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"Community Empowerment"

The wonderful new World of “community empowerment” is upon us, though it appears that the name has changed overnight to “community governance”. A Report goes to Council on Wednesday that outlines the proposal, and it is a damp squid to say the least. There it goes again - I have been told that I need more humour -"be less serious!". For the life of me I can find nothing humorous about this crazy proposal, so I am sorry - this is the best I can do. 

Just what the proponents hope to gain with this new platform is mind-bogglingly obscure. It suggests a “partnership” model between the Boards and the Council that in outline appears little different to that which already exists, but dangerously extends the model of “general competence” that has been responsible for the deterioration of the financial position of many council’s.

‘General competence’ was granted by the previous Clark Government. It enabled councils to indulge in ‘non-core’ activities, for which elected members have demonstrated little competence to oversee, let alone ‘govern’ - witness the Hamilton V8, and Claudelands debacles.   

It is difficult to see just how the new proposal will improve on what has already been instituted in regard to the attendance of Board chairs at Council meetings. The Local Government Act forbids anyone voting other than those who have been elected and sworn.

What the proposal purports to do is transfer the right to develop local budgets (hardly new), that would “generally be approved by Council subject to affordability”. This is smoke and mirrors – the Act specifies that only Council can approve budgets, and it is subject to normal fiduciary constraints. The boards will get to decide on local leases, and policies including Reserve Management Plans. They further get to “approve expenditure up to $20,000, sourced from local Consolidated Retained Earnings accounts and Land Sub-Division Reserve Accounts”, but only in accordance with current policies, and staff recommendation. That is not much to get excited about. There is a raft of other possible activities (“to be further clarified”), but most, like water and wastewater are a ‘pipe-dream’.

What is of much greater concern is the possibility of authority been extended well beyond the $20,000 mark by simple resolution. That is dangerous because it means that ambitious Boards may be enabled in the future to commit Council to substantial expenditure contrary to best practice.

As previously noted in this column, there is a tendency for ‘reserves’ to be confused with money in the bank, even amongst savvy councillors. All reserves ($40m) are currently drawn down through internal borrowing, and expenditure can only be met from 'reserves' through additional external borrowing on which the limit will be increased under the new TYP from 1 July to 150% of rate revenue ($90m) The interest on these borrowings is a charge against all rate-payers, and the danger of Boards entering into commitments under the mistaken belief that they are entitled to commit 'reserves' is very real. Board members have in the past overlooked the effect on Council’s borrowing capacity when making demands for sports grounds and town centre up-grades. Extending this power is just asking for trouble.

And without this power, why on earth is all the hyperbole about “community empowerment”? It appears that the answer to this question simply lies with the need to fulfil election promises, and to appear to be doing something – anything. Wait for the PR campaign to trumpet this triumph tomorrow afternoon as Communications Manager / Economic Development Tsar Benjamin Day attempts to beat the HH deadline for a headline.    





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Reader Comments (2)

Despite this, Im yet to understand what community empowerment is. I have this image of community board members and councilors driving around ordering trees felled and pipes put in, with purchase order books in their back pocket - very scary. "Czar Ben Day" - classic! He was employed to handle communications initially and then a few weeks later finds himself head of economic development with no job advertisement or appropriate qualification in site, and other staff eminantly more qualified not even considered. How come two years ago Council only employed one communication person, yet now there is suddenly a need for three people, plus a consultant?

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGunna

What we really have is "emperorment" - making someone the Emperor instead of the Mayor. Community Empowerment only exists in dreams and in Council Press Releases. Hail Caesar.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

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