by John Vickerman
With time for public submissions on the representation review rapidly closing in, many are still struggling to inform themselves of what it is all about.
At last, the public also has the opportunity to view the staff presentations to Councillors which resulted in a majority vote to proceed with the staff recommended option, to the public submission phase.
First sight impression is of a gallant desperate attempt to cloak a horse with the aura of rigorous analysis, far too late and too rushed for the consequences of the subject matter.
For Waikanae, geographic significance is undermined by reference to small scale communities of interest not aligning with geographic boundaries. This issue is necessarily large scale as no sole community of interest is ever likely to align with 8,000 – 12,000 people per councillor. In Waikanae there are distinct communities of interest but these also identify strongly with a collective geographic Waikanae identity – from the Beach, along roads aligned by the river, beneath the shadow of Te Au, and up the valley to Kapakapanui.
In the Small Ward option in the Council briefing presentation of 29 June 2021, the combination of the blue and pink areas identifies the Waikanae collective geographic identity very well. With two councillors for this combined area the deviation rules are complied with. The option given is linked with no community boards. In the absence of an explanation this is puzzling particularly when some of the potential issues given would be mitigated by the presence of a Waikanae community board of suitable calibre.
With the mixed model it is not explained why the number of Ward Councillors has to be matched by an equal number of district wide councillors. It is plain that with Wards, population per councillor is significant for equality of representation, but why do district wide councillors have to have the same population base per councillor when their main task is focussed on district wide issues? Any number of district wide councillors will have an equal population base (the total population divided by the number of district wide councillors). Their district wide responsibilities will be different to Ward councillor responsibilities, and it does not follow that workload and representation of each will be or need to be the same. For example, why would the Small Ward option of 7 ward councillors and 3 district wide councillors not meet all the objectives of the review along with retention of the existing community boards?
The presentations convey a perception that ward councillors will be parochial and not do what is best for Kapiti as a whole. While examples of this might be found, many would not see this as a general issue. Most ward councillors do recognise all wards have differing concerns and needs and that collaboration works best for all.
One aspect of the proposal is the dissolution of 3/5 Community Boards. In the Councillor briefings the benefits and alternatives to community boards are somewhat speculative and ill thought out. The briefings essentially portray them as a barrier to representation. One thing of great concern is that all briefing papers are silent on one very important role of a community board. As set out in sections 51 and 52 of the Local Government Act 2002, a community board is not a local authority, and it is not a committee of the territorial authority. One of the roles of a community board is to maintain an overview of services provided by the territorial authority within the community (S52(c)) and consider and report on …any matter of interest or concern to the community board. (S52(b)).
The community board has a role independent of council that councillors do not have. If council does something poorly, then the community board has the legal authority to say so. Unfortunately, this role has frequently been confused by council viewing it as criticism of staff and contrary to standing orders of elected members. The standing orders have to be subservient to the Local Government Act. If conflict exists it is interpretation of the standing orders that are the problem.
Council decision making has the Ombudsman as a check or balance but the practical working of this with the long delays gives a narcissist chief executive carte blanche. Community boards have a lesser but more direct role as a check on what council is doing. The disestablishment of a community board elevates the power and control of a chief executive.
The Chief Executive has the legal duty to fund and provide the administrative services a community board needs. In this there is a duty to provide a meeting agenda, but the chief executive does not have the legal authority to refuse to put an item on the agenda that is of concern to the board. For example, simply because he thinks it is not an appropriate forum to discuss something council has done poorly. The Chair of a community board has an important role – under Remuneration Authority rules the chair (paltry as it is) gets double that of other members – the expectation is that the Chair will be doing far more than the other members. In most cases the Chairs and the boards they are part of do well and provide significant democratic input for little cost. The value of this and the check on Council is something generally poorly understood. Don’t throw it away simply because the briefing papers never mentioned it.