There was disbelief in April when an anonymous source at the New Zealand Transport Agency was reported as saying that Wellington city councillors were “playing silly buggers.” Why would a government organisation launch a personal attack when it’s supposed to be politically neutral? An Official Information Act request has now uncovered the name of the person who made this demeaning statement – it was former city councillor Alick Shaw, who is a Board member of the Transport Agency.
His identity has been revealed by the chief executive of the Transport Agency, Geoff Dangerfield, in response to an information request from Kent Duston of the Save the Basin campaign. In a letter, Mr Dangerfield says no staff member was involved in talking to the Dominion Post, in which the report appeared. Mr Dangerfield reveals that, on the day the report was published, with a headline suggesting that the $2b of roading money was at risk, Alick Shaw confessed: he had spoken to the newspaper.
Mr Shaw was concerned that some of his comments were used in direct quotations rather than as background. But by then, it was too late. His statements were seen as putting pressure on the city council to support the Agency’s controversial roading plans, though they hadn’t been made public.
Without naming Alick Shaw, the Dominion Post quoted him as saying the Agency did not want to release its roading plans without council backing, fearing it may “walk into an ambush because politicians are playing silly buggers” by playing around with words to “advance personal views when they know perfectly well what the majority view around the council table is.”
This was generally seen as an attack on Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who had said she supported the proposals only so far as options and feasibility, and who was known not to support the expected flyover option. It was a startling attack on a former colleague from a man who had been a councillor for nine years, six of them as deputy mayor, till he was defeated in the 2007 election.
There was more. Alick Shaw was reported (anonymously) as saying that without council support the Agency could reluctantly ditch the Wellington projects to use the money somewhere else. It was this statement which gave the newspaper its headline that “$2b was at risk.” Here’s what he told the newspaper:
“To think you can pick and choose what parts to go ahead with simply because you don’t like roads … would mean we would be making worthless or questionable investments.” And here comes the threat which panicked the council into calling a special meeting: “It’s not that these things won’t happen but they will be put on the backburner and of course that whole question of confidence of delivery becomes a question mark again.”
Making his request under the Official Information Act, Kent Duston said he presumed the report was accurate as the Agency had apparently not requested any correction. The Agency doesn’t comment on this.
In his reply, Mr Dangerfield says that, because Alick Shaw contacted him, there was no investigation to ascertain the identity of the person who made the comments. And there was no disciplinary action. However the chairman convened a Board-only meeting to discuss the anonymous remarks. That meeting, which lasted 15 minutes, was held on May 5, 24 days after the Dominion Post published its report. As Mr Dangerfield explains:
“A Board-only meeting is time for Board members to discuss any matters between themselves. Such meetings do not have an agenda. The Board Secretary does not attend and they are not normally minuted.”
Though the Agency is staying silent about what it thinks of Alick Shaw’s one-man crusade on its behalf, here at Wellington.Scoop we were in no doubt about our response. On the day that his comments were reported, we wrote:
The Transport Agency’s tactics sank to a low level this morning, with threats from anonymous staff members and a leaked letter which they say is to be sent to the Wellington City Council.
(We assumed that the comments had come from more than one person, because the report misleadingly referred to “sources” as it recounted Alick Shaw’s remarks.) We added:
The Agency seems to be telling the city that it’s all or nothing at all. Do what the bullying Agency wants, or it will take its money somewhere else. Which is not a constructive way to begin community consultation.
Let’s hope that Alick Shaw doesn’t speak for the entire Transport Agency. But now that the consultation has begun, it’s hard to escape such a concern. As we are learning, the Agency is indeed telling us we have to do what it wants. You want a flyover? Or a flyover?