Council loses and must pay more

EMMA BAILEY AND AL WILLIAMS
Last updated 05:00 08/11/2013
keith williams waimate building
AL WILLIAMS/ Fairfax

LEGAL WRANGLE: The property belonging to Keith Williams on High Street in Waimate.

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The Waimate District Council has now been ordered to pay a local businessman $146,300 in costs related to a dispute over a building worth just $69,000.

The dispute first went to court in August last year when Keith Williams 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 business, Dash's Garage, when a wall became unstable in high winds.

The garage was then required to turn a door around to satisfy fire safety concerns and replace cladding.

The matter could have been resolved by a $500 determination from the Department of Building and Housing, which is still being sought.

Judge Joanna Maze threw the charges out when the case went to court as the council was found not to have the delegated authority to lay them.

Mr Williams subsequently sought costs and was awarded $80,000.

Following an appeal to the High Court, Mr Williams has been awarded a further $66,300, in a decision released yesterday.

In his decision, Justice Dobson was critical of former council building inspector Angie Leckey, for not accepting the work had been carried out under urgency, issuing a stop-work notice, and saying Mr Williams needed a consent and a notice to fix.

She was also said to have threatened to resign and seek a personal grievance if she was stood aside from the Williams matter.

"Competent management of the matter by WDC ought to have recognised that its ability to deal with the prosecution was compromised by its own conflict of interest in minimising the risk of an employment relations dispute with Ms Leckey.

"There appear to be numerous causes for concern at the integrity of Ms Leckey's involvement. The building that is the subject of the unhappy saga has a recent valuation of some $69,000.

"Between them, the parties had expended more than $250,000 in pursuit of the present dispute, before the present appeal."

Mr Williams' lawyer had argued defence of the prosecution had cost $170,000.

Justice Dobson felt that the defence was overworked and assessed the defence as worth $100,000.

"A just and reasonable recovery of costs cannot be punitive on the ratepayers of WDC to the extent that they are required to bear the costs of a Rolls Royce defence when the issues at stake could only ever warrant a Toyota," he said.

In addition to the $100,000 costs order, the judge made orders that Mr Williams was entitled to costs related to the costs application in the District Court of $36,300 and costs "on the present appeal" of $10,000.

This brought the total costs awarded to Mr Williams to $146,300.

'NO WINNERS' IN COURT CASE - WAIMATE CEO

The Waimate District Council wants to "move on" in the wake of the latest costs decision involving businessman Keith Williams.

Waimate Mayor Craig Rowley told The Timaru Herald it was not appropriate for him to comment.

"I have passed your questions on to the chief executive who is responsible for replying on this operational matter."

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Waimate chief executive Tony Alden could not be reached but said in a written statement: "Justice Dobson has released his decision; there are never winners in a matter such as this and it is time we all moved on.

"We are working with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to complete the determination process and are continuing to work with Mr Williams to address the building compliance issues."

Mr Williams' lawyer, Rick Farr, said the High Court had found it seemed likely bad faith could be made out on the part of building inspector Angie Leckey.

"And while that bad faith may not be attributable to the Waimate District Council, ‘the most troubling aspect' was that the ‘WDC was more concerned with avoiding a personal grievance claim by Ms Leckey than by any consideration as to whether she should be stood aside from directing the conduct of the prosecutions'."

Former mayor David Owen had previously appealed to the Ombudsman to tackle what he labelled a "dictatorial" council.

"To me there is a serious lack of communication between management and an even more serious one with council reporting to ratepayers," Mr Owen said yesterday.

"It just shows it's a sorry state we are in. I will add that Keith Williams didn't do it right either because he needed to get a consent at the time."

Ms Leckey declined to respond to the judge's remarks last night.

However, she said her decisions in the matter had been audited by Qualico and International Accreditation New Zealand. They had agreed with her approach, as had fire officer Kevin Collins.

"Anyone who has any issues with my work needs to look at the audit trail," she said.

Newly-elected district councillor Tom O'Connor, of St Andrews, said he was disappointed the matter had gone so far but he was philosophical about the outcome.

"None of us have come out of this looking very good and some expensive lessons have been learned all round.

"The district council had never been faced with the situation before and, with the best of intentions, some honest errors were made but we now have systems in place to ensure our CEO, who has total responsibility for prosecutions, has all the support he needs.

"We new councillors knew we were inheriting a very unfortunate situation and we are, as a team, determined we will never go down this rocky road again."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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