A chief executive with a dodgy past, a secret report detailing issues with Christchurch’s new stadium, and a would-be Auckland Transport CEO who thought again after the election of Wayne Brown as the city’s mayor.
These were the stories in the portfolio that snared BusinessDesk newsbreaker Oliver Lewis the “best reporting, local government” award in Saturday night’s 2023 Voyager Media Awards.
The judges noted that Lewis' entry "stood out because he broke big stories” and challenged journalists to “display a willingness to take on bigger local government issues”.
Lewis’ biggest story, by far, was the exposure of Tim Boyd, who had been appointed chief executive of Christchurch City Holdings, as having allegedly burnished his credentials and buried past misdeeds to get the job. Boyd also had a string of default judgments against him in US courts, totalling more than US$17.5 million ($28.9m).
With oversight of Christchurch ratepayer-owned assets worth some $5.5 billion and on a salary of more than $400,000 a year, Boyd lasted just six months in the job.
BusinessDesk editor Pattrick Smellie said: “Oliver’s pursuit of this important story was a textbook blend of deep background sourcing, careful research, pursuit of hard-to-find people and official records, and dogged determination to expose an inexplicably poor appointment to a major civic role.
“Plenty of roadblocks were thrown up along the way, with Boyd issuing a range of legal threats intended to deter the facts about his past becoming public.
“This was an important example of the power of good journalism to create transparency and accountability.”
Lewis' coverage of serious allegations about the governance, budget control and systems that contributed to a $150m escalation in the cost of the Christchurch stadium was also local government reporting at its best, said Smellie.
He was able to source a critical report from the former project director that councillors weren’t privy to before they voted to boost the budget.
Lewis' strong coverage of the ructions created throughout critical parts of Auckland city’s bureaucracy by the election of Wayne Brown as mayor has also been a staple of BusinessDesk’s local government reporting.
Three board members had resigned from the board of Auckland Transport within weeks of Brown’s election and the organisation had no chief executive for six months.
Lewis then uncovered the news that a preferred candidate for the role, from the UK, had unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Brown and, having not got it, pulled out.
“Oliver’s reporting is a reminder that local government involves hundreds of millions of dollars of assets, contracts, and decision-making that affects the lives of millions of New Zealanders,” said Smellie.
“We’re proud to have Oliver as a newsbreaker on the BusinessDesk team.”