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ROCKY BAY NEVER WAS OMIHA

A Waiheke Island Myth Part 1 On Waiheke Island, New Zealand, a myth has grown up among a handful of people in the Rocky Bay Village th...

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Monday, 30 March 2009

APOLOGIES FOR THE FALSE SHUTDOWN

I apologise for the outage that afflicted this blog in the last few days. But some fiend generated a false accusation that it was spam, so Google had to go through its investigation process to determine the truth.

Some will try anything to shut down freedom of speech when they don't like the message.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

LOCAL GOVERNMENT APARTHEID BY ROYAL COMEDIANS

The Royal Commissions Report on Auckland's Local Governance
-----------------------------------------------------------

Looked at just as a report it is very good. Well-researched, well-written, well-structured, well laid out, comprehensive.

But its recommendation is bad. A fudge. A confused mess.

If the government does what it wants New Zealand would become a two-tier country. Auckland would be a country within a country, and a very powerful one at that--a country called Auckland loosely affiliated with the one called New Zealand. Auckland's local government would be run under one set of laws, the rest of New Zealand would run under a different set. What Auckland would have would be illegal everywhere else. That is bad, very bad. There should be one New Zealand, all operating under one law. Auckland might as well run up a flag with that big, blue A on it and secede.

It is just the old battle between Auckland and Wellington; this time Auckland is determined to come out on top.

We would have a kind of duchy. The duke, the mayor of Auckland, would preside the new Auckland Council, and would have a enormous power (for instance, he would appoint the deputy mayor and the chairs of all the council committees). So would his council. They would preside over an empire with a third of New Zealand's population, stretching from Mercer to north of Wellsford. They would have their own special minister in the Cabinet. The power of the mayor would rival, if not exceed, that of the prime minister; and the power of the council would rival that of the government.

Auckland is too full of itself anyway. Enshrining its selfishness, arrogance and hubris in law and making it a law unto itself, would be way over the top.

In setting up a structure that needs a special law to make it legal the Royal Commission has exceeded its brief. Under 'Relevant Matters' it was told that it could investigate and receive representations on, amongst other things, 'what changes to current legislation (consistent with the purposes and principles of local government as described in the Local Government Act 2002) are considered desirable to achieve or support the achievement of the inquiry's objectives.' But it has gone beyond 'current legislation'--which is mainly the Local Government Act 2002--and invented a new Act, the Auckland Act. An Act so powerful that if that clashed with any other Act it would override it. That is monstrous.

Before the Royal Commission issued this ridiculous, hubristic thing, it was conjectured that its preferred model would be the 'super-city'. But this is a super-region. It cannot be called a city, because it contains vast swathes of rural land, although the report constantly talks of a world-class city. But that is just marketing, because the city proper ceases to exist in legal and linguistic terms. Instead there are four urban wards, which contain the 'metropolitan urban limit'--the MUL, as the Royal Commission calls it. There is no real designation of city, no definition. The super-council, the Auckland Council, presides over the whole thing, a mix of urban and rural.

The excellent legal definition of 'city in the Local Government Act 2002 has been ignored. So has the normal definition in the language. The result is a blurry fudge. Where is the city proper? What will people be able to point to and say 'That is Auckland city'? What will the world be able to point to? The Royal Commission has fudged both law and language.

It has obviously avoided 'regional' and 'city' in the legal titles it recommends so that it could evade the legal definitions in the Local Government Act 2002. The way it uses 'unitary council' is also outside the Act, in the Act that is a territorial authority that has had conferred upon it the powers of a regional council. But the Royal Commission has turned that on its head: its 'unitary council' is a regional council that operates locally through illegal 'local councils'.

And under the Act there are only three ways that a unitary council can be proposed--by a resolution of one of the affected councils, the Minister of Local Government, or a petition signed by at least 10% of the affected registered electors. There is no mention of a Royal Commission. If this so-called unitary council is to be legal it must be proposed and set up one of those ways.

The Royal Commission has done rather more than turn 'unitary council' on its head. It has fudged its meaning, because although it calls its proposed Auckland Council a unitary council it isn't one. A unitary council is the single-level alternative to the normal two-level structure in which there are a number of city and/or district councils and a regional council. In a unitary council a single regional-territorial council combines the two functions. But what the Royal Commission has invented for Auckland is neither fish nor fowl. Its 'unitary council' is somewhere between a unitary and a two-level structure. The Auckland Council is a regional council with six 'local councils'--a new sort of council that is illegal under the LGA2002 (as the Royal Commission admits on page 664). That is why they need that special Auckland Act.

The seven existing territorial councils would be trimmed to six local councils. They would be pretty much the same as they are now, except for the two in the south that would be merged into one, and they would have greatly reduced powers--only what were delegated by the super-council. The staff in the local councils would be employed by the CEO of the super-council, and managed day-to-day by their local council managers, but they would be answerable to the CEO. One of the tasks of those local councils would be 'place-shaping.'

Royal Commission? No, Royal Comedy.

The most macabre part of the joke is that the Hauraki Gulf Islands would for day-to-day matters be under the same council as now, except it would no longer be called Auckland City Council. It would be renamed the Tamaki-makau-rau Local Council. So ACC would become TLC! The same people under whose tender loving care we have been for twenty years...

The pressure of submissions from the Hauraki Gulf Island, coupled with the Royal Commission's desire to nullify the Thames-Coromandel application to the Local Government Commission, caused it to recommend more for them than for any other community. It says they should keep their community boards. But its attempt to gazump the Thames-Coromandel application has come nowhere near the level of local government that that would give the islands. And it was an attempt, because when the Commission came to Waiheke I spoke with the chairman, Hon. Peter Salmon, in the lunchbreak, and he they might come up with something that would even satisfy what was behind the LGC application. So the application has had at least that positive effect. But the trifling delegations that the Commission has proposed are nothing compared with the wide-ranging local decision-making power that community boards have with Thames-Coromandel.

Thames-Coromandel's community boards have a wide range of duties and powers, including developing local budgets and local rates, determining library hours, setting the priorities on roadworks, even sitting on some council committees. The Royal Commission has only chucked the islands a few crumbs. With Thames-Coromandel we would have a whole loaf.

The crumbs are that our community boards would have one extra member each, and they would be allowed to run their local halls and reserves (big deal!), plus whatever other delegations the super-council might allow them. For day-to-day things they would come under the TLC, except for ones not delegated it by the super-council.

Under the recommendation from the Royal Comedians all the islands would be deemed rural, except for Waiheke's main villages--i.e., all but Orapiu. They would be within the metropolitan urban limit--i.e., part of the metropolis. So for resource-consents the Royal Commission says they would trot off the TLC. The rest of Waiheke and all the other islands would go to the super-council.

The islands would have the same one councillor, but she would be 1 out of 22 on the TLC instead of 1 out of 19 on ACC. We would have no representation of our own on the super-council, the Auckland Council. For that we would share one councillor with the whole of Rodney, because the Hauraki Gulf Islands and Rodney District would make up the Northern Rural Ward, which would have 1 super-councillor out of the 23. That councillor would obviously be someone from Rodney, because it has by far the dominant population. We would have only 8.78% of the whole.

Thus the representation for the islands would be different on the super-council than for our local council. For the local council we would still be with Auckland, renamed Tamaki-makau-rau, because we would be deemed part of central Auckland. But for the super-council we would be with Rodney, because we would be in the Northern Rural Ward. Very odd.

The committee structure for the super-council would include a Rural & Islands Committee. But there are only two rural wards, each with only one councillor, and committees typically contain several times that number, and the islands would share their councillor with Rodney. Therefore even if both rural councillors were on that committee the island's voice would be very weak. Or weaker than weak, given that the chairs of all the committees would be appointed by the mayor. If he didn't care a hoot about the islands we might as well dig a hole and bury ourselves.

History says our voice would probably be weaker than weak, because at the takeover by Auckland in 1989 the then Local Government Commission stipulated that there be an island committee for at least five years. Auckland did set one up, but it refused to put the island councillor on it, and dumped the whole thing when the time was up. We therefore should not be filled with optimism if the Royal Commission's recommendations are implemented.

In saying that the Hauraki Gulf Islands should remain with central Auckland the Royal Commission has allowed itself to be seduced by that specious ferries argument (i.e., that because there are lots of ferries to Auckland we should be under the council in Auckland). But ferries are not councils, or councillors or council staff. They do not provide local government. They certainly do not create quality local government. They do not 'enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities.' Two ferries a day, or twenty--it does not make any difference to how the council operates. But it doesn't matter if getting to the central council office is a ferry and a walk or a ferry and an 80-minute drive. What does matter, and very much, is the quality of local government you get there.

Please, LGC, get us out of here into the normal world, get us out of the belly of this monstrous beast into the small-scale, friendly world of Thames-Coromandel! It is a much better council than ACC--and the Royal Commission envisages each Local Council in the Auckland empire as having the same staff as now, so the TLC is likely to have the same mindset. Exhaustive research has shown that Thames-Coromandel is a much better council, that it gives more responsive, more engaged local government, and that it cares about keeping to the Local Government Act 2002--especially the heart of the Act enshrined in section 10: 'The purpose of local government is to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of communities, and to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities, now and in the future.'

The proposed royal empire, the state within a state that would govern a third of the country's population, is not local government. Local has been consumed by overweening vanity and the lust for power and territory.

Shifting the islands to the peninsula would shrink the proposed Auckland empire to something reasonable. A large chunk of territory on its eastern flank would be removed. It would not stretch from the Tasman Sea right out into the Pacific Ocean. The result would be far more palatable to the nation, especially if the southern boundary did not extend past the Bombay Hills, Auckland's traditional limit.

The only silver lining in this right royal cloud is that high and mighty Auckland City Council would be reduced to a mere local council.

The Royal Commission has inadvertently underlined Auckland City Council's shonky accounting, because the data for revenue it gave the Commission is different to what it had previously given in response to requests made under the Local Government Official Information & Meetings Act.

The Royal Commission's researchers did get a figure I have been wanting for some time, namely the value of the shares in Auckland International Airport that were once held by the Waiheke County Council. The airport informed me last year that Waiheke County Council had 0.115% of the shares before Auckland took over in 1989, but it could not tell me their value. The Royal Commission reports Auckland's percentage as 12.8%, worth $303.7 million. This year's dividend to Auckland has just been reported as $9.7 million (down from normal).

Therefore under Section 13(b)(iv) of the reorganisation proposal that is now before the Local Government Commission, we would get back shares now worth $2,728,555, and this year's dividend would have been $87,150. A nice little windfall every year. If the LGC moves us.

Failing a move east, courtesy of the Local Government Commission, the best we can hope for if we have to keep going west is that the mayor and the CEO of the super-council will have skill, imagination, flair and vision. And that the CEO will hire staff of like character. And that the staff and the local councillors will care about their communities and engage with them. The Royal Commission repeatedly expresses great faith that all that will happen. But Auckland's history is mainly the opposite, so no one could be optimistic that that it would, especially for the Hauraki Gulf Islands.

There is no doubt that there are things wrong with the way Auckland is run. There is a lot wrong with Auckland, full stop. But this vast upheaval is not needed to fix the worst of it. Far simpler--and far cheaper in these economically constrained times--would be to make two changes to the Local Government Act 2002, in effect a couple of tweaks to section 14(1)(e). One would force adjacent city councils under the same regional council to have a common computer and billing system, and the other would force planning issues that cross city/district council boundaries to be handled by the regional council. That would solve most of the costly problems in Auckland without rearranging the country and doing assault and battery to the LGA2002--or to the Hauraki Gulf Islands.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

WAIHEKE LIBRARY HOURS WITH THAMES-COROMANDEL

Some have asked me about what the library's opening hours would be if the Local Government Commission transfers the Hauraki Gulf Islands to Thames-Coromandel District Council. They point out that the opening hours in Thames are different to what we have here.

The answer, from the Thames-Coromandel mayor, Philippa Barriball, is that with that council the community decides, through the community board, what it wants and is willing to pay for.

So if for example we went to extremes and decided that we wanted the library open 24 hours a day, and were willing to pay for that, the community board would set a targeted local rate accordingly (with Thames-Coromandel, the council does the district rates and the community boards do the local, ward rates).

(At present the library costs each ratepayer about $43 a year, reckoning on Auckland City Council figures).

Thursday, 5 March 2009

GETTING THE BEST IS NEVER CRAZY

There are many islanders who say that the application to the Local Government Commission to change the council is crazy, or looney, or some such.

Really?

Is it crazy or looney to try to try to get the best available council? It is crazy or looney to take advantage of the procedure put into the law for every New Zealander so that we can get good local government to the highest standard?

Of course not.

It can certainly be called 'crazy', or not very bright, to put up with the worst year after year, decade after decade, and not do a thing about it--never to try to better ourselves.

We can ask the LGC the question: 'Which council is best for us?' We should ask it. We have asked it.

The LGC is now going through a rigorous process, point by point, whose statutory aim is good local government for us--that the council we are put with or kept with is the best. No one needs to fear getting the best. No one should.