OK, I’ll admit it … one of the three of us is dazed and confused, and it might be me.

The candidates are:

Neil Taylor … Tom Belford … Lawrence Gullery

Last Friday Lawrence Gullery wrote a story in HB Today titled Council boss defends staff member over emails.

I’ve read the story now five times, and I still can’t figure out whether Napier Council CEO Neil Taylor understands the concept of public service ethics, what ethical rules might apply at the Napier City Council, or by what review process a full-time Council employee like Ron Massey might be judged either a paragon of public service or ‘ethically challenged’.

Apparently CEO Taylor has studied the situation carefully, since it has taken him nearly two months to comment on the propriety of Mr Massey spending substantial amounts of time, while on the public payroll and appearing to leverage that status, co-leading Nature Green, a company of which he was a director, into bankruptcy.

And unless reporter Gullery is the one dazed and confused, Taylor seems to be saying: “Hey, this is business as usual at NCC, what’s 15,000 pages of emails, give or take, conducting private business on the Council clock?”

Or, in his exact words: “I have reached a conclusion that Mr Massey has not used council time or any resources in any other way except appropriately.”

I almost felt relieved. But then the Gullery story continued:

“Mr Taylor said he had not determined whether Mr Massey’s work as a director of Nature Green was in conflict with his role at the Napier City Council. His employee’s work for the council involved a range of activities helping other businesses but his work as director for another company ‘was different’, Mr Taylor said. ‘And there is a very clear line between being a director and economic development manager.’

Back on 24 February, I asked CEO Taylor (and Mayor Arnott): “If you do not regard this situation as a conflict of interest, exactly what does constitute a conflict of interest in your regime?”

Of course I received no reply. Maybe they’re just dazed and confused.

So I asked the Hastings Council what rules applied to their employees. The answer was a raft of references to Council policies and employee manuals, Auditor-General guidelines, and assorted statutes. And these comments from HDC’s CEO Ross McLeod:

“This is an area we try to be fairly vigilant about, particularly around areas such as procurement, regulatory approvals, secondary employment/business interests or outside interests, gifts and general decision making. It can apply equally to both staff and elected members – anywhere where a staff member or elected member is in a decision making role or has the ability to influence a decision maker, either properly or improperly. Circumstances that can give rise the concerns in this area are familial or organisational connections with persons, entities or interests who are affected by Council decisions or actions, interests in procurement contracts, or business or external employment interests of staff or elected members which are regulated by Council  or otherwise affected by Council decisions. We try to have active management in place around these issues and document assurance processes and steps put in place.”

McLeod doesn’t seem dazed and confused.

Meanwhile, back at NCC, CEO Taylor is content with the status quo, as he has been for about three decades now. According to Gullery’s report: “He [Taylor] did not think the council needed to put new measures in place to make sure staff were not working on business ventures when they were being paid to work for the city.”

I’m sure that will come as a relief to Mr Massey. After all, as you’ll read below, he has a jewelry business to keep afloat, given the menial wages he must earn as one of NCC’s most senior employees.

And what does Mr Massey himself have to say?

Here’s what he wrote to BayBuzz about the emails …

“The liquidator referred to 15,000 A4 pages worth of emails.  That sounds like a lot of work writing and reading them.  Some items on the Bay Buzz refers to 15,000 emails.  That sounds like even more.  The two measures are quite different.  A collection of email like this includes many irritations [sic] of long email chains (each receipt of, and each addition to, the email chain gets saved as a separate email) – when they are printed you can end up with many repeats of emails within the chain (not to mention the pages of everyone’s disclaimers) and thereby many more pages than emails.

“One thing both “15,000” measures share is that they are misleading because there is no reference to the time period covered.

“I checked the electronic copy I have.  There were 5,089 emails spanning 16/12/00 to 7/11/12.  Taking that as a twelve year period, on average that is about 425 a year or eight a week.  That includes receipts, replies, mere cc’s to me, things simply forwarded on, the simple, the complex, the whole gambit. I have taken a rough measurement of the emails generated or responded to from me. That is about 16%. On average, that is just 70 a year, little more than one a week.”

OK, only about 5,000 emails over 12 years. That makes me feel better. I don’t know about you.

And when BayBuzz asked Mr Massey whether he accepted payment for his services to Nature Green, he replied:

“In the late 1990’s (before Nature Green Ltd and before John Knight’s involvement) I applied and got a grant for DTS to investigate this product. At the request of DTS George Spiers and I undertook research in UK, Ireland and Italy. George, as consultant, was paid, I was not. While I got a grant (covers airfares, accomm etc.), that was only 50%. DTS contributed, and so did I. Not only did I give my annual leave, I also paid around $4,500 of my own money. Plus, as a Jeweller, work I have continued in the weekends, I lost the income from 2 weekend’s work. If I am not here, I don’t get the jewellery work.

“In 2006 John Knight asked me to attend a trade fair in Hong Kong (natural herbs fair). George also went (and was paid). I got a market development grant for Nature Green (NG) that ran for 3 years (again around 50%), and contributed to all fairs in Hong Kong and the others mentioned below about a 4.5 year period. The Council approved me to go, as the stand was a Napier stand and the Chief Executive saw some potential in the exposure. I received no payment from NG and lost the best part of 2 weekends jewellery again.

“In either 2007 or 2008 (I’m not sure which, but we did miss one year), we went again. Just John and me. I gave of my annual leave and received no payment.

“In 2009 John requested my presence again in Hong Kong, and also was keen (as advised by Tradenz/Industry NZ) to attend the Hi Japan fair in Tokyo later in 2009. He also was invited to attend the largest fair known, held in May 2010 in Geneva. It was my wife Heather who said no. She was not prepared for me to keep giving my leave time (which she fairly thinks should be spent with her and our family!) to NG and loosing jewellery income. Given this John offered to pay me to attend these stands and assist as before with the sales and marketing.

“I invoiced NG for the time spent on attending the 2009/10 fairs (clearly stating the work undertaken) from my personal Business. Paid the GST and declared the income for tax purposes. I took annual leave from the Council to attend.  I have not been paid in any other form by NG.”

Was Mr Massey required to report such outside income?

“I think my Council contract states I cannot undertake other employment, unless approved by the CE, that may affect my work performance. The CE had formally approved my jewellery work at weekends and neither this or my annual leave activity for NG has ever affected my Council work performance.”

By now, I suspect many BayBuzz readers are dazed and confused. Alas! All this time you thought council employees like Mr Massey were punching the clock earnestly working for you!

And what about all those conscientious council employees who naively do spend 100% of their time on the public payroll working for the ratepayer, when they could be running a smokin’ McDonald’s franchise on the side? They must really feel dazed and confused.

Tom Belford

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