Council investigation unable to pinpoint source of ‘Water Central’ leak
By Astrid Austin, AustinMedia
Thursday, January 09, 2020 6:31 AM
A $15,000 ratepayer-funded investigation by Hastings District Council has been unable to uncover who leaked details of a proposed multimillion-dollar building dedicated to water.
Last September, Hawke’s Bay Today revealed details of the council’s plans to erect a 10m-high building on the corner of Southampton St East and Hastings St South which would have the purpose of telling the story of water. (The article was written by this writer, who was a HB Today reporter at the time.)
It would cost $8.6 million over two years (2020/2021) and would be funded externally by Hastings District Council, and not through ratepayers.
Details of the proposal – dubbed ‘Water Central’ – were discussed in a public excluded meeting on September 10, under the agenda item ‘Drinking Water Capital programme update’.
The leak to media sparked a concerted effort by Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, several councillors and management to find the source and resulted in council releasing the previously public excluded report which showed a detailed 10-page analysis, along with a 27-page business case, concept drawings and plans about the project.
Council chief executive Nigel Bickle told Hawke’s Bay App yesterday that while the initial investigation concluded that the content of the relevant public excluded report was “inappropriately disclosed,” it has not been able to identify the source of that disclosure.
He added that the investigation into the inappropriate disclosure of the publicly excluded report is complete at the interim report stage.
“On the other issue, the possible breach of confidence surrounding the councillor-only sessions, the investigator identified some further work he might undertake and he has been invited to do that. It is not appropriate for us to comment on the nature of that ongoing work.”
Bickle said to date, $15,193.06 (+ GST), including fees and disbursements had been spent on the initial investigation. It comes just under the cap of $20,000 ex GST set for the investigation.
In response to whether the investigation into the source of the leak was a waste of ratepayers money, Bickle said officers were instructed by the then elected Councillors to investigate the matter, and that has been done in a thorough and cost-effective way.
Hazlehurst, who is currently on holiday, said they have not yet received a report by the investigator.
She expects it to be released later this month. However, Hazlehurst said the initial investigation “hasn’t finished yet”, as they still have a couple of interviews to do.
She would not disclose who the interviews were with and refused to make further comment, saying there was “nothing to report on”.
At the extraordinary public meeting held in October to decide whether an independent investigator should be hired, three councillors – Simon Nixon, Malcolm Dixon and Damon Harvey – voted against the motion.
Palmerston North lawyer Alastair Hall was hired to establish, if possible, whether there was an “improper disclosure” of the Water Central details and the councillor only sessions on September 26 and 27, and, if so, who the source of that disclosure was.
In a letter to the editor, published last year, councillors Rod Heaps, Simon Nixon and Malcolm Dixon labelled the investigation an “absolute waste of money”.
The investigation, as detailed in the terms of review by council, was expected to be completed by November 30.