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Thursday
Feb252016

Hypocrisy & Troughing at WRC 

All is not well on the Waikato Regional Council following an excellent piece of investigative reporting by Geoff Taylor. Geoff discovered that the Rates Control ticket on the council has taken to pre-meeting tete-a-tetes at a Grey St Café in order to establish joint positions on issues arising in agenda.

This is of course totally contrary to standing orders, and an abrogation of member responsibility to rate-payers who expect every issue to be dealt with on its merits. The particular motions on which our intrepid team that stood at the last election as the “Rates Control Team” decided over coffee and muffins that day in September related to a motion to liberalise Council policy on travel allowances payable to councillors.

They won this one later in the day 7 : 6, but fortunately for ratepayers, the move was later rejected by the Remuneration Authority because it “failed the test.” Just by way of example, the move could have enabled our member Clyde Graf who lives in Hamilton to quadruple his claim on top of claiming “travel time” while travelling backwards and forwards to the Peninsula to attend any meetings with groups or individuals.

And all this on top of the generous $55,000 councillor remuneration already approved. The main beneficiaries of these new generous arrangements would have been Graf and the previous Chairman – Peter Buckley, who was notorious for claiming overnight accommodation while attending meetings when he lived only an hour away from Hamilton.

Geoff Taylor’s final words on this matter are worth pondering for any Coromandel resident or ratepayer:

“Until some scrutiny can be applied to Buckley and Graf's travel claims, I would hate to see any liberalisation in expense policies. If you want to stand for Council, go ahead. But accept that it's not a full time job and shouldn't be paid as such. If you don't like the remuneration, don't stand. Members of the Rates Control (ticket) appear bent on destabilising the Council over what expenses they should collect. It is not a good look.”

So there you have it – that is the level of troughing and hypocrisy indulged in by the members of our Rates Control Team. Well worth remembering before the October election - especially in view of their pre-2013 election claim to be all about cutting expenditure, and "fiscally responsible."

Finally, it is also worth noting that it was this same meeting where another Rates Control bloc-vote was employed to reject 'in principle' support to the TCDC's Coromandel Heritage Region proposal.

I am opposed to the CHR concept, but deplore bloc voting of this nature in local government. It is time that steps were taken to knock it on the head before it becomes endemic. 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (5)

I find the block voting of the likes of the Rates Control to be bankrupt in principle and intellectual rigor.

A form of mindless tribalism and political posturing to provide simplistic answers to often quite complex issues to a easily distracted voting public.

Not the kind of intergenerational governance ethic I expect from elected leaders.

To my mind these people are a good argument for Commissioners.

February 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Actually Bill, in reference to an earlier post, I have been planning to stand for Regional Council rather than for the Mayoralty. Obviously it is time for Graf to go - he doesn't live on the Coromandel, he doesn't pay rates on the Coromandel, he has a serious criminal record and he appears more interested in getting money from the job rather than actually doing it. I just hope it is possible to have a clear shot at him without a split in the vote from others standing which could let him through again. But that is in the lap of the gods I guess.

With regard to the Heritage concept put forward by Glen Leach, I think the point everybody is missing is that the concept as put forward by him is a moving target, so a lot of criticism has been misguided, and in the case of some, as from Geoffry Robinson, alarmist and nonsensical. First Geoffry was against the concept because there wasn't any consultation and now that there is consultation he is putting forward a whole lot of other objections. He will never be satisfied - but he is after all a committed member of Goudies "hardcore team" of anti-planners. He needs to be called for it.

Underlying the consideration of the heritage concept is an admission by both Hammond and the Mayor that the District Plan and the Ten Year Plan (both statutory documents produced by Government law) are the Councils only evidence of long term planning yet are disconnected from each other and only cover 10 year periods when they:

"Should be aimed at enabling a long term strategy for Coromandel...This is what I believe that a 'Heritage Region' consultation or whatever name we end up calling it - can do for the Peninsula".

Those are Hammonds words and I think he is right on the money in identifying a huge hole in the Councils current Planning regime that he and the Mayor are now trying to rectify.

February 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDal

Hi Bill,

The issue of-so-called “bloc voting” is fraught with implications regarding the fundamental purpose of New Zealand local government.

As one senior council manager stated to me, the most important stakeholder of regional government is central government. Leaving aside the routine management of services and infrastructure, regional councils are regularly called upon to support or implement central government policy and priorities. Regional councillors who are “with the programme” and understand this role (a majority at WRC), routinely and predictably vote as a bloc in support of these initiatives.

In recent years, naked bloc voting at WRC has pushed through hugely expensive initiatives, including by way of example the $11 million (including finance costs) ratepayer outlay to build a cycling facility in Cambridge (against widespread regional outcry), ongoing millions of dollars to fund AHB/OSPRI past its agreed-upon cutoff date, ongoing millions more to prop up the failed Maungatautari project, as well as a topic close to the hearts of many on the Coromandel…government policy allowing application of toxins in our bush. Most recently, we observed WRC bloc voting to deny public notification of a controversial resource consent application (for an astounding 35-year period!!) to drop toxin 1080 into any and all drinking water catchments and waterways in our region.

Bloc voting is, in reality, the name of the game in regional government. It happens at virtually every council meeting, and to suggest otherwise simply indicates that one does not read the agendas and minutes of council meetings. If anything, bloc voting is practiced most assiduously by the “trusted hands” majority who assure the council does not rock government’s boat. No one wants to be the next ECan.

Of course, all councillors profess to have an open mind, especially on the more controversial items and in advance of any (usually limited) debate. Their voting records, however, tell a different story. The “majority” WRC councillors, generally more practiced and experienced at politics, don’t need to meet at a local café to get on the same page. Their votes are as predictable as tides and sunrise times.

Whether this reality is a problem or not, depends on one’s expectations of local government. Obviously, in the case of the “Rates Control” group at WRC, voters have understood and expected the kinds of positions councillors were likely to take. Surprise surprise when they do just that. The problem for many citizens, however, is that when their elected representatives actually vote to represent those who elected them, the cry of “foul” goes up and a “Local Government Act” yellow card follows.

In any case, there is a fundamental disconnect when voters are led to believe, every three years, that candidates should be chosen based on their experience, views, and values…only to learn that these same candidates, if elected, are supposed to put on a muzzle and forget everything they believe in and have fought for. The problem is thinking local government New Zealand should be a politics-free zone when it is anything but that.

As for TCDC’s so-called “heritage” project, I find ex-councillor Minogue’s recycled comments most revealing. While lashing out at the individual (in this case me), he fails once again to deal with the actual substance of the issue or to offer any reasoned response to the project’s many critics. Maybe this lack of content, failure to engage on the topic in any meaningful way, and exercised blustering is reflective of political posturing and not just a prickly personality.

All the best.

March 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff

You make some good points Geoffrey, but I think you overlook the main thrust of my post which related to this bunch who sought votes on the basis of cutting costs who got their heads together to jack-up travel allowances - a favorite means of increasing council income without incurring the wrath of rate- rate-payers. They were only caught out by the Remuneration Commission that found the claim "failed the test" and they were made to look stupid and venal.
Dal can reply to your criticism of his comments - you both have opposing views, but hopefully it won't get personal.
Cheers

March 1, 2016 | Registered CommenterBill Barclay

Without sounding either 'prickly' or 'blustering' (god forbid I ever actually be guilt of those things) and with all due respect to Geoffery, the issue of bloc voting as being practiced by the Rates Control ticket is incredibly naive and downright risky to the future of the Regional Council as an operational democracy.

To call a meeting of a political 'ticket' at a cafe just down the road from where their Council meeting is about to be held in order to decide their voting and the outcome of matters on the Council agenda, is completely different from the other scenerios that Geoffery has raised because:

1) it is blatant and obvious (did they think they would not be recognised or something?)
2) it is specifically forbidden in the model Standing Orders that Councils adopt and which the Rates Control ticket would have voted to adopt along with all the other Councillors (although it is quite possible that they didn't understand what they were voting for - a draw back of 'popular' voting for candidates I am afraid!).

There two main reasons why the practice is forbidden in a Councils Standing Orders:

1) It is undemocratic in principle because a) it negates the reason for the consequent meeting and b) is not transparent and open .
2) It does not allow for professional input from staff and in particular from the Chief Executive who is obliged to ensure that all options are considered before a vote occurs as well as outlining any risks of a legal or judicial nature (note in this regard that the Rates Control Ticket bloc vote on their travel allowances was eventually overturned by legal process).

For just this reason there is also another clause in Standing Orders that stipulates that any meeting of the Council where decisions are made must have the Chief Executive in attendance.

The reason why this practice is risky to the future operation of the Regional Council is that at an any time due to a complaint being made to the Local Government Commission by either a member of the public or by Council staff, the entire elected Council can be replaced by appointed Commissioners - as happened at ECan not so very long ago as one of the previous comments rightly pointed out .

The risk of this happening goes up depending on the seriousness of the issue. If for example the Rates Control ticket decided at one of their cafe meetings to not approve the Councils annual budget, then it would most certainly happen, but it could also arise from an accumulation of small issues that add up to a significant level of dysfunction within the Council.

With regard to the heritage project, all I have done is add some balance to the debate which has occured so far and which has been been dominated by Sandra Goudie and the 'hardcore' (her words not mine) supporters of CLOUT (Coromandel Landowners Unitied) and the CPOA (the Coromandel Property Owners Alliance), especially because membrship of these groups was not being admitted. It was not transparent and open (there are those words again!). I believe that Geoffery is or has been a member of both these groups.

With regard to Geoffery's perceived lack information, I would remind him that the Council is currently working on the Project Information Document (the so called 'PID') for the heritage concept which will presumably be used in the consultation process. Sop I find the comments in his last paragraph a little hard to understand.

Any comment made in a public forum is of course open to criticism and to response. I have responded to Geoffery seriously on this matter and if he continues to think that I have "failed to engage on the topic in a meaningful way", then we have reached an insurmountable problem that is unlikely to be solved by further debate.

March 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDal

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