Tree Prosecution Continues

KCDC Civic Building
KCDC Civic Building

KCDC still pursuing case against Otaki native tree fellers

By Alan Tristram

Kāpiti Coast District Council is proceeding with a prosecution against the contractor who is charged with felling or modifying 72 native trees on two Ōtaki properties last August.

Council has announced it is proposing to withdraw charges against one of the property owners, the Standens, based on new information that has come to hand. However it says the prosecution against Monkeyman Tree Services will proceed.

The matter will be heard in the Levin District Court on Tuesday (8 April). The company is facing charges under the Resource Management Act for modifying naturally-occurring indigenous vegetation in breach of the Council’s District Plan.

Acting Chief Executive Tamsin Evans says Council’s decision to prosecute the three parties, including the Standen’s neighbours, the McLeavey’s who have pleaded guilty,  was based on  sound legal advice, including an opinion from the Crown Law Office.  She says the decision to withdraw the charges against the Standens was made when new information came to light yesterday.

“That information was the corroboration by the contractor that Mr and Mrs Standen had referred him to a Council brochure about the rules and obligations relating to native trees.

“On that basis we made the decision that it was in the public interest to withdraw the charges against the Standens.  It is very unfortunate this information didn’t come to light before now.”

Ms Evans says under the Solicitor General’s Prosecution Guidelines, Council has an obligation to keep any charges under review.

“The Guidelines require that once charges have been filed and before trial, the prosecuting agency should review the charges to ensure those charges are robust or whether on the basis of the evidence available the charges need to be amended, further charges added, or the charges withdrawn.”

Agree wholeheartedly with Bernie Randall, questions of expenditure need answering given that $0.5M in Council spend equates to 1% on rates. ($3.5M =3.5% rates decrease; 4.96% average rates – 3.5% unnecessary rates expenditure=CPI increase –take good note Councillor Gavin Welsh)

The questions that continue to arise include;

-what initial advice did the in-house KCDC lawyer offer to the Depute CEO and was that advice ignored in the determination to set an example? (Lets see it without having to lodge a OIR!)
-why not publish the Crown Office advice? (Again lets se it!)
-who was pushing this prosecution, the depute CEO?
-was the Mayor advised of the impending legal action against the Standens way back in November? Yes of No answer will suffice!
-did the chair of the RM Committee know the legal process was being instigated? Yes or no answer! (Councillor Amundsen did not answer that question at Council; the depute CEO stated the action was taken under delegated powers)
-will Councillor Gavin Welsh consider revising his previous support for and defence of Council staff action in the light of further information and offer a public apology?
-what subsequent legal advice did the in-house KCDC lawyer offer. (Lets see it!)
-what has actually changed since the original legal procedures were put in place (other than the quite frankly absurd assertion that KCDC has only just obtained copy of letters from the Standens and why does this change of viewpoint not extend to the tree contractor and neighbour?)
-was the factual basis of the original legal procedure found wanting and this is the main reason the case is being dropped? i.e. trees not indigenous nor endemic; site originally farmland with subsequent planted trees and therefore not original native bush; trees and site not correctly located by GPS etc.?
-what other legal cases have there been of KCDC prosecuting under the RMA or PDP/DP in the last Council term and during the current Council term? Lets see a list!
-why were Councillors not advised of the legal action about to be taken at the time and is this not something the ‘governance body’ should have been advised of?
-does the Council only back down when ratepayers stand up to their bullying tactics?
-why do ratepayers only receive proper responses when they follow through with OIRs and have to have recourse to the Ombudsman?
-can we have some honesty in communications from Council?
-what happened to ‘openness and transparency’ Mr. Mayor???????
-has this not been a huge publicity nightmare for the Council and personally for the Mayor?
-why have Councillors not rigorously questioned the actions of the executive and censored them for the continuing damage to the public integrity of Council?
-is the Mayor not at all embarrassed by this episode and has he made his displeasure clear to the CEO? (If he hasn’t, he should have or is he just a muppet–but wait there’s more–‘it’s the putting right that matters’–well put it right now!–act now not just weasel words or second hand (sorry boutique) car salesman promises?)
-is the Mayor not embarrassed by his interview on RadioLive with Sean Plunket? (He should be!)
-was he adequately briefed? (He did not appear to be!)
-did the Mayor not publically confirm the huge hollowness of his election promise of ‘people before process’ during his publically broadcast interview by saying ‘ we have to follow process’ regardless of the effect on an elderly couple and regardless of the fact that the process could have been halted (as suggested by Sean Plunket as had been the case of the Pike River mine ) and now after considerable time has finally been halted in contradiction of the Mayor’s interview statements? (Lets hear some contrition Mr Mayor and a public apology for wasting ratepayers money yet again!)
-when will the Mayor and Councillors start to carry out their ‘governance role’ properly and develop some backbone in terms of dealing with an out of control CEO and depute CEO and demand a change of culture from the top down?
-will this and many other examples of behaviour on the part of the CEO and depute CEO result in poor performance assessment of both these individuals and a refusal to grant any pay increases based on performance or any other reason?
-will Council demand the CEO and depute CEO resign over their past conduct and performance?
-will pigs fly?

Why did the Council find it necessary to seek an opinion from the Crown Law Office or follow the Solicitors General’s guidelines? Is the KCDC a crown entity? If it is not nor why is it seeking legal opinions from the Crown Law Office? How much did this legal opinion cost? Was the office solicitor ever consulted before the initial decision to prosecute was made? Why did the council not consult with its external law firm Simpson Grierson?

This type of prosecution appears routine for Local Authorities apart from KCDC’s heavy handed approach and stress caused to an elderly couple. Why the sudden need to go to the Crown Law Office?

In the last financial year the council spent $1.4 million plus GST on legal fees in addition to extra costs for employing their own in house Senior Legal Counsel. Money that could have been saved to reduce our rates. If Guru’s prediction is correct then $2 million dollars alone may have been spent this year on the coastal hazards debacle. My rates and those living in Paraparaumu will increase 6.9% with the CPI being 1.38% and NOT the 4.9% that the Mayor has raged on about.