Council investigation into senior boss

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Queenstown’s council has mounted an internal investigation into a senior manager after a tourist operator complained he was the victim of a personal vendetta. 

Council chief executive Debra Lawson ordered the review after rafter Stefan Crawford complained about how his consent was cancelled. 

Crawford alleged council regulatory boss Roger Taylor did the bidding of the industry’s sole operator Queenstown Rafting. 

Queenstown Rafting had told Taylor that business rival Crawford hadn’t used his consent for five years, so it could be cancelled. 

Crawford, trying to revive his business, says he was shocked to learn that in a public-excluded meeting last August, councillors cancelled his consent without getting his side of the story. Crawford says he could have proved he’d used his consent 22 times in the previous five years. 

“My competitor’s concerns were pretty much translated directly to the councillors, and not having a chance to have any input, obviously it resulted in the consent being cancelled.” 

In a lengthy September 15 com­plaint to Lawson and mayor Vanessa van Uden, Crawford alleged Taylor had a “personal vendetta” against him, after Crawford appeared as an expert witness against council in an Environment Court case. 

Taylor, he alleged, had even contacted a whitewater safety client of his to say he had no credibility with council.

Crawford also claimed Taylor had acted in a hostile fashion in a meeting he and his lawyer had with him in September. 

“I am appalled at the biased processes, secrecy and lack of transparency or fairness that surrounded the decision of council to cancel the resource consent,” Crawford told Lawson and Van Uden. 

In response, Lawson commissioned an independent investigation by Dunedin QC, Royden Somerville, into Crawford’s complaints – as well as a separate issue. 

In instructions to Somerville, on September 20, council lawyer Jayne Macdonald said the investigation should look into Crawford’s allegations of: 

“Inappropriate and unprofessional conduct on the part of Mr Taylor” in a meeting attended by Crawford, his lawyer and Mac­donald herself on September 13;

Taylor’s “personal vendetta” against him;

“Collusion and improper protection of a trade competitor and, as a consequence, abuse of powers and processes under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act and the Resource Management Act”. 

“It is noted that this complaint appears to extend to the council as well as Mr Taylor,” Macdonald added. 

The enquiry was shelved, however, while Crawford’s lawyer Graeme Todd applied to the High Court to review the consent cancellation. 

In his statement of claim, Todd said the council had acted unlawfully, in breach of natural justice and unreasonably.
Ironically, Todd is council’s former long-time planning lawyer. 

Before the case got to court, Crawford says council agreed in November to settle and reinstate his consent – and paid $8000 towards his legal costs. 

Crawford, operating as Queenstown River Adventures, resumed rafting on the Kawarau River on January 18, after Maritime New Zealand approved its safe operational plan. 

In the meantime, council had decided on an internal review into Crawford’s complaints, instead of the Somerville investigation. 

Lawson has since told Crawford that she’d been assisted by council lawyers Simpson Grierson. 

Taylor, asked to comment this week on Crawford’s allegations against him, said: “I have no comment to make and you need to speak with either Debra [Lawson] or Vanessa [van Uden] in respect to comment from council.” 

Lawson issued this statement to Mountain Scene: “The allegations made by Mr Crawford have been the subject of an internal enquiry. 

“This process has taken longer than expected, due to a judicial review regarding this matter, however council communicated with Mr Crawford last week that he would receive a response this week. 

“The response is pending,” Lawson says. 

Crawford says he hasn’t ruled out a complaint to the Ombuds­man. 

“I believe that any investigation the Ombudsman will do will probably be more broad than an internal investigation.” 

Queenstown Rafting boss Vance Boyd says when rival Crawford told him last year he intended rafting again on his existing consent, Crawford also offered to sell him his company. 

Boyd says his company had already bought the business of Crawford’s former Extreme Green Rafting in 2003 “for a considerable sum”. 

“We had already bought the business once – we really didn’t want to be buying it again.” 

Crawford says Boyd didn’t buy his business in 2003 but the intellectual property associated with its name, Extreme Green Rafting. 

Boyd says Crawford should have applied for a fresh resource consent “that can be considered in the light of the environment that exists at the time rather than dust off a resource consent which was last used for commercial rafting back in 2003 and was granted way prior to that time, in totally different circumstances”. 

Boyd says his primary concern was rafting safety rather than the threat of competition.