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Monday, 13 October 2008

APPLICATION TO JOIN THAMES-COROMANDEL VALID

It is now valid and official--and therefore unstoppable: it must proceed to its final conclusion, whatever that is. That means the second of four bridges has been crossed by the application to the Local Government Commission (LGC) to change the boundary for the Hauraki Gulf Islands--i.e., to transfer authority over most of what is now the Hauraki Gulf Islands Ward from Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council to Thames-Coromandel District Council and Environment Waikato.

It had to cross three bridges on its way to the final one--the ruling from the LGC--which can be expected about the middle of 2009. Two to go.

Under the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA2002) any petition/application of this sort must have the signatures of at least 10% of the affected registered electors. So the first bridge to cross is getting enough signatures to be reasonably sure of clearing that number; the second is to lodge the petition/application and have it validated. I lodged the original of this one with Thames-Coromandel on Friday the 26th of September 2008, it was handed to Independent Election Services for validation on Monday the 29th (with a covering letter from Thames-Coromandel's CEO Steve Ruru), and on the same day I lodged copies of it with the two Auckland councils and Environment Waikato.

On the 29th of September the Hauraki Gulf Islands Ward had 6692 registered electors, 6345 from the three general rolls that cover the area and 347 from the local-body ratepayers' roll, so 10% was 669. Independent Election Services carefully checked the petition/application and announced on Friday the 3rd of October that the 10% threshold had been well and truly passed, at which point it became an official application. They did not count the exact number of valid signatures, because they need only to determine if the application is valid. As it happened that took only one pass, the first one, in which they look for the signatures that are easy to verify. They stopped at 703, 10.5%, well clear of the 10%

The third bridge is to develop the reorganisation scheme, the document that will rule the lives of Hauraki Gulf islanders if the LGC rules in favour of the application. It will be based on the reorganisation proposal that was must in law accompany the petition/application (see link below).

The first step in that process is for the four councils to meet and decide whether the reorganisation scheme will be put together by a joint committee or whether one council will be nominated to do it. The obvious and just decision would be for Thames-Coromandel District Council to be nominated, because it will be most affected if the LGC says yes. Why should Auckland councils be involved with developing a scheme in which they would have no part? TCDC would obviously involve its regional, Environment Waikato, as necessary, because that is how it works.

The councils must meet and make that decision within 60 days--i.e., from the 26th of September, so they must agree by the 25th of November. If they cannot, the proposal must go straight to the LGC for consideration. The LGC's booklet summarising Schedule 3 of the LGA2002 shows that if they failed to agree, the reorganisation proposal that accompanied the petition/application would be the one it would consider.

Thames-Coromandel District Council will be discussing the application at its next full council meeting on the 5th of November--a date that has an apt resonance. Doubly so, because by an equally apt coincidence that was the date in 2007 when I first broached the idea with Philippa Barriball, Thames-Coromandel's mayor. Triply so, because one of my grandmothers always swore that she had an ancestor in the Gunpowder Plot (and her surname did match one of those rebellious stackers of explosive barrels).

The draft of reorganisation proposal, the pre-cursor of the reorganisation scheme, can be read on this page of this blog. Unless the councils fail to agree within 60 days it will be fine-tuned by an advisory committee on the islands in negotiation with the above committee, then further refined in public consultation, before going to the Local Government Commission to go through the public submissions process, the fourth bridge, which ends in the final ruling.

That ruling must, in law, be made first and foremost on the criterion of good local government. The LGC must determine which council will provide the Hauraki Gulf Islands with the best standard of local government. The lesser criteria are easily covered, and are very much subsididary to good local government. It will be most interesting to see how Auckland City Council fares under the LGC's scrutiny.

....

It is very disappointing that media coverage of the Thames-Coromandel initiative has been so wanting. True democracy is the expressed wish of an educated, informed, involved majority of the electorate. Unless it is educated and informed it cannot be involved and make good decisions, so the lifeblood of democracy is accurate, trustworthy, impartial information. Therefore the role of the media is vital. They have to be good, clean, open arteries so that that lifeblood can flow unhindered direct from the source of information to the electorate. If the arteries are blocked the democratic system downstream gets gangrene, heart-attacks and strokes. Worse, if the direct route from news to electorate is blocked and replaced with a side-artery to the editor's or the publisher's views, the electorate gets bad blood instead of the clean truth. It gets blood contaminated with HIV--Hubristic Interference Virus--and democracy goes down with Accurate Information Deficiency Syndrome. Good democratic decisions, and free and fair elections then become impossible.

In short, the media should be faithful public servants. But although this petition/application to the LGC is the biggest local-body story on the islands since our forced amalgamation with Auckland City in 1989 (because it is the first time we have had the real possibility of escape from the domination of Auckland City Council, and from the inappropriate rule of islands by a city), the attitude so far of most Waiheke papers has been indifference, contempt or toxic antagonism. Instead of being clean, straight arteries feeding accurate, impartial information to their communities they have been blocked with malignant tumours or thick wads of ignorant cholesterol, and have fed infected blood from side-arteries. It is about time such papers showed responsibility and acted as if they really cared about the lives of 8628 people, and wanted for them the best local government available.

It is particularly disappointing that even Gulf News messed things up. Its front-page lead on the story in last week's issue (9th of October), which had ten paragraphs, had only one correct. One out of ten.

To get the details of the application process accurately go to this Local Government Commission page. The relevant part is chapter 2, 'Procedures for altering boundaries and transferring functions.'