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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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Thursday, 28 May 2009

FOUR MUST-HAVES FOR EFFECTIVE REORGANISATION

The Local Government Minister has breached the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA2002) in the way he is trying to reorganise Auckland's local government, but we are obviously stuck with his evasion of the legal, democratic process that is meant to be handled by an independent statutory body, the Local Government Commissions, so we have to try to get the government to get it right from here on.

No reorganisation will succeed unless everything done fits the purpose of the organisation. If you do not get the why right, you will never get the what, the when, the who, the how or anything else right.

Usually in troubleshooting you have to identify the purpose before you can start fixing the mess, but in local government the purpose is already neatly printed in section 10 of the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA2002): 'The purpose of local government is--(a) to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and (b) to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities, in the present and for the future.' Then section 14 lays down the principles. Anyone in local government, elected or employed, who does not know the forty words of s10 should be sacked.

'Enable democratic local decision-making and action and promote the four well-beings.' If the government does not do that, all it will achieve is a change in logos and letterheads and bureaucratic titles.

There are four things that must be done, not just for this part of the country, but for all New Zealand. The four headings are Teeth, Time, Delegations and Budgets.

Teeth. First, there must be summary penalties in the LGA2002 for those who breach it. Then any errant bureaucrat or councillor or member of a community/local board can be summarily prosecuted and either fined or in serious cases spend a few months in jail. At the moment the only penalty, which is rather restricted, is a fine of up to $5000. But if you pirate a DVD you can be fined tens of thousands. Obviously New Zealand thinks local government is far less important than a DVD.

Second, community/local boards, on behalf of their communities, must have the power to vet all staff employed in their local service centre, and all staff employed in the central office who have their community as their responsibility. We must know that we are getting suitable people, and not have the choices of senior bureaucrats foisted on us. Then, if approved, people would be hired on three months probation. Boards must also have the power to summon errant staff before them, those who have acted in breach of the law, in particular the LGA2002 and the RMA, and if necessary sack them.

Only then will the people have the upper hand, not those who work for them and are paid by them. Public servants must be public servants, never public masters.

Time. Members of community/local boards must have the time needed to do the job they were elected to do, and want to do. But they have to breathe and eat. They cannot spend the necessary time if they do not have the remuneration. But because the Remuneration Authority is corrupt, because it ignores the mandatory criteria set down in Clause 7 Schedule 7 of the LGA2002, and has instead invented its own insane rules, elected people in local government in New Zealand, in particular community boards, are not paid enough to carry out their duties. Being a member of a community/local board is a full-time job. Therefore they should be paid $30,000 a year. Not an average of less than $5000. Councillors, too, must be paid fairly, so that we do not get the ludricrous situation of Auckland Regional Councillors being the lowest-paid regional councillors in New Zealand ($22,000 a year).

That means that some the teeth needed in the LGA2002 must be aimed at the Remuneration Authority. If it does not follow the law it must be sacked, and face a penalty in court. To kneecap local government in an entire country is a very serious offence, and should be dealt with very severely.

Delegations. The powers and activities delegated to community/local boards must not be in the hands of politicians, either councillors or MPs. They must be in the hands of an independent statutory authority--the Local Government Commission. Then boards, on behalf of their communities, and with their consultation and support, would apply to the LGC for a list of desired delegations. What the LGC approved would be gazetted under the LGA2002, and no councillor or bureaucrat would be able to intefere with anything on it. Any who did would be liable to summary prosecution.

Only by having protected delegations can community/boards operate; only then can democratic local decision-making be protected. Honest councils give and do protect good delegations, but a protected system is needed as a bulwark against dishonest ones--such as Auckland City Council.

Budgets. Community/local boards must, on behalf of their communities, with consultation, have control over local income and expenditure. They must have full responsibility for the local budget, and they must develop the local rates, which would then be signed off by their council. Good councils, such as Thames-Coromandel District Council, already do that, but it should be a mandatory duty.

Teeth, Time/Remuneration, Protected Delegations, Budgetary Control. Unless those matters are under LOCAL control through community/local boards, there will never be good local government in New Zealand.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

DEMOCRACY HAS TEETH, INTEGRITY IS ALL GUMS

People who have great power will usually act only if there is something in it for them. But the super-council will never have any reason to do anything for Waiheke. We will have only 0.6% of the vote, and zero councillors out of twenty, so why should it do a blind thing for us?

Requests that mean everything to us will mean nothing to them. Pleas on our behalf from the Waiheke Local Board will fall on deaf ears.

The government may set some delegations in legislation, but as it itself has just proved by ramming through a 'technical' Act that trashed the democratic obligations of the Local Government Act 2002, legislation is only as good as the notice taken of it, no matter how good its intentions and black and white its wording. The good Dr Jekyll ends up trashed in the wicked soul of Mr Hide.

If the super-council ignored the law it would not suffer the slightest penalty, and there would be no incentive to obey it for pip-squeak Waiheke.

So we would be entirely reliant on the integrity of a majority on the super-council, and the integriryt of the bureaucracy making recommendations to it.

Integrity. Hmmm! Relying on that from a far-off super-council that will have no incentive to listen to us would be as stupid as believing in Santa Claus, Tinkerbell and the Tooth Fairy.

I would rather rely on democracy. If the Hauraki Gulf Islands were with Thames-Coromandel District Council we would have 23% of the vote, Waiheke would have two councillors out of twelve, Great Barrier would have one, and the reorganisation proposal also has the mayor on both community boards and the regional councillor present at every monthly meeting.

A full house beats an empty hand every time.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

WEEDHEKE LESS WEEDY IF WE GET EW

I was asked about the difference between the policies of Auckland Regional Council and Environment Waikato on noxious weeds. The short answer is that EW is much stricter.

They have different rules for different weeds, depending on how seriously they regard them. For example, unlike ARC, EW regards tobacco plant (woolly nightshade), moth plant and climbing asparagus as serious pests and works hard at containment.

Click here for the full hit-list, with EW's super-baddies highlighted with asterisks.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

EVEN SHORTCHANGED ON OUR MINUTES

During one of the visits I made to Thames-Coromandel District Council last year I went through some of the many reports available to the public in the foyer, which include the minutes of various meetings, from council meetings to community board meetings, and I was again struck by the contrast between Auckland's way of doing things and Thames-Coromandel's.

Auckland's minutes record the resolutions passed, reports received from staff and board members, written presentations made by people in the community, and correspondence received. Nothing else.

Thames-Coromandel's do all that too of course, but they also summarise the discussions that took place. So anyone who reads their minutes can see what happened and how it happened. They are therefore true minutes--a faithful record minute by minute.

Auckland's are not, so when its meetings pass a resolution saying that the minutes of the previous meeting are a true and correct record, they are wrong because they are only an abbreviated summary. Which is why I now always vote against that motion.

So in spite of its self-vaunted size Auckland cannot do nearly as good a job with 2300 staff as Thames-Coromandel does with 192, not even keeping minutes. Auckland also has an entire department ('Democracy Services') to handle council and community-board meetings. Thames-Coromandel doesn't.

Auckland forever skites that it is the biggest local body in New Zealand, and the second biggest in Australasia, but that does not make it the best, or the best for the Hauraki Gulf Islands. Quantity is not quality. It is easy to be bigger. You just hire more people. To be good you have to hire good people and have good management and good organisation. The overall quality of staff in Thames is noticeably higher than in Auckland's sprawling empire.

Thames-Coromandel also puts reports on consent applications near the top of community-board agendas, and it has senior staff in attendance at board meetings as a matter of course, and lists them in the minutes, which underlines the co-operative, freely communicative working relationship between the elected and the employed on the peninsula--yet another stark contrast with aloof Auckland, where the code of conduct prevents councillors from talking to any staff but the CEO (and Democracy Services).