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Thursday, 29 November 2007

THE AUCKLAND CITY MACHINE

There are many good people working in vast army of the Auckland City
Council, but its overall character, set by a few powerful people in the
Council and the bureaucracy, is obvious to everyone except them. The good
people do what they can and say what they can, but The Machine rolls on as
it always has.

We, the people and their Community Boards, can even point out clear
discrepancies between what the law requires, sometimes the Council's own
laws, but The Machine does what it wants.

For example, the Local Government Act 2002 says councils are bound by
standing orders, the rules laid down for the conduct of council and board
meetings, and Auckland's standing orders say the same. One dictum is that
the Chief Executive Officer (usually via delegation of course) shall
'prepare' (standing order 2.3.1) and 'give to each [member]' (1.16.2) the
agenda set down for meetings. But at the Community Board's informal meeting
a couple of weeks before we were sworn in we were informed in writing that
he 'determines' the agenda. We noticed, and protested vigorously, as did
other Boards, but that was what was out at our swearing-in. It is used to
suppress or reshape anything not to The Machine's liking.

The only metal from which that very convenient mechanism could be forged is
a deliberate misreading of 2.16.2, which says, 'The Mayor or Chairperson may
direct the Chief Executive Officer to refuse to accept any notice of motion
which is: [among other things] contains [sic] an ambiguity or a statement of
fact or opinion which cannot properly form part of an effective resolution,
and where the mover has declined to comply with such requirements as the
Chief Executive may make.' Only if you read that quickly, ignoring the 'and'
in the phrase 'and where the mover has declined...', could you create
'determines' out of thin air.

That device was used before the Community Board meeting on the 21st by
'Democracy Services' staff to kill sixteen out of seventeen notices of
motion, despite the fact that under standing orders motions must be killed
or carried in an open, transparent, democratic meeting. Bureaucracy has no
right to crush democracy.

Other convenient devices are the usual: 'correct process', delaying tactics,
watering down, starving you of time, swamping you with process, etc. Then
there are the constant attempts to curb communication with all but a few
council officers. As a private citizen you may talk to any of them, but if
you do it when you represent every citizen you run the risk of being scolded
like naughty child. So much for freedom of speech.

At every point The Machine leans hard on democracy. In other places, such as
Christchurch, Waitakere and Thames-Coromandel, Community Boards are valued
and given meaningful powers (see their delegations on the Internet). They
are a grass-roots democracy, part of their local government structure, with
emphasis on local.

But in Auckland they are marginalised and treated with polite, patronising
contempt, to such an extent that they have to be seen as a PR exercise. A
few million dollars worth of a paint labelled 'democracy' is sprayed over
the cold, hard metal of The Machine. Boards get a small bag of lollies to
dole out to their grateful communities--at less cost than the mechanism
installed 'to serve and support' them--and that's about it. A lot of process
and little substance.

The only way for a Community Board under Auckland to have much effect is to
play the game as set up, and therefore to concentrate on being a kind of
anti-PR, a tall soapbox--a platform for fearlessly speaking up. Not quite
the representative and advocacy role that the Local Government Act 2002 had
in mind for it, but the best that can be done. Boards' deliberations and
resolutions cannot be much more than public rallying cries, because their
authority and effectiveness, even being on the agenda, is determined wholly
by The Machine.