It’s Not WHAT You Know…

"Napier Life" - promoting Napier to people who already live here...

“Napier Life” – promoting Napier to people who already live here…

It looks like Napier City Council’s new CEO, Wayne Jack and his staff have been having a good old clean-out at the NCC offices.

Closets are being emptied and a few skeletons have been evicted.

While at least one skeleton came back to haunt the council, causing a bit of a poltergeist-like mess and costing the council a fair bit of cash, other skeletons have been evicted a bit more quietly than they should have been.

In late February THIS little doozy appeared in the Dominion Post and on Stuff, but didn’t seem to get much airtime here in Hawke’s Bay, where I would have expected it to deservedly cause a bit of a stir.

“Napier Life” magazine was a bold, glossy, ratepayer-funded publication intended to attract people from around New Zealand and the world to come and live in Napier.

It was first produced in 1997 – 90’s television presenter Lana Cockcroft and the Marineland dolphins featured on the cover. The magazine had a pretty impressive 16 year run until 2013, where the last issue’s back cover was an advertisement promoting the debacle that was to be the Art Deco Buses.

In retrospect it’s kind of ironic how those two Napier tourism attractions – without doubt the most hotly-debated ventures of recent times – literally and figuratively book-ended the existence of what should also become a thoroughly debated, or at least PUBLICLY examined, venture.

Because most of the 31,000 copies produced in 2013 were delivered to Napier letterboxes and local businesses – mainly motels, hotels, cafes and the like.

Yup, around 30,000 glossy, ratepayer-funded magazines meant to attract people to Napier went to around 30,000 ratepayers already living in Napier – Now there’s some marketing genius for you!

And there was nothing in the Dominion Post’s article to indicate that any of the 15 previous editions were any different – making that total potentially closer to Half a Million Copies!

“Napier Life” was the baby of former Economic Development Manager Ron Massey (one of the aforementioned evicted “skeletons”) and a company called “3Sixty5 HB” which is owned by Napier advertising executive Rick Hopkinson and his wife Judith. Hopkinson edited the publication and his wife wrote articles for it.

Last year Napier City Council commissioned an audit of Massey’s Economic Development Unit focusing, in particular, on its operational spending.

The audit found $555,441 – 35% of operational expenditure – between January 2012 and February2013 (EDU’s total expenditure was OVER $1.5Mill PER YEAR?!) went to one company – the Hopkinsons’ 3Sixty5 HB”!

And here I was thinking “Napier Life” was financially self-sufficient from selling advertising space and glossy, multiple page “advertorials” like most regular magazines.

The auditors stated they were “not provided with evidence of the approval of this expenditure before it was incurred” – Never mind a regular review, tendering process, or due diligence…

“To comply with council policies”, the Dominion Post reported, “Massey should have had the spending approved by former council chief executive Neil Taylor.”

“The audit recommended the council look closely at the sum being spent with one supplier when spread over several projects under the control of one manager. This would “set a ceiling on the amount able to be spent with one supplier before CEO approval is required”.

Napier City Council had since ceased publication of “Napier Life” and was moving its focus to more effective and cheaper methods of promoting Napier, such as social media.

Napier City Council’s previous administration certainly didn’t seem to do many people many favours. But for the select few it did favour….. Good grief!

Addendum:

Since writing this on Friday, something has been gnawing away at me- annoying me:

No-one knew about what was going on with “Napier Life”?

REALLY??!!

I can’t believe that while the auditors may not have “been provided with evidence” of prior approval, that this sort of spending or contracting out of work went un-noticed or unknown once, let alone SIXTEEN TIMES!

Half a million dollars per year is a significant amount of money – especially when it is ratepayer’s money. There are checks and balances in place to monitor its usage, right?

Neither the Tourism and Economic Development Committee, or the Finance Committee asked about any of the spending or practises employed in making “Napier Life”?

And while there may have been no evidence NCC’s previous CEO Neil Taylor gave prior approval for the spending or deal with 3Sixty5 HB, Napier City Councillors were certainly at least aware of the publication’s production.

Previous mayor, Barbara Arnott, wrote an opening piece / welcoming letter in each issue and councillor John Cocking (who was apparently renowned for his accounting nous) appeared in the publication on multiple occasions as his “Art Deco Ambassador” alter-ego of “Bertie”. I’m pretty sure I remember seeing other councillors featured in “Napier Life” at different stages, in different / prior capacities, too.

During that time none of those elected or employed council people featured bothered to ask or check how much “Napier Life” cost, how many people it reached, where it went, or how the project was tendered out? As a glossy promotional job for the council – a good, solid, well-paying client – it would have been a dream job, so other parties must have been some interest in getting in on the deal themselves.

But nobody did and here we are again.

Napier deserves better!

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