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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

BIASED JOURNALISM IS CORRUPT PUBLIC SERVICE

Extended copy of a letter sent to Marketplace for the issue published on the 22nd of October 2008:

Thank you for being the only true newspaper on the island. Your story last week on the application to the Local Government Commission (LGC) to move the Hauraki Gulf Islands from Auckland City Council to Thames-Coromandel District Council was accurate and impartial. You were careful to be the unbiased eyes and ears of the community.

Would that the island's other publications had the same integrity, and skill. You obviously are now Waiheke's pre-eminent newspaper.

It's just as well there's no referendum in this boundary-change process, because islanders have been so misled and misinformed that a free and fair election would be impossible. The real issue--that this is all about getting good local government--has been ignored and buried. So has the proof. Ditto the fact that this is a strict legal process, which must be decided under the heading of good local government, it is not a game for political idealogues and biased, shallow-minded 'journalists.'

For the application to the LGC, the other two Waiheke publications are guilty of being viewspapers not newspapers--Wicked & Weak has carried on a malignant campaign, and Gulf News' editor has run 'news' stories that were actually biased, unanalytical editorials in disguise. Neither wants to be the eyes and ears of the community; they want to be its brain, telling it what to think.

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.'

Saturday, 11 October 2008

CORRECTION TO GULF NEWS STORY

On page 13 of Gulf News dated the 9th of October 2008 (this week's issue as this was being written) I was quoted as having said that 'Thames-Coromandel mayor Philippa Barriball supported a joint committee "nominating" this.' ['this' being 'Waiheke joining Thames-Coromandel'.]

I said no such thing. No committee will be, or can be, nominating our joining any council, or staying with one for that matter.

What I said was that the next step in the process laid down by the Local Government Act 2002 is that the four councils involved have 60 days to meet and decide whether the document called the Reorganisation Scheme is to be produced by a joint committee or whether they will nominate one council to do it.

And I said that Philippa and I had discussed that point some time ago and had found that we concurred in thinking that there should not be a joint committee, that Thames-Coromandel should be nominated to do it.

That makes good sense and is just, because if the Local Government Commission rules that we go east, instead of carrying on going west, it will be Thames-Coromandel and the Hauraki Gulf Islands that will be governed by that document, so Thames-Coromandel should be the council that works it out with us.

THAMES-COROMANDEL'S LIBRARY COMPUTERS BEST

The computers in Auckland City Council's libraries that give people free access to the Internet have a fraction of the facilities available on the ones in Thames-Coromandel District Council's.

Thames-Coromandel has fitted its computers with webcams and headphones, and the list of software available is long. First, it has a choice of browser, both MS-Explorer and Firefox. It also has Skype (so you can make free videophone/phone calls all over the planet to other Skype users). It has MS-Word, MS-Excel, MS-Powerpoint, MS-Office Publisher, MS-Office, OpenOffice Writer, OpenOffice Calc, OpenOffice Impress, OpenOffice Draw, CD Burner, VLC Media Player, Audio Editor, CD & DVD Writer, Media Player, Picture Photo Editor, Video Editor, Web & FTP Tools, Zip, iTunes, Kompozer, Notepad, QuickTime Player, Windows Media Maker, Games, etc., etc.

Its Start-menu has an extensive list to make life easier for users, including entries for Picasa and Google Earth. Easy access to Google Earth is there in part because Thames-Coromandel has a tie-up with it, and has made available to it its aerial-photo database, thus creatiing a powerful facility.

Auckland City has headphones available on request, but has no webcams and no Skype. Nor does it have a long list of accessible stuff on the Start Menu--there's no list at all. There are only eleven programsavailable, mainly the standard stuff: MS-Explorer, MS-Word, MS-Excel, MS-Access, MS-Office Picture Manager, MS-Powerpoint, MS-Publisher, MS-Paint, MS-Calc, Roxio Easy Media Creator (Basic Edition), and Windows Media Player. Auckland has no arrangement with Google Earth.

So Thames-Coromandel's library computers are another example of the far more comprehensive public-service ethic that is one of its hallmarks. Small wonder that it has had 84% and 80% overall satisfaction-ratings in the last two years (measured by the National Research Bureau). The dissatisfied 16-20% should try Auckland--and they would get bonus: they would be changing from bags to wheelie-bins.

POETIC LINES ON WAIHEKE

The big city is heavy:
Glass and steel and concrete,
Crowds of strange faces,
Noise, traffic, fumes and sprawl
Weigh hard upon the soul.

An island is light,
Floating on the sea:
A small community,
Familiar faces greeting you,
Green and quiet,
Home--
And the soul soars.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

THE NO-CENTS LANE

THE NO CENTS LANE
Once upon a time, long ago, when the world was young and innocent there was no Northern Service Lane in Oneroa.

'O dismay! Quelle horreur! And catastrophe piled on disaster and chaos!' roared that well-known and very up-to-date and modern and clever and world-class beast, Aucklandcitycrunchosaurus Wrecks. 'You dumb-'n-backward Waihekeans gotta have a cute NSL in Oneroa. You juss gotta.'

'Woffor?' enquired the islanders, resorting to reason under the delusion that A.Wrecks had a brain larger than a genetically-challenged chickpea.

'Coz our giant brain has decided itsa Good Thing,' roared The Beast.

'But we don't like it, we don't want it--and we don't need it,' wailed the people, still trying reason.

'O goody!' roared The Beast. 'That's three humungously excellent reasons for building it.'

'But we don't have no money,' wailed the people, still trying reason (stubborn dummies!).

'You're obviously stubborn dummies!' roared The Beast. 'But cheers for giving me another humungously excellent reason,' as it reached for a squadron of bulldozers, and filched mega-sacks of dollars for its snackies from all the people's pockets.

After the NSL was all finished, and embellished with lotsa loverly-but-absolutely-useless concrete patterns and colours wot A. Wrecks likes, The Beast gave a huge-n-gleeful roar and waved a pricetag of $1,324,452.22 million under the noses of the people. It belched gloatings galore as it pointed to the super-loverly breakdown on the other side.

'Look,' it belchingly drooled. 'Look at all these loverly numbers--$830,064.72 for physical works, $240,000 for land-compensation, $8,655.78 for legal costs, $33,463.57 for legal services, $2,994.45 for planning services, $156,015.15 for planning/design services, $15,906.37 for staff costs, and $37,352.18 for valuation/property services. O what droolful sights! And didya like the drooly total of that loverly last three!? O yibiddy belch and hurrah! A great big goobly $245,731.72 smackaroodings!

'So now,' it exulted, 'you really don't have no money. It's all been spent by a real brain--mine--what you island dummies won't never have.'

'But you shouldn't have built it,' wailed the people. 'And you didn't get us a cent of government subsidy from the NZ Transport Agency. You should have got 53%, because it's a new road, then your bloated mega-snackies and belches would have cost us half as much--you'd have saved us heaps and heaps.'

'Island dummies,' roared The Beast, 'you obviously don't unnerstand the elevated arts of public management and fiduciary brilliance.'

'Oh!' said the people, trying to work out whether to laugh or cry.

And they all lived happily never after (stop that sobbing, please!).


.......

[Footnote: Research on roading expenditure further to what I wrote about a few months back has revealed that over the last four years Auckland City Council has spent $53.169 million on roading on the Hauraki Gulf Islands, but got government subsidies of only $8.736 million--a trifling 16.43% instead of the 43%-plus that it should have got (43% for road maintenance and renewal and 53% for new roads). If it had got what everything it should have it would have had at least $22.33 million more to spend on our roads. Yet there are still those who insist that Auckland is doing a good job on our roads!]

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

THE BLOATING EMPIRE

Auckland City Council's 2006/2007 annual report gave the total number of staff over the last few years. In 2004/2005 there were 1778, in 2005/2006 there were 1850, in 2006/2007 there were 1954. At the induction seminars after last year's election we were told that it then had about 2150 (including 350 consultants). The latest figure is given by the Careers department as being between 2200 and 2300 ('We don't know exactly, because it fluctuates').

Auckland Regional Council has 606 staff.

So about 2900 city people are 'needed' to administer us--compared with the 7689 living on Waiheke, and the 8628 living across all the Hauraki Gulf Islands. A sledgehammer to crack a sesame-seed.

Thames-Coromandel District Council has 192 staff; its regional council Environment Waikato has 350; our service centres on Waiheke and Great Barrier have 49. So if we were with TCDC instead of under the Bloated Diseased Empire there would be only 591 staff in total. That would match our scale, it could not dominate it.