Almost everyone in Kapiti knows that KCDC is one of the most problematic councils in the country — among other things, it has bloated inefficient staffing, very high indebtedness, and a record of bad decisions combined with mismanagement over more than a decade — but other councils are problematic too.
This article on the BFD deals with the accountability issue, and backs up Cr Gwynn Compton’s call for a Royal Commission on local government.
In the week I am writing this, Wellington City Council has announced it is facing a whopping 23% rates rise, and Tauranga Mayor Tenby Powell has resigned amidst calls to replace elected councillors with a government commissioner.
There is something seriously wrong with our council system.
In order to have any chance of fixing the problems, we need to be clear and honest about what the root causes are. To do that, we need to understand the structure of councils and how they operate.
The Local Government Act 2002 (LGA) effectively creates two separate organisations. We elect councillors. We do not elect the council.
Councillors have very limited power and are supposed to keep out of operational matters. The councillors employ one person – the chief executive. All council staff are employed by the chief executive. This is the root cause of the lack of accountability. Staff do not answer to the councillors, who are our elected representatives. Therefore staff do not answer to citizens or ratepayers.
We are led to believe we can change council by voting out councillors once every three years. The reality is that our elected representatives are the fall guys for poor performance by staff. We, the people, get angry and frustrated at waste and poor service, but we cannot change the council’s processes or staff agendas.