This isn't a post about Christchurch Mayor Sideshow Bob but it is a post about one of his loyal lieutenants, Councillor Barry Corbett.
Like his fellow 'independent' (aka right wing) Spreydon ward councillor Sue Wells, Corbett has been unswervingly loyal to Sideshow Bob, backing him on everything from the $17 million bailout of failed property developer Dave Henderson through to attempting to put the rents of council tenants up a massive 24 percent- which turned out to be illegal.
He is also the councillor who got himself into hot water when he defended Auckland businessman Bruce Emery who stabbed 15 year old Piha Cameron to death after he had tagged a fence.
Corbett told a council meeting that if '‘If I was on the jury, I’d let him get away with it, but that’s just me.’
Corbett never apologised for these remarks although Sideshow Bob claimed that he 'deeply regretted' making them.
Corbett has been in more hot water lately in his capacity as Chair of the poker-machine funded Eureka Trust. Corbett joined the Board of Trustees in 2003 when the Eureka Trust was formed.
The trust has allocated over $3.5 million to sporting organisations since that time. The money comes from the revenue generated by pub poker machines.
But a whole lot of that money has been going to the racing industry. In the 2007 financial year approximately $1,700,000 (approximately 27 percent of the total grants) went to the horse and dog racing industry in the South Island.
In 2008 it was approximately $1,400.000.
This year $643,000 has already been dished out to the racing industry.
This included $75,000 to the Oamaru racing Club, despite the fact that there are no bars in the Oamaru district that contribute to the Eureka Trust funds.
Most of Eureka's pokie machines are in the pubs that are or were connected to Christchurch businessman Alan Roberts, who started the Robbies chain of pubs. His company Westfield Holdings, is half owner of Matson's Brewery, which has exclusive rights to sell its beer at Banks Peninsula Trotting Club events.
Andrew Tomlin is Alan Robert's personal accountant. He is also a trustee and the treasurer of the Eureka Trust and a friend of Barry Corbett's.
Eureka's benevolence towards the racing industry has angered many people, including Christchurch Labour MP Brendon Burns.
Burns pointed earlier this year that the Eureka Trust had never once turned down a racing club application but it had 'to dozens of organisations helping those in need such as Community House, the Phillipstown Community Centre, Christchurch schools and sports clubs.'
As a former media laison officer for the Christchurch Methodist Mission, one would of thought that Corbett, as the Eureka chair, would have shown more sympathy for struggling community organisations.
Of course some former Methodist Mission workers have said that Corbett simply used his position to raise his public profile before he made a bid for council.
Brendon Burns told TV3 News:
'Schools, community organisations, voluntary groups in poorer electorates like mine have been losing money to fund racing stake money, and I just think that's unacceptable.'
He laid a complaint with Internal affairs.
Corbett though has had no qualms in giving millions of dollars to the racing industry and has consistently defended the practice.
Indeed earlier this year he called an opponent of Eureka's cosy relationship with the racing industry 'an unemployed wit'.
In late July however the Eureka Trust suddenly did a complete u-turn. It announced that it would no longer allocating grants to the racing industry
Corbett tried to claim that this had simply been done on the basis of legal advice it had recieved which stated that the trust deed not allow grants for the promotion of horse and dog racing.
But Corbett was being economical with the truth. As the chair of the Eureka Trust he was desperately trying to extricate himself from an embarrassing mess that he had helped to create. Corbett and the Eureka Trust were, in fact reacting to a threat from the Problem Gambling Foundation. It had prepared papers to seek a High Court ruling 'to say that the trust was not operating appropriately.'
Corbett and his fellow Eureka trustees though had been made aware that the trust was acting unlawfully giving millions of dollars to the racing industry as far back as February last year.
Professor Duncan Webb of the School of Law at Canterbury University wrote to the trustees pointing out that the trust was making numerous donations in breach of its charitable purpose.
The Eureka Trust has now suspended all funding to non-charitable sports bodies.
Corbett says he is 'devastated' by the situation - but it is a situation he, as the chair of the trust, should of done something about many years ago - instead of defending the generous grants it was making to commercial horse racing clubs.
As a Christchurch City councillor Corbett also appears to have allowed a conflict of interest to arise in relation to his work for the Eureka Trust.
Councillors have a responsibility to take appropriate action where questions of personal financial interest or a perceived conflict of interest arise in council deliberations or decisions.
Questions should have been raised about Corbett's involvement in the council decision to bail out the financially troubled Eureka Trust World Buskers Event. Although the decision was made behind closed doors it is believed that Corbett may of voted in favour of purchasing the festival for a reported $400,000.