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And Just Who Polices Local Government?

Despite all the mainstream media rhetoric about Cameron Slater ("Right-wing Attack Blogger!") - most of which needs to be taken with a grain of salt, given the vested interest these people have in discrediting him (and every other blogger!) at every turn, it still pays to keep an eye on what he puts up.

Today, he lashes out at the manner in which local government is policed, and highlights the manner in which rate-payers are almost universally kept in the dark about the skullduggery that has become endemic behind the scenes. 

Readers of this blog at least have some insight into the scheming and self-serving policies and actions of both elected and employed staff of our particular institution. But believe me, this blog is fairly unique - elsewhere in the country, the actions of local government are kept almost totally opaque - that is way both elected and staff like to keep it, and the overt antagonism exhibited towards my efforts here are a fair indication of the universal desire to keep everything 'cosy and in-house.'

Mainstream media have in the main long given up of trying to keep tabs on what is going on - it is just too difficult and expensive, given their struggles to survive let alone risk the legal backlash often threatened. You can join the dots when it comes to our local parochial media.

Here are a few relevant extracts from Cam's post:

"With nobody policing Local Government, the troughing gravy train has for years been ignoring the law on many fronts and doing whatever it likes.

Not withstanding that the brass at most Councils think they know better than anyone else and Councillors are ignorant, the fact remains that Local Government is getting away with all manner of mismanagement and law breaking that will come home to roost in years to come.

It is somewhat reassuring that the Auditor General has finally woken up to the fact that Local Government’s all over New Zealand are in poor financial shape with failing or nearly failing infrastructure that hasn’t been maintained. But all she can do is make comments. She has little power to enforce compliance with her recommendations and she is not compelled by law to make Councils remedy issues.

The Environment Court does at times slap down Councils when they blunder or ignore the law, but only when issues are raised to them. Given the extraordinary costs to run a successful Court proceedings (lawyers and expert witnesses all costing big bucks) an appellant is forced to focus solely on their own issues.

And now the point. Most of the issues of Local Government stems from their complete disregard for the law. But that’s because nothing happens when they do ignore the law. Write a District Plan that is contrary to case-law or the Act – so what – nothing happens. Get the Council into debt and fail to perform your functions and duties – well the Auditor General might bring it up, but still nothing happens.

And so its time to suggest that the Government consider instituting a more robust and powerful watchdog over local government. One that must act to prosecute Councils, revoke rights and that can step in to take control when Councils balls it up. Its only then might they start to act reasonably and run our cities and regions appropriately."

I find it difficult to take issue with Cam on any of the points he has made - he is absolutely correct in his overview analysis in my view. He could be talking precisely about what has been going on here. He isn't of course - what he is saying is universal. In many ways last year's LG reforms giving vastly additional powers to Mayors' has simply exacerbated the situation - they are now virtually unassailable and unaccountable except at the ballot box, by which time the damage is generally already done.  

Just add up the millions that our incumbent has spread around on his pet projects since his arrival on the scene. And the almost entire replacement, and increase of staff within the Castle - not just senior staff, but throughout the entire building. Not to mention the utterly self-serving and destructive rate-reduction that he pushed through over what should have been the real concern of saff. The consequences of all this are imminent. 

My experience of the buck-passing, delay and avoidance exhibited by both the Office of the Auditor General, and the Ombudsman on each occasion that I have attempted to draw attention to deficiencies in the manner in which our Council is managed is both dispiriting, and confirming of one's worst fears.

The manner in which successive A/O appointees have sat on their hands during Audit Committee processes is indicative of a thoroughly lazy and/or 'cosy' approach that was finally nailed with the Kaipara affair. But nothing that has happened since, apart from a 'mea culpa' by the Auditor General, has given any cause to have any greater confidence in that institution.

I would have to say that on countless occasions, I have sat at my desk wondering just to whom I can report stuff that has been going on that has come to my attention- they almost always turn away, or claim that it should be reported to the alternative agency - Yeah, right! 

Roll on a Government appointed governing body separate from the AG and Ombudsman that can exercise effective control over what goes on in local government, but don't expect to see it anytime soon - the forces supporting the status quo are just too strong - starting with the the Local Government Association. On the other hand, if only Paula Bennett was to see political advantage in wielding a big stick, that may be the catalyst for some action.




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