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Unelected Economic Development Committee

It has been of increasing concern over recent months that not only was the Economic Development Committee a completely unnecessary appendage, with little real function other than to fiddle around with events, and the Mayor’s ‘pet’ projects, it has long been my contention that the Committee is in effect dominated by outside appointees of dubious value to the long term interests of rate-payers.

They (Messrs Hopper, Page and Christian) were in fact the personal appointees of the Mayor, rubber-stamped by Council. At a subsequent Council meeting, this Committee was given powers that no other committee of Council held – i.e. the ability to spend up to $100,000 on any one project without further reference to the Council – a unique situation that to my knowledge is un-replicated anywhere else in the entire country. This led to the infamous $40,000 grant being provided to the Mayor’s multi-millionaire friend Rod Millen for his private Leadfoot Rally, and Graham Christian’s complaint at the last meeting “that the Committee’s skills are not being fully utilised!”

Be that as it may, I have recently been having an exchange of emails in an endeavour to establish its legitimacy, and just where the ultimate power lay – with the Council appointees (Leach, Cr French and Board Chair Renton), or the outsiders Messrs Hopper, Page and Christian)? In addition, I sought to establish Renton’s status being neither an elected nor sworn member of Council.

This is important when the Committee has the ability to spend rate-payer funds to the tune of $100,000 per project at its sole discretion.

My initial enquiry to Laurna White was as follows:

"I am quite puzzled at the reference today to Cr Goudie being a member of the Economic Development Committee.

I would be grateful if could advise just how and when this appointment was made?

Do I understand that the Committee now comprises seven members – four councillors and three appointed, one of whom remains the Chair?"

Ben Day replied as follows:

"No she isn't a full time member, just a reserve in case an elected member is an apology.  

There was a Council report that went up a few months ago to add a few reserves to the Committee, as we clarified the delegations of the Committee and also made sure that our non-elected members never out-numbered elected members as a quorum, so your references on your blog to the EDC being dominated by unelected representatives is incorrect. Non-elected members can't dominate the vote and I am more than happy with this check and balance around the quorum rules."

 My paraphrased reply was as follows:

“…… if there are equal numbers of councillor/appointed ‘voting’ members, and the ‘appointed’ chair has the casting vote, then the unelected members are in control.”

And to Governance Manager Angela Jane who had entered the fray at this point:

“But regardless of this issue (Renton’s status!) I am still not convinced that the numbers on the Committee constitute a majority of Council appointees v. outsiders, by whatever definition.”

To which Angela Jane replied inter alia:

“The Council considers that Bob Renton is a Council appointee rather than an 'outsider'. Given the Committee Chair has a casting vote and equal numbers of Council appointees and outsiders have to be present the majority rests with the 'outsiders'.”

That would appear to put the final nail in Ben Day’s claim that “non-elected members never outnumber elected members as a quorum.” Also “your reference on your blog to the EDC being dominated by unelected representatives is incorrect” - mmm! - Ben appears to have got it wrong again. I think I will continue to refer to this Committee as the Unelected Economic Development Committee (UEDC for short!)

The question surrounding  whether Bob Renton is an ‘elected’ or ‘outsider’ is therefore academic, but Angela Jane can be assured that there is nothing in the copious references and quotes from the Local Government Act that she provided in her email that convinces me that he remains anything other than ‘un-elected’ and therefore one of four outsiders on the Committee.

It hardly matters given that the casting vote held by the Chair (Brent Page) means that this Committee is “dominated” by outside unelected appointees regardless. And they carry no responsibility, nor liability (as they would were they directors of a council owned company) for the decisions that they make; are paid “in accordance with their standard professional rates;”  and who can at any time decide to spend $100,000 of ratepayer funds on any project without further reference to Council. Is there any rate-payer out there who agrees that this is an appropriate delegation?

I would suggest that this is another matter that needs to be referred to the Ombudsman for a ruling, but in view of the length of time being taken to deal with my previous complaint regarding Ben Day and his cosy arrangement with Guru Digital, I think I will wait until the New Year before pursuing the matter.

In view of the obvious anomaly, it will be interesting to see if our Mayor takes steps to correct the situation surrounding his creation before the Ombudsman commences an investigation.  In the meantime, and regardless of him being "more than happy with the checks and balances around the governance rules," Mr Day may care to consider the value of undertaking deeper study on governance requirements – after all, he is now the Deputy Chief Executive with responsibilities in that area.



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Reader Comments (3)

I guess that my concern would be that none of the un-elected members of the UEDC are much known to most rate-payers? While they are probably well-known amongst their respective circle of acquaintances, apart from Hopper, the other gentlemen are largely anonymous to most rate-payers. They may well comment that their skills are not being properly utilised, but few rate-payers have the benefit of knowing what those skills are. I would concede also that it is difficult to see how the granting of $40,000 to the Leadfoot festival and other such grants provided much, if any, real or meaningful economic benefit to business other than some accommodation or related service providers. There appear to be little focus on industries that provide secure long-term employment for younger people or that attracts industry to our region. The UEDC needs perhaps to focus more on strengthening those sectors of business that employ younger people so that the area has a better age balance; that is, to reverse the drift toward becoming a retirement village or a playground for those with excess funds. Let us focus on the provision of employment opportunity or work that provides training and apprenticeships so that young people feel there is reason to remain in Thames or Coromandel (where-ever), settle and raise a family, so that the cycle of renewal functions properly. There is little evidence available, publically at least, that the UEDC has this kind of thinking in mind; if this be the case I would ask what is the strategy that drives our august leaders of business that man the UEDC?

December 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Just a comment on a comment-- why dish Thames for being a'retirement village? These people, me included sell up in Auckland and shift to Thames for a slower paced life and with money in our pocket from our house sale--money we now spend in your town Russell !
We were told before we left Auckland that Thames had more people over the age of 65 then any other town in NZ -- and that is why we came here -- because the town is geared up for us-- I know that young people have trouble relating to us oldeis but we are not a parasite on the system, we are here to be involved in the various socities and organisation and to love Thames and hopefully for Thames to love us. As for employing young people-- there is a whole growth industry in looking after 'old people' -- from lawn mowing people to caregivers and anything in between-- and we spend money--trust me.
New washing machine , refrigerator,a deck, having the house painted, bathroom renovated and so on-- maybe one day you will be old Russell--

December 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Calm down you old coots!
I don't know what either of your comments has to do with the post.
Kindly stick to the subject - basically that we are being governed by people who have a very limited understanding of what local government is all about, and who appear only barely familiar with democratic values.
Now can be get back that please? Otherwise I will send you both down to the fives courts to sort it out - boy, that would be good!.

December 11, 2014 | Registered CommenterBill Barclay

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