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Board Empowerment

The one thing for which this Council claims huge credit is the implementation of Board Empowerment - it was there at the start of Leach's campaign, and it is still to the forefront of this Council's election campaign platform. Most of the councillors appeared to know nothing about it when they came in, but by golly Keith Johnston and the Mayor quickly filled them in on what was required.

In fact, it is confidently asserted by many in the know that Sam Marshall's treatise on the subject was largely written or influenced by Johnston. And a well written, argued and rationalised treatise it was - Sam went to top of the class, and the new regime setled comfortably into implementing his recommendations. Undoubtedly its implementation has made people feel better, but at what cost?

Well what exactly has been achieved? At the outset, it must be said that the whole model appeared counter-intuitive at the time when over many years, councils had sought to consolidate and economise through efficient centralised administration. Service centres in most councils are just that - sources of service, information, meetings places, and a number of low level functions performed while decision making was progressively moved to a remote, but central location where the best expertise could be concentrated. This pattern was followed over the entire country, particular in communities of the size that we have here in the Coromandel.

What happened here broke the pattern, and reversed the order of things. And this just when the Government was indicating a preference for ever larger units of administration even to the point of creating a super-city in Auckland and encouraging other regions to move in the same direction.  Now it seems clear that even before the next election, this Government will be pushing for unitary authorities that will further centralise and consolidate., like it or not - that is the way of the future. And this will  involve comminities of 10 to 500,000 being brought together over vastly greater geographical areas that we have previously known. 

But in the Coromandel, we have turned our backs on this trend, and have set about creating semi-independent governance structures overseeing populations of around 3 - 7,000. For some reason, we have decided that democracy can only work on this scale, together with all the other rationales so succinctly put together by Sam Marshall to justify what on the surface appears to be an extremely expensive and inefficient local government structure. In fact, one of the strong arguments used by Glenn Leach at the time was that this was the only way that it would be possible to retain any level of local autonomy as we move towards the  unitary authority model. The only problem is that the unitary authority that encompasses this district is unlikely to be of the same mind, and the probably inclined towards removing this unwieldy structure before lunch.

I say this because in my wildest dreams I cannot imagine any such organisation tolerating the growth of what appear to be very nearly autonomous units with around 3-7,000 population fulfilling Keith Johnston's dream of engineers, accountants, planners, administrators, parks and reserves supervisors, sports complex managers, collecting locally set and siloed rates for expenditure on locally determined projects. Spare me - this is surely a wild and unattainable dream, but it is a dream to which this Council is now committed. How much revenue is to be wasted in fulfilling this dream before someone wakes up and says "the Emperor has no clothes!."

It is a nonsense and it should be stopped in its tracks right now before it is too late. By all means bring Board Chairs to the table, and give them all baubles of office, listen to them and make sure that Boards are given the opportunity to contribute, but setting them up as independent political and administrative units is an ego driven and fundamentally flawed process that should be stopped before it makes fools of all of us, and empties our pockets in the process.

If any other argument against this structure was required, surely the debacle at Whitianga is sufficient example of what happens when you let people loose with other people's money, to plan an implement grand scale projects without adequate supervision. This exercise alone has cost this Council over $8m on this occasion with other projects including town upgrades, cemeteries, and wharves under way. And now we are in the process of setting enhanced versions of the same thing all over the District. It is madness - sheer madness, and if I not mistaken revealing of megamaniacal tendencies amongst certain elected representatives, and recently recruited staff who see themselves as nascent entrepreneurs. Paradoxically, they are now seeking governance oversight of their venture capital operations - entrepreneurial bravado only goes so far when you are on a salary. 

The latest local initiative inspired by Board Empowerment is the Thames Urban Development Strategy that is to be released today by the Thames Focus Group. It is designed to set the way for the future development of Thames, but in a most astounding way assumes the ability to be able to determine how privately owned property is to be developed for the benefit of all - a grand socialist central planning document if ever you have seen one. I am staggered that certain Thames worthies who happen to be friends of Chair Strat Peters have allowed their names to be associated with it. 

I have not seen it by way - all will be revealed at the Civic Centre at 1pm - but I have had a rundown on its content. I will post an update later today or tomorrow. It has cost about $90k to date which is the first instalment out of rates, and has mainly gone to some fancy Auckland consultants - something that Leach claimed yesterday that he had put a stop to - clearly this one slipped through.

Time for a re-think in my view, but that view is not going anywhere in the Castle - they think they are on a roll.



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