“This is not democracy at work. This is an authoritarian, bullying Council that brooks no questioning, admits no wrong and uses whatever tactics it can, using ratepayers’ money, to attack and defend itself at all costs against the very people who fund its work on their behalf.” — Kapiti Independent, 30 April 2017

by Geoffrey Churchman

Nearly three and a half years have passed since those observations and we’re one year into the present triennium. Things have changed little. The Council boss in April 2017, Mr P. Doughterty, left at the end of that year (to inflict his bad management on Nelsonians), but Dougherty’s successor Mr W. Maxwell was one of his senior staff appointees and nearly everyone expected it would be “business as usual”, which it was — and we still have the same Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

At least Maxwell hasn’t continued the practice of his predecessor of regularly calling police or security to remove Ratepayers or politicians from the ‘Kapiti Kremlin’ who irritated him. Small mercies.

Why are things like this?

Although KCDC has had more than its fair share of people who suffer from narcissistic/histrionic personality disorders, there are broader endemic and systemic problems.

One big fault is with the Local Government Act which concentrates most of the power into the hands of the Chief Executive who then appoints all the staff — and who isn’t going to appoint obsequious sycophants regardless of their suitability?

It needs to be stated that the KCDC does have some good staff, working with whom is a pleasure. But there are also those who are not only incompetent, but treat elected members — of the Community Boards particularly — with disdain.

Former local councilor (not in Kapiti) Clyde Graf said in response to another earlier post: “I was in Council (elected) for 3 years, and it’s revealing to see from the inside just how the bureaucratic machine works. ‘Consultation’ means: sit there, listen to what we’re doing, now piss off — and often doesn’t take place at all. Cronyism and collusion, Memorandums of Understandings, and stakeholders are all part of the game, and lingo used to mislead the ratepayers. The bureaucrats most certainly run the system. They often mislead the elected representatives. If the balance of voting goes against them (by some miracle) they manipulate, patronize, and persevere their way through the term, until the next election. And then they hope the new crop will be the conforming, easily fooled, naive politicians that will hold the voting balance around the table — like in most terms.”

The price of velvet

You need to rule people with an iron fist in a velvet glove” is the usual rendition of this Napoleon Bonaparte quote in English.

In KCDC’s case we know what the iron fist means — those who oppose its modus operandi and intentions get similar treatment to what I got from the ‘Kapiti Kremlin.’ And not only elected representatives face reprisals: local lawyers are very reluctant to take cases against the council; business owners who need council consents likewise are advised not to complain about the council.

The velvet here is the council Spin Machine, seven propagandists it employs to dress up announcements to put the most favorable impressions on the things it does or intends to do. Apart from brochures and videos full of fancy graphics and typography, the “Communications Team” issues regular Media Advisories which lazy local journalists often reproduce verbatim without asking questions.

The costs of the Communications Team and its output can be likened to the price of velvet to disguise the nature of the iron fist.