acceptance and failing to comply with a notice to fix after he carried out "urgent" work on his garage, known as "Dash's garage" on the corner of Innes and High streets in Waimate. This followed a wall becoming unstable in December 2010.
"I attempted from the outset to show council that the work that I did was done as a matter of urgency after high winds through Waimate just before Christmas 2010," Mr Williams said.
With the advice of an engineer, work began to fix the wall, before a stopwork notice was issued, which was the beginning of the lengthy battle with the council. Details of the stoush cannot be outlined as Mr Williams has made an application to the court to recover costs.
Mr Williams believes that "at least one particular council officer appeared determined to see me prosecuted".
He claimed, "Some councillors attempted to assert some oversight in the matter but were brushed off and in effect told it was none of their business.
"I am restrained from saying more concerning the facts of the case itself until the matter of my application for costs is heard by the court, but suffice to say I felt that someone had to stand up for Waimate here. I wished it did not have to be me who bore the brunt or the enormous costs."
Mr Alden said court action so far had cost "in excess of $50,000", with the final cost not yet known. The council had been advised of what was going on, he said.
"They did not have to formally approve of the expenditure."
The matter would still be pursued, he said.
"The merit of the case was not considered. Whilst the council is obviously disappointed that it was unable to present its evidence, there remain outstanding matters concerning compliance and building safety to be resolved."
Mayor John Coles was reluctant to comment but said he supported the legal action. He was aware of the costs and that two councillors disapproved of the action.
Mr Williams' lawyer, Rick Farr, said council was aware last July there were issues with the charges and questioned if council had the power to lay charges in the future.
"The issue of the chief executive's powers to lay these prosecutions was brought to council's attention in the audit report of July 2011 and to its solicitors' attention by us prior to the commencement of the trial and as late as the middle of last week when the July 2011 audit report was made available to us, but council management appeared determined to carry on with this prosecution regardless.
"We are also aware that at least two councillors approached the mayor and the chief executive, Mr Alden, about this issue last week but were told that based on the advice they had received they were confident that the prosecution would result in a conviction."
DEPUTY MAYOR 'DISAPPOINTED'
Deputy Mayor Peter McIlraith says he is "disappointed" in the Waimate District Council after its $50,000 legal stoush with a ratepayer.
Civil action taken by the council against Keith Williams and Glenkeith Industries was thrown out in Timaru District Court on Tuesday on a technical issue.
Mr Williams has filed a claim for costs for his extensive legal bill to defend four charges, two of failing to apply for a certificate of acceptance and two of failing to comply with a notice to fix.
Mr McIlraith said he did what he could to get the matter resolved before it went to court.
"The issue he was taken to court on was not a serious issue. Unfortunately, the court has not made a ruling on it and both parties believed they were going to win.
"It wasn't a mischievous act, it was an issue of compliance."
He regarded the situation as very serious.
"He [Mr Williams] got into a situation where he was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.
"It should have never gone to court. There is a certain amount of difficulty in that the regulatory department has the right to take prosecutions without consulting the council but we haven't been pragmatic.
"I regard this matter as very serious. At the moment I am disappointed; I do not like being associated with an entity that has carried on like this."
The council should meet to discuss the matter, he said, but so far he had not heard from Mayor John Coles.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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