While the Government was incapable this week of explaining the “technical uncertainties” that caused the “withdrawal” of Kaipara District Council Crown manager Peter Winder, the retired lawyer who has been the backbone of Mangawhai residents’ campaign against the council & Government over troubles arising from the cost blowout of their sewerage scheme had no difficulty at all.
Clive Boonham, who writes under the nom de plume Legal Eagle on the Kaipara Concerns website, said Associate Local Government Minister Jacqui Dean couldn’t say Mr Winder’s role had been terminated – “because in fact Peter Winder was never legally appointed. You can’t legally terminate something that never legally happened.”
Mr Boonham posted that charge on the website in November, along with an outline that Mr Winder’s terms of reference were also unlawful.
Mr Boonham kept pestering the Government for an answer, and when he got it on Wednesday he described the minister’s media statement as “a fine example of political duplicity”.
Mr Winder was one of 4 commissioners appointed to run the Kaipara council in 2012, taking over when the mayor & councillors resigned. An elected council was returned last October, and Mr Winder was appointed as Crown manager in July – for 3 years – to “support council members by taking responsibility for legal actions relating to past issues on their behalf”.
Mr Boonham explained the Government’s sudden withdrawal of Mr Winder: “The Ministry of Local Government and the Department of Internal Affairs, which runs local government in New Zealand, would have obtained a legal opinion to examine the allegations that I had made. That opinion would have confirmed my submissions to be correct because the terms of reference were so blatantly in breach of the minister’s powers under the Local Government Act.
“The problem facing the ministry & the department was that, because of his ultra vires terms of reference, Peter Winder had acted unlawfully as Crown manager and made unlawful decisions, and taken unlawful actions on behalf of the Kaipara District Council. These relate to instructing legal counsel in respect of the judicial review proceedings in the high court and in respect of the appeal to the high court in respect of the district court claim by the Kaipara District Council against Bruce & Heather Rogan for arrears of Kaipara & Northland Regional Council rates.”
Mr Rogan chairs the Mangawhai Ratepayers & Residents Association, and put his own rates bill forward as a test case over the legality of rates claims.
Mr Boonham continued: “The consequence of the unlawful appointment is that legal counsel were not lawfully instructed by the Kaipara District Council and they have been acting, effectively, without any authority from the Kaipara District Council. The ramifications of this abuse of legal process has yet to be worked out.
“The only way that the unlawful decisions and acts of the Crown manager could be legalised retrospectively is through Parliament enacting validating legislation. But in an election year, with Winston [NZ First leader & MP for Northland Winston Peters] hovering with his axe in hand, that is unlikely to happen.
“The only way out of the mess is for the Government to try & bluff its way out of it by minimising what has happened. And that is what it has done.”
Mangawhai ratepayers protested, first, about the undisclosed cost blowout of their town’s new sewerage scheme, then at its poor performance. The Government pushed through a validation bill supporting past Kaipara council actions, but since then Mr Rogan, Mr Boonham & other ratepayers have rallied against the legality of rates being charged, including Kaipara’s collection of rates for the regional council.
Justice Ailsa Duffy is due to give her final ruling on the Rogan rates case in the Whangarei High Court on 30 May. But so far, Mr Boonham said, she “has held that the rates of the Northland Regional Council were unlawful and that the Kaipara District Council acted unlawfully in setting the rates of the Northland Regional Council, in adding penalties to the unpaid rates of the Northland Regional Council, and in taking steps to recover the rates of the unpaid rates of the Northland Regional Council.”
The Kaipara council would now have to instruct counsel to act for it in the court case, instead of Mr Winder handling it.
Kaipara Concerns, 20 April 2017: Crown manager terminated
20 April 2017: Winder loses Kaipara role over “technical uncertainties”
8 July 2016: Winder to stay on at Kaipara council as Crown manager
30 August 2012: Minister names 4 commissioners to run Kaipara council
Attribution: Kaipara Concerns, ministerial release.