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Democracy, As We Experience It

It has long been an undisputed principle of democracy that there should be no taxation without representation.

It has also been a long accepted principle of local government in this country that the decision making process is exclusively centred around elected representatives taking decisions on behalf of rate-payers. We have in the main eschewed the alternative Swiss Canton method of referendum based decision making. The alternative is just too time consuming, and impractical.

But a new basis of local governance is creeping into our District based apparently on what our Mayor considers a "better" method of decision making. It involves taking matters away from Council and board, and placing them in the hands of appointed members of committees - all such decisions subject to ratification of course, but it seems that is really window-dressing.

In every case, the appointees appear to be the hand picked friends or business associates of the Mayor - representative of no-one other that the particular narrow class of businessmen from whence they are drawn. Not for them the scrabbling and grubby business of politics. All good sound and successful men of course,  probably anxious to do a good job and make good decisions. But who do they really represent?

We now have an extremely powerful group appointed to a new Committee - the Economic Development Committee, making important decisions about matters that will affect every ratepayer. Economic Development covers a huge range of activities that will only expand as an increasingly activist, and well paid group of ambitious young staff  dream up new activities for our Council. Frequently, these are commercial activities for which they are both unqualified, and unaccountable. And this will inevitably result in a re-allocation of resource's away from the core activities that most of us understood to be the primary responsibility of our Council.

No matter what rationale our Mayor applies to putting his people on these committees, the fact remains that they are determining, or about to determine the allocation of resources that we are paying for. I simply ask the question - is this democracy in the context of local government as we have known it? Or is this a change brought about by the hiatus currently occurring within the entire local government sector as elements shuffle to position themselves for amalgamation and reformation as envisaged under the provisions of the currently debated changes to the Local Government Act?

Whatever it is, I don't believe that it should simply be allowed to run under the radar. Only this week we have the spectacle of one of Mayor Leach's friends - Warren Male (of Cormandel FM fame) being nominated by the Chief Executive as the "Contact Person" for the Hauraki Rail Trail Trust to which he was appointed by Mr Leach. (See Chief Executive's Report to Council for 26 February)

I suspect that there will be more and more of this happening as time goes on, and our Mayor seeks to remove responsibility and decision making from the hands of councillors, none of whom appear over-worked, and who appear quite capable of making these decisions of behalf of rate-payers without the assistance of the particular skill-set of Mayor Leach's appointees.

If I was one of those Councillors, I would be feeling somewhat redundant and uncomfortable with this gradual undermining of powers that they were elected to exercise. I notice for instance that Cr Jack Wells has not been nominated as the "Contact Person" for the Mangrove Removal Project - I wonder why? Jack has been the most vocal, and is arguably the best equipped to carry out that task, but perhaps is to be side-stepped in favour of another outsider. Time will tell! Then again, he may be considered too partial for the task. But was he not elected principally on this platform?

Regardless, there are changes taking place within the Castle in the manner in which we are governed, and I don't believe that we necessarily voted for such.




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