In previous posts I have shared about the Corruption I have seen within the King Country, in particular with the leadership of the Ruapehu District Council. This corruption is not the corruption common in Samoa in which public money passes into the pockets of the elite instead of for an intended public purpose, it is more the kind where lies, half truths and deception rule.
Admittedly this is form of greed is very common within any large group of people, especially in the West when it is time from grants, handouts and so on. This post shares the contents of a report I wrote for RDC Mayor Don Cameron detailing what I claim to be deliberate errors of fact in RDC’s recent application for Lotto grant money. Enjoy!
A Dodgy Lotto Application
In Q1, 2019 Ruapehu District Council worked with consultant Alastair Wells (MWA Consulting) and Richard [Rick] Pearson (Pearson Architects) to prepare an application for a million bucks to fund a fitout of the main Railway building in Taumarunui. The report was written by Rick for Alastair using information mostly supplied by CEO of RDC, Clive Manley, under whose name it was submitted and under whose authority it was signed off.
It contains what I claim is deliberate falsehood on at least two major counts and is thus fatally flawed, assuming that Lotto does basic due diligence before dishing up a million bucks to a couple of goons running the RDC.
I reproduce here the text of the Report, with the Appendices providing pages of supporting evidence, documents, emails and so on available in the full document. As somebody said to me recently – ” I enjoyed reading your book. You can’t argue with the facts can you? They’re all there!”
In previous posts I have explained that this report (like most things I do) was written and supplied to only our lawyer and Mayor Don Cameron and that he has subsequently distributed it to his staff and others. Our meeting to give RDC opportunity to rectify the falsehoods “didn’t go very well” – to put it briefly!
This report was issued on the letterhead of my Private Investigative Blogging company, Writing the Wrong Ltd – Get Your Story Out!
7 May 2019
Attn: Sam Douglas
PO Box 135
Attn: Don Cameron
Ruapehu District Council
Private Bag 1001,
RUAPEHU DISTRICT COUNCIL LOTTO APPLICATION, 26 March 2019
RDC’s above-mentioned Lotto application (Appendix 3) is fatally flawed, with factual errors designed to misrepresent community funding (a contested $50k pledge from one trust) and a primary purpose for the project development (the storage of a large photography collection) being seriously misrepresented. These two factors are knowingly included to deceive.
Unanswered questions leading to confusion over RDC’s funding contributions also exists.
This Report gives a background to selected aspects of the Ruapehu District Council Application for Lotto funding, and analyses and corrects specific contentious claims contained within the Application. It is not an exhaustive analysis of the application per se, but does raise serious issues that Lotto should be made aware of, undoubtedly (and unfortunately) preventing the application from acceptance, unless it is corrected or withdrawn and resubmitted.
Urgent liaison with RDC and their lawyer is recommended as false information currently abounds, in particular relating to the likelihood of the proceeds of The Memory Bank sale being available for the project in question.
Ron Cooke is a photographer & publisher who, in the last four or five decades has secured a substantial collection of historical photos from the King Country region. Seeking a solution to house his collection, he gained public support for and then established the Taumarunui Museum Trust (TMT) – a NZ registered Charitable Trust incorporated in October 1989.
He also obtained funding for and purchased the old ANZ bank building in which the TMT established The Memory Bank. The purposes of this creation and public support are clear and can be well proven (despite recent misinformation to the contrary from vested interests).
In September 2018 following three decades of dysfunction and infighting, the TMT sold the building and evicted Ron Cooke with his collections, and when eventually forced to explain their actions the TMT trustees cited the founder’s “intransigence” (refusing to assign ownership of his collection to them) as being the factor that frustrated the trustees to the point of his eviction.
Opportunism and lack of vision also played a part of this sorry saga with trustee Peter Till admitting on tape that they didn’t know how to move ahead, and Clive Manley admitting that it was always the intention that TMT’s sale of The Memory Bank would result in financial support for this Community Hub & Museum project.
In December 2018, Ron Cooke (along with myself and a third trustee) established the King Country Education Trust (KCET) as a NZ registered Charitable Trust. It was incorporated on 4 January 2019 and it purchased his entire collections, containing a quarter of a million photographs, newspapers and negatives, many irreplaceable and priceless. In January 2019, KCET laid claim to the proceeds of the sale of The Memory Bank building (Appendix 8) on the basis of information garnered from multiple sources that KCET believed that TMT:
- Intended to cease operations and close down;
- Intended to distribute proceeds of the sale of the building for purposes other than that originally donated;
- Remained a dysfunctional organisation;
- Intended to specifically deny Ron Cooke and/or KCET access to any of the proceeds from sale.
The Memory Bank Sale & Proceeds
In 2014 TMT informed Mr Cooke that they did not know what to do with The Memory Bank Building (Appendix 2). From 2017 and throughout 2018 until 9 August 2019, TMT incurred minor expenditure for repeated roof repairs. In September 2019 the building was notified for sale by tender and subsequently sold with vacant possession required within two weeks (Appendix 1) and given on 16 November 2018.
KCET laid formal claim on the proceeds of this sale on 14 January 2019 (Appendix 8). In January 2019, in the face of growing concerns that TMT were closing down and intending to spirit away the funds, TMT advised the public that the proceeds from the sale of the building were “safe” and that they were earmarked for specific purposes supposedly relating to newspapers (Appendix 9). Other explanations were given at various times by TMT leadership contradicting this public ‘story’.
KCET’s case against TMT turns upon the purpose(s) for which the funds were donated, not, (as has been claimed by vested interests), a narrow read of the Aims or Objectives of the Trust. When donations have been received for specific purposes it is incumbent upon the trustees to ensure that they are utilised for that specific purpose, in order to avoid any claims of breach of trust.
Any legal advice given that the TMT trustees are above reproach or accountability as long as they simply abide by the trust deed is deficient, should there be a valid claim upon TMT. Specifically TMT would need to show that the public did NOT intend their donations to and support for the The Memory Bank to house Ron Cooke’s business, services to the community and/or his collections. Obviously this is impossible given the widespread understanding within the King Country that “Cookie is the historian, and we trust him!” Add to this the fact that KCET has legal and legitimate possession of the entire photograph collections without any benefit from the sale of The Memory Bank building and you have a clear case of trustee breach of trust.
KCET claims that TMT intended to close down, and has evidence that this was the intention ([of] at least some) of the Trustees when The Memory Bank was sold. The timing, method and events surrounding the eviction of Ron Cooke, and the timing and circumstances of the pledging of the vast bulk of the proceeds of sale also lends weight to this argument. An unbiased, independent look at the full facts (the role of the judiciary) will avoid the partisan approach that the RDC, TMT and others are currently applying.
In 2018 the Ruapehu District Council led a consortium of community groups who jointly wish to establish a Community Hub and Museum in the old Taumarunui railway station building. Consultants MWA Solutions (Alastair Wells) and Pearson Architects (Richard [Rick] Pearson) were engaged to prepare the application for funding.
The application was prepared in February 2019. Uploading online commenced on 22 March 2019 and it was uploaded in full on 26 March 2019. It was written by Rick Pearson under the supervision of Alastair Wells and I believe that the information was provided by CEO of RDC, Clive Manley, although this has not yet been formally confirmed. [UPDATE: Clive Manley has now confirmed this is correct]
Errors of Fact
The Application contains errors of identity naming the Taumarunui & Districts Historical Society, not The Taumarunui Museum Trust in more than one instance. We understand that this identity issue has been later clarified thanks to notice supplied by David Robinson and myself.
More important errors however relate to:
a) Claims of donations received “IN CASH” – they weren’t, and
b) The purposes for which the grant money has been sought – the storage of KCET’s resources can never be possible and this was known by those involved prior to the time of the application.
Additionally there is questionable grounds for:
c) The RDC’s contribution claimed – there appears to be no formal approval for this planned expenditure, such as any SCP as required by law for any significant expenditure.
a) DONATIONS “IN CASH”
The statement used more than once in this application that the funds contributed by TMT “in cash” implies that the funds have been received. This is not correct. Clive Manley has confirmed in person more than once that this donation from TMT is a pledge only, and the conditions relating to this pledge are unknown to the writer due to RDC stonewalling.
Furthermore Clive Manley, CEO of RDC knew full well that KCET claimed rights on the proceeds of this sale and that therefore the $50k that TMT pledged was contested. Should KCET secure an injunction, the available funds may be locked down, and should KCET secure the favour of the High Court in its substantive application, TMT will become impecunious and their pledge will become meaningless.
This can all be validated by facts:
- Clive Manley informed Ron Cooke and Audrey Walker (Taumarunui & Districts Historical Society) that the Railway premises would not be suitable at a meeting on 24 September 2018 due to the terms of the lease and the timing issues that Ron Cooke faced (Appendix 10);
- Clive Manley was present at the public meeting KCET held on 4 February when the book OFF THE RAILS was launched (this claim was reproduced in full on Page 189 of that book – Appendix 8); and
- On 1 May 2019, Clive Manley informed the writer that the RDC had sought and gained legal opinion that TMT trustees had the right to divest their funds as they so chose as long as their actions “fitted into their constitution”. In other words he knew that the TMT pledge was disputed and sought legal opinion in order to ensure that these contested funds would be available (Appendix Pxxx).
b) STORAGE FOR VALUABLE HISTORICAL ARCHIVES
The statements relating to “the need to house historical archives” are true in a general sense but not specifically when they relate to the vast bulk of the photographic, paper and documentary archives of the King Country region, owned by KCET as referenced in the application. A cursory read would indicate that a successful grant application would enable the storage of a valuable collection of historical photographic and other archival materials as a result of The Memory Bank sale, namely the collections recently sold to KCET. The inclusion of KCET owned materials in this application is mischievous because those responsible for generating this application were fully aware of the true situation . . . The proposed railway building was determined to be unsuitable for Ron Cooke’s use on 24 September 2018 by Clive Manley, CEO of RDC.
It is this writer’s opinion that this report contains deliberate factual inaccuracies designed to misrepresent reality to the Lotto Grants Board. It is this writer’s opinion that the proposed project does not have the financial support from the community as stated, and that the contested funds are required by the RDC in order to demonstrate a false impression of compliance with Lotto grant criteria.
c) UNAUTHORISED EXPENDITURE
The Application contains a financial pledge from RDC that is clearly an “Item of Significance” which should trigger the RDC Significance & Engagement Policy (as per the requirements of the LGA, 2002) and runs contrary to advice from CEO Clive Manley that no council monies will be used in the proposed project.
The page numbers below refer to Appendix 1 (the Application Summary).
Specific Errors in the Application
What community need do you propose to meet?
“Recently the Taumarunui and District History Society sold ‘The Memory Bank’ – an old bank building in the town that housed a significant undigitized photographic, map and film collection. These also need to be safely housed and preserved.”
“Collecting and preserving the large photographic collection that was housed in ‘The Memory Bank’, which has been recently sold by the History Society, along with other such collections.”
“$50,000.00 1/2/2019 Taumarunui and District Historical Society”
Comments on partnership funding and/or planned fund raising you are doing:
“The Taumarunui and District Historical Society have made $50 000 as a contribution in cash”
In my investigation into this application, its information sources and its validity, I sought answers (unsuccessfully) from Clive Manley, Alastair Wells and Rick Pearson. As can be seen from these engagements, in particular the failure to answer key questions, the critical transparent lines of accountability do not exist.
Email to Clive Manley seeking answers (Appendix 4 & 5):
“1. Has the Taumarunui Museum Trust “made a $50,000.00 contribution in cash” to the council as Rick claims, and if not yet the case whether this is pledged, and/or upon what conditions it was donated/pledged; and
2. What information or claims were contained in the original application to the Lottery Grants Board which related to the assets and activities of KCET?”
Email to Alastair Wells seeking answers (Appendix 6):
“1. Does your company accept that a material error of fact is included in this application, namely that the funds grant will include the housing of KCET’s resources, or is there other information that I am not aware of that could influence my current assessment that deliberate deception has occurred?
2. From whom, and in what circumstances did Richard Pearson receive the information that “a significant undigitized photographic, map and film collection [needs] to be safely housed and preserved”?
3. Who decided, and who approved and/or signed off the inclusion of this false claim in the RDC application and on what basis was this fact checking conducted?”
Email to Rick Pearson seeking answers (Appendix 7):
“1. Who informed you and when did they inform you that “the large photographic collection that was housed in ‘The Memory Bank’” could or would be housed in this planned Museum?
2. Who informed you and when did they inform you that TDHS (actually TMT) “have made $50 000 as a contribution in cash” and what terms or conditions were issued upon the payment of that cash?
3. Who verified the contents of this application prior to submission to Lotto and when did that sign-off occur?”
Summary of two meetings with Clive Manley (Appendix 11):
“5. Clive confirmed over both meetings that TMT has only pledged the $50k and that the Museum project is conditional upon gaining the Lotto grant money”
Summary of phone call with Clive Manley (Appendix 12):
“3. You advised me that RDC has obtained legal advice that the TMT trustees can gift to the Community Hub & Museum project as long as the gifting “fits into their constitution”
4. You advised that the Museum project would still take a year to get underway even if the Lotto application was successful
5. I asked for RDC’s commitment that the contested money would not be accepted by RDC until the matters had been decided by court or other means. You confirmed that the funds have not been handed over yet. You were not able to give this undertaking as you required this gift as a demonstration of community support for the Lotto application”
RDC mayor Don Cameron should be advised of the errors and given opportunity to fix the problems with a voluntary withdrawal of the Lotto Application or corrections as appropriate.
In the event of inaction, or unsatisfactory resolution we recommend that the matter be publicised and that litigation be commenced:
- Lotto Grants Board should be furnished with a copy of this report prior to announcement of the grant application results;
- Public notice should be given to expose the actions of RDC, by way of print and online media;
- Planned litigation against TMT and their Trustees personally can include RDC as active partners in the retention of monies rightfully due to KCET.
Dennis A. Smith
Licensed Private Investigative Blogger
Writing the Wrong Ltd
In the fourth post of this series, I share the response from RDC’s leadership and discuss the way that politics interfaces with ethical issues, and the tools that those in power use to maintain power. It’s probably the most important post of the four in this series to date, in that it explains to the uninitiated what happens behind the scenes & why this is the case, especially when there are contentious issues ‘doing the rounds’.
King Country Corruption Series
- King Country Corruption 1. TMT Scandal Deepens
- King Country Corruption 2. A Flawed Lotto Application
- King Country Corruption 3. Report on Flawed RDC Lotto Application
- King Country Corruption 4. Behind The Scenes
- King Country Corruption 5. The Solution
- King Country Corruption 6. The Consequences
- King Country Corruption 7. Suing Taumarunui Museum Trust