by Salima Padamsy
On 27 June 2019, I and eight other people attended a full Council meeting to put forth our views on the agenda item, “Proposed Organisational Review of Council” and its accompanying staff report during public speaking time.
These speakers included prominent leaders in our community representing local interests, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Kapiti Economic Development Agency.
Public speaking time at Council meetings is the only forum for direct engagement with our elected officials that is placed “on the public record”. It is a valuable tool within our participatory democratic system allowing the public to hold Elected Members to account and ensuring transparency and true representation. It provides for public views to become part of the institutional memory of Council, forming a vital part of citizens democratic rights to contribute to their own governance.
Unfortunately, at this Council meeting, the Mayor unilaterally decided to reduce the allocated public speaker time from 3 minutes to 2 minutes per speaker, and instructed the Councillors not to ask any questions of the speakers. In other words, he ruled there would be no two-way dialogue on this matter.
Speakers were not prior informed of the speaking time reduction and Councillors were not briefed prior on the fact that they were to be barred from discussion with the speakers.
Not one Councillor opposed the Mayor’s unilateral decision on speaking time, nor challenged the Mayor in denying them any direct interaction with their funders, the ratepaying public.
Despite these actions, concerns remain about the organisational review.
First, what was the catalyst for the review to be undertaken now after three years of people urging it? What inspired Councillors to request that the CEO provide advice on a proposal to commission and independent organisational review now? Why not after the Auditor General’s letter stating that KCDC was the second most indebted Council per capita in New Zealand, for example? Understanding the context and catalyst for this review would go along way for the constituents of this district to understand the timing and thereby possibly allay any fears of political motivation.
As Dr Cathy Strong pointed out in her article in the Kapiti Independent News of 26 June, she felt the staff report on the organisational review gave a negative spin on steps to get an independent overview of how Council is run. What concerned Dr Strong and other readers of the staff report, was the apparent lack of enthusiasm demonstrated by those authoring the report. Such a palpable reluctance towards the review suggests the organisation may not welcome the process, and thereby embrace and implement the recommendations.
This review exercise will only be as good as the objective and professional ability of the reviewer and the scope of work prescribed in the Terms of Reference. KCDC must set criteria to ensure the reviewer has absolutely no conflict of interest with any staff and/or Councillors. The scrupulous selection of the reviewer will be the most important step in determining whether the time and money spent will provide a transparent and accountable process, and not merely a whitewash. We must ask whether the initial findings, and final recommendations, will be in the public domain and open to constructive inputs?
These concerns, and others were presented during public speaking time on 27 June. Minutes of that meeting are now published on the Council website. Not one of the points made by any of the speakers have been recorded on the public record. Only the names, and in some cases the organisation they represented, are noted in the meeting minutes.
For me, the message given to the public regarding this organisational review is clear: “We are not interested in what you have to say and neither will we share your views with the wider community”.
Also, of interest is that the Elected Members decided to schedule an extraordinary (i.e., not previously scheduled in the calendar for this triennium) Council meeting, to be held only 2 days before the upcoming local body elections! At that time, this existing Council will make further decisions about this critically important review project. The timing of their decision process suggests that the staff, not a newly elected Council, will be pretty much in charge of the organisational review.