Council in Harmony
Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 1:10PM
Bill Barclay

I have just returned from the most boring council meeting ever.

As previously indicated, a deliberate decision was taken at the advent of this Council that contentious items would be dealt with at closed door workshops, and then Council would simply pass the motion - no debate, no ability to put the arguments to the test. It was palpable that the the Mayor and Councillor McLean in particular have exercised their influence to get their views accepted by the other less experienced councillors while locked away behind closed doors.

Board Chair Strat Peters made some points about the absence of explanations regarding the $150,000 additional expenditure for Thames, but otherwise the all important Annual Plan debate was totally absent.  All over in five minutes.

I will post later on the changes that are being proposed to the Council's Liability Management Policy as foreshadowed in previous posts. What is being proposed is worse that I had imagined - it is game set and match to the spend and be dammed crowd, though it all sounds terribly reasonable when you read the new draft policy, quickly. Councillor McLean's principal concern during the discussion on the paper that evolved from a "workshop" the night before, was that the expression "debt burden" was "too emotive" and should be replaced by "debt level".

Following this process through will become my principal task in the months ahead - I am determined that this bright new world of debt funding designed to reduce dependence on the dreaded rates, will not just come to pass through inattention on our part. 

One argument heard over and over is that additional borrowing is in order if it is to meet the needs of communities that can afford, and pay for them. The trouble is that that the entire Council and its rate-payers take on the liability - it is not a level playing field, if you will excuse the pun. Moreover, proponents ignore the effect of depreciation on the additional assets acquired in this manner - for which we all pay. 

Next came the appointments to the Audit, and District Plans Committees - passed without discussion,  then the accounts, passed without query, and a number of minor housekeeping motions - all home and hosed. In between there was a presentation by Ben Dunbar Smith, on the aquaculture proposal that attracted some low key enquiries - principally from Alison Henry - Chair of Mercury Bay CB.

Note that the CB Chairs are now entitled to attend meeting and talk, but not vote. They certainly talked.

The meeting was over in three hours at 12 midday, and that even allowed for an hour of public forum which started with Bruce Efford's timely complaint about the tardy TCDC phone service on Saturday morning - greeted by a ill-tempered outburst from the Mayor who clearly had misheard the complaint, and berated Bruce for not understanding the difficulty of removing so many slips at once. Dissent is clearly not tolerated by our new Mayor, and he is full of bluster. No wonder he likes closed door workshops.

Public Forum continued with Thames Valley farmers dissatisfied with the arrangements being made, principally by Mayor Tregidga to put the new cycleway through their properties. More bluster followed.

The most time was devoted to a whole lot of blather, otherwise known as "Members Reports".  Everyone will I am sure be pleased to know that Councillor Bartley has been "checking up on parking in Whangamata", and Councillor Connors spent Christmas "observing the garbage collection in Pauanui", while Councillor Wells has been "talking to rate-payers".  Wow!

Now I know that a lot of work has been done in closed door workshops, but I hardly think that justified the long discussion that followed on the inadequacy of members remuneration and mileage allowances - clearly a matter of great concern, though I cannot see that the work-load is any greater than that faced by previous councils. Rate-payers will however be relieved to know that this issue is being followed through expeditiously, and the Remuneration Tribunal will be hearing from our Council shortly. 

That's it - done and dusted, and off to lunch thank you, with a couple of public excluded items including the Chief Executives Report left to be dealt with later. Not even a report on the strorm damage at the weekend, and how it might be paid for - I don't see why that should be "public excluded".

I contend that this is a denial of democratic process, and much as councillors may feel comfortable with having all their spats hidden from view, rate-payers are not served well by being unable to judge the veracity of argument, and the competence of members.

The Mayor was up-beat about the performance of Council to date - and said lovely things about staff which did leave one wondering about the almost abusive comments made during the campaign. No sign of any sinking lid, reduced benefits or staff changes - all hugger-mugger in fact, so that's a relief.

 

 

 

Article originally appeared on BillBarcBlog (http://billbarclay.co.nz/).
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