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Saturday, 29 November 2008

OUTRAGEOUSLY EXPENSIVE DISTRICT PLAN

Auckland's habit trying to force what it wants down the throats of the islands created an expensive problem when it launched the Proposed District Plan for the Hauraki Gulf Islands. The thing was called a dog's breakfast, although it is a moot point whether any self-respecting dog would have come anywhere near it for any meal, even if starving. It was badly conceived, badly written, and insensitive to the islands.

It soon faced 4000 submissions from the 8628 islanders. It dealt to swathes of them simply by crossing them out--true democracy, that--but the long-running hearings for what was left did not finish till November 2008. The cost was huge, as figures gained under the Local Government Official Information Act show. For Great Barrier alone the expenditures for 2005/2006 to 2007/2008 were $226,585, $192,669 and $251,012, a total of $670,266, 9.2% of the total council income over those years. On an island of 852 residents it works out at $787 per head. On Waiheke the costs were $896,000, $856,000 and $581,243 in the same three years ($1,135,093 had been budgeted for 2007/2008), a total of $2,333,243, or $306.92 per head. Even tiny Rakino, with a permanent population of only 12, paid out $25,554 in 2006/2007, which was 12.47% of the council's income for the island that year. That all comes to an outrageous $3,029,063, or $351.07 per head over all the islands. But it is not over yet. The hearing committee now has to deliberate until its ruling comes out next April.

To put that in perspective, if isthmus Auckland had gone through the same process and had had the same relativities there would have been been 183,600 submissions from its 396,030 residents, and the whole process would have cost a staggering $139 million.

Auckland's incompetence and poor governance created that problem. The ratepayers paid for it. Again.

AUCKLAND CITY COUNCIL IS NOT REPRESENTATIVE

Auckland City Council at elected level cannot claim anything like a mandate, although the way it throws its weight around you would think it had one.

It is so unrepresentative that it is fundamentally undemocratic. Only 37.9% of those who were registered on the electoral roll, and only 31.7% of the eligible population (18+), bothered to vote.

The ruling party, Citizens & Ratepayers, certainly does not have a representative majority because only 23.17% of the eligible population voted for the 12 councillors who belong to it or are alinged with it. The mayor, John Banks, was supported by only 42.8% of those who did vote, and therefore by a mere 12.7% of those who were eligible to.

The very concept of parties in local government is outside the spirit and letter of the Local Government Act 2002, because all who are elected must at their swearing-in promise to be impartial and to act the best of their own skill and judgement. Belonging to a party--being partisan--means by definition that you cannot be impartial, and being driven by party whips means you cannot be acting to the best of your own skill and judgement. But Auckland is dominated and ruled by parties, and not just on the council. Three-quarters of the people who stood for community board stood on party tickets, mostly Citizens & Ratepayers, City Vision and Labour.

Thames-Coromandel District Council, in contrast, is in harmony with the statutory declaration and a democratic mandate, because there are no parties. Every member of its nine-member council is an independent. Thames-Coromandel uses the single-transferrable-vote system at the moment because the community voted for it, so individual tallies are not reported in the official results. But figures from Independent Election Services, which does the count, show the measure of the council‘s mandate, because 53% of the registered electorate voted, which is high by national standards; and 51.6% of those registered voted for the mayor, Philippa Barriball, giving her 97.33% of the allocation in the final iteration. Only 2.67% of the population do not want her at all.

DEMOCRACY OF THE SECOND KIND

There are two ways in which decisions can be made democratically. They can be made by ballot, referendum, majority petition, etc. Or they can be made according to law arrived at by democratic process. For example, a judge who sends a man to jail for theft is making a democratic decision, because the law against theft was arrived at by due democratic process. So what is really happening is that the majority of the people are jailing the thief.

The application to the Local Government Commission to put the Hauraki Gulf Islands under a much better council is decided in the same way. It is a legal process; it must be decided according to democratic law--first and foremost under the heading 'Good Local Government.' It is not a ballot, a vote, a referendum. What people's tastes may be on the matter is irrelevant. To take the point to extremes, the entire population of New Zealand may think a move to Thames-Coromandel is looney, but if after rigorous examination under the points laid down in the Local Government Act 2002, the LGC says we would get good local government there, not under Auckland, it should move us. Or if everyone thinks Thames-Coromandel is brilliant, but the LGC's legal analysis says no, that Auckland provides the best in local government, we must stay with it.

Monday, 24 November 2008

COUNCILLOR BHATNAGAR YOU ARE DEAD WRONG

Once again Auckland City Councillor Aaron Bhatnagar has in his blog waxed on about the application to the Local Government Commission (LGC) to shift the Hauraki Gulf Islands from the jurisdiction of Auckland City Council to that of Thames-Coromandel District Council. His posting has also been picked up by Kiwiblog.

This time pretty well everything he says is wrong in fact, wrong in law, or both.

He says, for example, a lot about a poll. In an application to change the boundary there is no poll, according to Schedule 3 of the Local Government Act 2002, the summary of it prepared by the LGC, and the LGC itself, so everything he says about that is rubbish.

He also misses the legal nature of these applications. For example, it is not an application by one person, me, as he says, it is an application by 10% of registered affected electors. The actual number that sign the application is immaterial, the counting stops a bit past 10%, because it is all about satisfying the law. Even if everyone signed it the counting would still say 10% officially, because that is all the law is interested in.

The ruling by the LGC is also all done on the law, which is there for all to read in Schedule 3 of the Local Government Act 2002.

He also misses the point of these applications. It is all about the key phrase in the Act: 'good local government.' And there is no doubt on a detailed, exhaustive comparative analysis of the two councils that Thames-Coromandel is a much better council than Auckland, particular for communities of our type.

Those who wax on about 'Auckland's' money have to get it into their heads that the world does not owe the islands a living. The isthmus certainly does not owe us a living, nor should it be coerced, without a word of consultation, at the point of the rates-notices gun into handing over millions that should be spent where they live not where we live.

This application is about communities, not about money. It is about how well they are governed. Everyone on earth deserves good local government. In New Zealand we have that right enshrined in law, and the process set up to get it elsewhere if we are not getting it where we are.

But if you cannot run communities with a combined population of 8628 on the present rates/charges revenue of $20 million you are mad, sad, or bad. Or all three.

The abysmal ignorance of the facts and the law shown in Councillor Bhatnagar's blog illustrates well the rubbishy governance that the islands have had to put up with for nineteen years. Please, Councillor, get yourself properly informed.

(He also wrong in his complaint that I covered 'Auckland City Council' on the badge issued to me as a member of the Waiheke Community Board, because it is wrong in law to claim that community board members come under a council or are part of a council. I am not a member of the Auckland City Council Waiheke Community Board. In law I am a member of the Waiheke Community Board, which is an independent body set up to be an advocate for the Waiheke Community. Therefore to correct the incorrect badge is perfectly proper.)

Friday, 7 November 2008

THE APPLICATION TO THE LGC SO FAR

The petition/application to the Local Government Commissions to move the Hauraki Gulf Islands to Thames-Coromandel District Council (TCDC) was personally lodged with the four affected councils, starting on Friday the 26th of September 2008 with the original to TCDC, followed by copies to the Auckland Regional Council (ARC) and Auckland City Council (ACC) in the morning of the following Monday, and Environment Waikato Regional Council (EW) in the afternoon.

Also in the morning it was delivered to Independent Election Services with a covering letter from Thames-Coromandel's CEO, Steve Ruru, asking that it be validated to make sure it had the necessary minimum number of signatures. In law it must be signed by 10% or more of registered affected electors.

That hurdle was easily passed on the first pass (counting the easy ones), so at 10.5% the count was stopped. The petition/application was now legal. That was announced by Independent Election Services on Friday the 3rd of October.

The chairman of ARC acknowleged the petition/application in a brief letter a few days later. EW did the same in a precisely-worded letter, perfectly sheeted home to Schedule 3 of the Local Government Act 2002, which is the governing legislation for the process that has now been set in train. TCDC had of course acknowledged it personally on Friday the 26th, and with the covering letter from Steve Ruru.

In law the four councils had to decide if the Reorganisation Scheme based on the Reorganisation Proposal will be developed by a joint committee or if one council will be nominated to do it. If they cannot agree within 60 days, in this case by the 25th of November, the application must go straight to the LGC.

Auckland Regional Council, Environment Waikato Regional Council and Thames-Coromandel District Council have now all voted to send it straight to the LGC, so it no longer matters what Auckland City Council wants. It never said a word about it at its last meeting on the 24th of October, but now whether it agrees or disagrees the result is the same--it has to go straight to the LGC. That means the councils have also given up any right to stop the application further down the track. It also shortens the process somewhat.

The next phase is submissions to the LGC from interested parties, a phase which lasts two months once it begins, then the LGC makes its ruling. That will be sometime early next year.

Submissions must be grounded in the points of law that the LGC's decision must be made on. They cannot just be 'I agree' or 'I disagree', 'It's brilliant' or 'It's looney.' Submitters have to offer evidence or proof to support their contention that under one of those points the application should be granted or denied.

REPLY TO GRAHAM HOOPER'S MARKETPLACE LETTER

Please, Graham! You misunderstand completely, because once again you have not bothered with the facts or the law. The 'petition' is not a petition. It is a petition/application. An application that becomes valid if at least X registered voters sign it. Parliament has laid down that X has to be 10%. So the people that validate an application count only that far, plus a small margin to make sure, then they stop. You could collect 90% and the count would only show 10%.

It is certainly not a petition of the referendum or ballot kind, where if there were 1000 people in the population and 501 signed it they win, or if only 499 signed it they lose.

It is an application to a quasi-judicial body, the Local Government Commission, which then decides on points of law which council we should have. By far the most important point is good local government. If the LGC thinks, after rigorous examination of the facts, that we will get the best local government with Auckland City Council, we stay. If with Thames-Coromandel District Council, we move.

It is a not a popularity contest, a survey of uninformed opinion. It is a careful legal process to make sure we will get the best.

If nothing else it will put Auckland City under a microscope.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

THAMES-COROMANDEL IS NOT THE RATES-MONSTER

If the Local Government Commission (LGC) moves the islands from Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council to Thames-Coromandel District Council and Environment Waikato, the rates must not go into outer-space (mine included), so the Reorganisation Proposal has been written to prevent that (see http://waihekenotes.blogspot.com/2008/04/draft-reorganisation-proposal-for.html).

But some islanders know people in Thames who pay much higher rates, and they think we would get the same. Not so. On the peninsula they have local rates and district rates. Local rates are developed by the community boards, after community consultation, and reflect what the communities want. Ones that wanted reticulated wastewater and water systems got them and pay for them. That makes a huge difference, but we wouldn't have those charges.

Comparing ACC+ARC rates with TCDC+EW for the average Waiheke property, shows about $200 in TCDC's favour: $1618 instead of $1813. But a fair chunk of the rates would be under the community board's control, after community consultation, and because there would be a financial firewall between the peninsula and the islands, plus a 23.2% ceiling on shared administrative costs, a minimum of $1.2 million would be knocked off our expenditure. Other savings mean that we would have much more money available even if the rates were the same.

Added to that is the fact that this financial year (2008-2009), for properties with neither wastewater nor water reticulation, Thames-Coromandel raised rates by only 2.08%. For 2007-2008 it lowered them 8.98%. So over the last two years they had a net drop of 7.09%. Auckland's overall average rise last year was 3.6% and this year was 5.1%, a net rise of 8.88%. But for Waiheke alone the rises were 5.4% and 6.0%, a net rise of 11.17%. Great Barrier rose 6.1% and 9.1%, a net rise of 11.58%.

Islanders can therefore expect to be better off overall if the LGC moves us.

On top of that, under the Reorganisation Proposal rates are not to rise in the first year if the LGC moves us, then by no more than the change in the consumer-price index (CPI), unless the community wants a bigger change to pay for some project.