Cycleways, and more interference from Wellington

What?

I have no idea why traffic lights are being controlled from Wellington. Dunedin mayor Dave Cull, who also heads Local Government New Zealand, has been trying to promote Bringing government back to the people – LGNZ and The New Zealand Initiative start Project Localism.

The increasing number of cycleways and traffic disruption in Dunedin, and a dwindling number of car parks, are not particularly  popular in Dunedin.

The cycleways themselves are not particularly popular either.  From my observations some seem to be rarely used, and others seem to be used only occasionally, although cyclist numbers do seem to have increased a little (from hardly any to bugger all).

Traffic jams being ‘controlled’ from Wellington are also going to be unpopular.

Q+A: Phil Goff on funding infrastructure and free speech

This morning Phil Goff will be interviewed on Q+A.

Goff says that one way of dealing with local government funding problems is to have the GST on rates returned to councils for them to do as they wish with.

On free speech, Goff says that he has a responsibility to ensure Auckland is an inclusive city – by excluding some speakers?

Otago regional rates to rise 21%, then 23%

This is a bit of a shock – ORC plan adopted, rates to rise 21.1%

A 21% rates rise is on the cards as the Otago Regional Council finalises its long-term plan.

But wait, there’s more.

General regional council rates will rise 21.1% in the next financial year and are predicted to rise another 22.8% the year after.

Targeted rates will rise 5.4% in the next financial year and 5.7% the following year.

That means that rates of say $200 now would rise to $330 over four years.

The plan includes about $650 million in spending over the next 10 years and tackles new projects such as increased water monitoring, urban water quality initiatives and better preparing the region for climate change.

The cost of going green?

Also in the ODT today: Plans for $200m hotel complex

That’s plans for a hotel in Queenstown. Probably instead of a proposed hotel inn Dunedin, which once again faced vocal opposition and planning approval difficulties.

The man behind a so far unsuccessful bid for a five-star hotel in Dunedin’s Moray Pl has moved his attention to Queenstown.

An Environment Court appeal over his Dunedin five-star hotel planned for a site across the road from the Dunedin Town Hall was withdrawn last month, but he indicated at the time he was not giving up on the project.

Sounds like he has given up on Dunedin, like developers before him.

 

Nine councillors express ‘no confidence’ in Mayor Goff

The Herald reports that nine Auckland City councillors have signed a letter of no confidence in mayor Phil Goff, but Goff says he did not know anything about the letter, would not comment on it, but that he was ‘was not particularly concerned’ about the stadium issue (that seems to have led to the loss of confidence).

NZH: Auckland councillors pen letter of no confidence in mayor Phil Goff

Nearly half of Auckland councillors have penned a letter of no confidence in mayor Phil Goff.

The Herald understands the letter relates to Goff’s handling of the recent controversy for a new downtown stadium for Auckland and his refusal to give councillors full and open access to a $923,000 report by PwC on the matter.

It is believed the councillors plan to release the letter publicly at midday tomorrow.

Goff said tonight he had not received any letter from councillors, did not know anything about it and could not comment on something he had not seen.

Why has the Herald received a copy of the letter before Goff? That seems a crappy way to do things.

A source said the nine out of 19 councillors who signed the letter are John Watson, Wayne Walker, Greg Sayers, Mike Lee, Cathy Casey, Efeso Collins, Chris Fletcher, Daniel Newman and Sharon Stewart.

Watson, Casey and Collins have asked the Ombudsman to review the decision by Goff to release the report only under strict conditions.

Goff played down any possible vote of no confidence in him, saying he had just received unanimous support in glowing terms for his 10-year budget, unlike former Mayor Len Brown’s last 10-year budget, which was passed with a bare majority.

“On what matters to Aucklanders I have received strong support,” he said.

Goff said he was not particularly concerned about something – the stadium issue – that is an irritant to some people but not critical to what he is setting out to achieve.

The mayor said he believed councillors had had access to the pre-feasibility stadium report, but he had been disappointed from time to time when confidential material was released to other parties.

The leaking of confidential information is a serious issue – but so is the suppression of information from councillors by the mayor.

The letter highlights growing frustration among a group of councillors about Goff’s leadership style. The frustration has been simmering since a minor committee reshuffle last December.

There is a feeling that Goff operates a Cabinet-style A team, marginalising a group of councillors who regularly vote against his initiatives.

Goff denied there was any tension between him and a group of councillors, saying generally he had a very amicable relationship with councillors as a whole and operated an open door policy.

Sounds like bullshit from Goff. The leaking of the letter indicates a lot of ‘tension’. And is claiming he has an ‘open door policy’ a joke? Probably not intentionally.

This from Newshub three weeks ago: Phil Goff under investigation over alleged Auckland stadium secrecy

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is under investigation after allegedly keeping a $1 million report secret from councillors for months on end.

Auckland councillors put in an official complaint over the secrecy surrounding the report, which discusses the pros and cons of building a new $1 billion stadium.

The proposal for the new build in Auckland’s CBD has been kept under wraps by Mayor Phil Goff for a year, according to some councillors – a claim Mr Goff denies.

But the pre-feasibility report from PwC, which has already been done, cost nearly $1 million – and Albany ward councillor John Watson told The AM Show many of his fellow councillors are yet to see it.

“The only way councillors can get to see this report is to go into the mayoral office with mayoral staff like security guards watching over us as if we’re like KGB spies.

“Some councillors have put in a complaint to the ombudsman given the notion of elected representatives being denied access to a $1 million document. And I would suggest it’s not a particularly well-spent million either.”

The letter suggests Goff has been unsuccessful in dismissing concerns over his stadium report.

And this doesn’t look like partisan political side taking, as the named councillors appear to be spread across the political spectrum.

If councillors are claiming they are being shunned by Goff for not supporting him this won’t help.

Goff has a major problem, and publicly at least seems in denial.

Greens want to dump referendums so they can force separate Māori wards

Several local bodies have failed in their attempts to impose Māori wards on their constituencies, with voters initiating petitions forcing referendums that subsequently voted strongly against separate democratic privileges – see Māori wards and democracy.

Undeterred by determination through the current democratic process, Green co-leader Marama Davidson is promoting “a movement”  for  “Māori wards right across the country”.

NewstalkZB: Green Party not giving up on Maori wards

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson is refusing to give up the fight to create separate Maori wards, after Whakatane and Palmerston North both voted against the wards in binding referendums.

Davidson says it’s wrong for the majority to be setting the rules for minorities.

“Passing my law, which would have removed that referendum step and which would leave the decision in the hands of the elected councillors, is what is sorely needed.”

She has a law to take a means of democratic decision making out of the hands of voters.

Last year: Greens introduce Bill to make local wards process fair

The Green Party has today entered a Member’s Bill into the ballot that would make local government representation more equitable by ensuring that the establishment of both Māori and general wards on district and regional councils follows the same legal process.

“I’m really excited to be launching my new Member’s Bill today, which will ensure that the process for establishing Māori wards at a local government level is equitable and fair, and honours our commitments under Te Tiriti o Waitangi,” said Green Party Māori development spokesperson Marama Davidson.

Green Farm: ‘All votes are equal…but some vote should be more equal than others’.

“This unfair double standard in our electoral law works to limit Māori representation at local government level throughout the country.

Māori currently have the same opportunities for representation as everyone else. Davidson wants them to have separated representation. Davidson is promoting one standard for Māori the is different for the standard for everyone else.

Why just Māori wards? Why not women’s wards, LBGT wards, immigrant group wards, and white male wards?

“Removing this discriminatory provision is the right thing to do.

With a more discriminatory, less democratic provision?

“The Green Party has a proud history of standing up to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This is a continuation of our work as the political leaders on advancing kaupapa Māori and honouring Te Tiriti,” Ms Davidson said.

By promoting separatist local body democracy. I’m not aware of Te Tiriti o Waitangi stipulating separate democratic rights. There are valid historical reasons for the establishment of the national Māori electorates, and there is no strong indications that voters want that changed – but there are strong indications in New Plymouth, Manawatu, Kaikoura and Whakatane that separate wards are not wanted.

Having lost out in the democratic process Davidson wants the rules changed so she can have what she wants. This is alarming from a party leader.

From the Green’s Open Government and Democracy Policy:

Vision

  • We have a proportional electoral system that is transparent and fair.

This refers to ‘a proportional electoral system’, not dual systems. Fair for all, or ‘more fair’ for some?

Key Principles

1. Key decisions on the shape of the nation’s electoral system belong to the people, not political parties.

And not councils. But Davidson wants this principle overturned so councils can ignore their constituents.

2. The votes of all electors are of equal weight in influencing election results.

Except Davidson wants added weight for a select minority.

6. The electoral system should encourage close links and accountability between individual MPs and their constituents or constituencies.

8. Active democratic processes require more than periodic elections and stronger mechanisms are needed for the ongoing engagement of informed citizens in the development and enactment of key national and local policies.

But Davidson wants to remove the right of local body voters to petition for referendums so they can have their say.

A. Changing the existing system

The Green Party will only consider supporting changes to the Electoral Act if:

1. The only effect of the change is to grant the right to vote to some group of citizens and permanent residents of Aotearoa New Zealand, who were previously ineligible to vote; or
2. The changes are adjustments to the existing electoral system that have been recommended by an independent commission, and that are consistent with our Key Principles.

Separate Māori wards are excluded by point 1. because Māori are already eligible to vote.

I’m not aware of any independent commission recommending Māori wards.

Māori wards are not consistent with Green Party Key Principles, but who needs to bother about principles when a party leader wants to override the current democratic systems?

Another Green democracy ‘vision’:

  • We are actively engaged in our democracy and are able to meaningfully participate in government decision-making.

That’s ok as an ideal, but you can’t make people actively engage in our democracy. Local body referendum turnouts were all close to 40%.

And Davidson wants to remove a petition/referendum means of meaningful participation because she disagrees with the democratic outcome.

Perhaps Davidson should try some meaningful participation and actively engage with Māori non-voters, and find out what would encourage them to engage and vote. That would be much better than trying to change the democratic rules when you don’t get the results you want.

It would be great if more Māori voted. It would also be great if more Māori  candidates stood, and if more Māori candidates were good enough to get voted on to local body governments.

B. Changing to a new system

The Green Party will consider supporting changing to a new electoral system only if:

1. The new electoral system is approved by a free and fair referendum of all people in Aotearoa New Zealand eligible to vote under the existing laws. The referendum should have the following characteristics:
a) The referendum process is determined by an independent commission not by members of parliament

Davidson wants to do the opposite.

Great to get more Māori  voting and standing and elected. But terrible for a party leader to try to change the rules to get what she wants.

Not only is Davidson promoting double democratic standards, she is promoting very different democratic standards to he party principles and policies.

Māori wards and democracy

Five regions have had or are having referendums on whether they should have Māori wards. Councils have decided to introduce wards but referendums have been forced.

Palmerston North result:

  • 68.7% AGAINST the establishment of a Māori ward or wards for Palmerston North City Council
  • 30.88% FOR the establishment of a Māori ward or wards for Palmerston North City Council

Initial voter return 37.21% so a majority didn’t vote, but of those who did a clear majority voted against.

Manawatu District result:

  • 77.04% Against
  • 22.76% For

Voter Return 44.47%.

Whakatane District:

  • Against Māori Wards 55.43%
  • For Māori Wards 44.33%

Voter return 44%.

That was closer but still a clear majority.

RNZ: MP surprised and disappointed Whakatāne rejected Māori wards

The MP for Waiariki says the rejection of Māori wards in Whakatāne is a huge disappointment.

Mr Coffey said the results meant Pākehā councillors would remain the voice of Māori in the Whakatāne District Council.

He said given the high percentage of Māori in Whakatāne, he was surprised at the result.

That suggests that he and the councils that tried to bring in Māori wards are out of touch with the electorates.

“I had thought if there was one place in New Zealand that was going to get it over the line it would be Whakatāne but sadly I was wrong.”

Mr Coffey said he was in talks with the mayor about other ways to have more representation for Māori in the area.

Instead of promoting separate wards for some voters, why not promote equal democracy for everyone?

All the time and effort put into trying to bring in an obviously unpopular ward system and campaigning for referendums might be better put towards encouraging greater Maori participation in democracy open to everyone.

I think it’s backward trying to give special democratic privileges to some people.

These referendum results may make other councils think more carefully before trying to impose privileged democracy on their constituents.

Another report information wrongly withheld by Auckland Council

RNZ reports on a third case where mayor Phil Goff and the Auckland City Council withheld information requested under the Official Information act that required intervention by the Ombudsman’s Office – Auckland Council stalled release of reports

The release of the $935,000 consultants’ report on a downtown stadium on Friday was the third time RNZ had to resort to the Ombudsman’s Office to extract public information.

The information was eventually found to have been wrongly withheld by Auckland Council.

All three directly involve the mayor Phil Goff.

In the latest case, RNZ had requested at the end of November 2017 the “pre-feasability” study looking at the prospects for a downtown stadium.

Advocacy for a closer look at the stadium had been part of Mr Goff’s election campaign.

Mr Goff personally called for the report soon after he was elected Mayor in October 2016, following 33 years in national politics.

Consultants PwC were engaged in January, although that move was not publicly announced until March, and the draft was delivered on time in June to the council agency Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA).

The council argued initially that the report was only a draft, and therefore not required to be released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA).

Wrong, said Ombudsman Leo Donnelly in an opinion he sent to Auckland Council and released to RNZ.

“There is no basis for a blanket withholding of drafts under LGOIMA until they are completed and finalised,” he wrote.

“To have a standard approach of withholding draft reports until they have been fully signed off, leaves the process open to exploitation by agencies who want to hold off release of information until it is most convenient.”

Read the Ombudsman’s opinion on Auckland Council’s arguments here (693.4KB)

In negotiations between the council and the Ombudsman, a senior council legal manager had also rejected the notion that public interest was not a ground for release.

“Any interest in the contents of the Report is tangential to the overall stadium issue, and falls into the category of being interesting to the public as opposed to being of legitimate concern to the public.”

Wrong, opined the Ombudsman.

“This is a project which, were the matter to progress, would involve the use of significant public funds, either through the council or central government,” wrote Leo Donnelly.

“There is a public interest in the Council being transparent at each step of the process.”

If draft reports could be kept secret under the OIA then many reports may never reach a final stage.

RNZ understands that the mayor’s office has been the key player in seeking the withholding of the “draft” report, and it was the mayor’s office which managed the reports’ release on Friday.

It also allowed Mr Goff to have a “conversation” with Finance Minister Grant Robertson on the subject, just a week ago.

It’s a re-run of RNZ’s effort to get a report commissioned by Mr Goff on the future of the vehicle import trade on Auckland’s waterfront.

Again, moving Auckland’s port long-term and the space-hungry vehicle import trade in the shorter term, were Goff campaign battle cries.

Again, fresh in office, Mr Goff ordered a report on the costs and benefits, and a draft was completed in May 2017.

It didn’t support Mr Goff’s view that the trade was a blight on the waterfront. RNZ’s request for a copy in July was declined.

Goff seems to have transferred poor OIA practices of central Government to the Auckland Council.

The outcome of the Ombudsman’s Office investigation into Auckland Council conduct around public information release, is still awaited.

But will it make any difference to Goff’s delaying tactics?

From Goff’s campaign policy document:

Council is regarded as an organisation that needs to cut fat from its system, become more responsive to the needs of its residents and ratepayers, and to be more transparent in how it spends its money.

Transparency seems to have morphed into secrecy. And the fat cutting? Auckland Council paying $45 million for ‘communications and engagement’

A leaked, confidential Auckland Council report has revealed the local body is spending $45 million running its various communications departments which employ 234 staff.

Critics have called for the council to tighten its belt and drastically cut the number of “spin doctors” it employs.

Mayor Phil Goff, who campaigned on tightening the city’s excess spending, addressed the reviews, which he instigated, at a meeting with the North Harbour business community in August.

“I’m spending your money,” he said. “You need to know you’re getting value for money in what we spend.”

Except when Goff wants to use his comms staff to keep things secret.


Goff is being interviewed on RNZ now.

Goff denies playing any part in the withholding of information. He says it follows a process. That process seems to be severely flawed.

He expects the Council to take on board the Ombudsman’s comments but then puts forward reasons (makes excuses) for not releasing information.

 

7.84% rates rise “a normal part of the cycle”

Saying that a 7.84% rates rise will be “in the lower quartile” won’t mean anything to ratepayers who face increases of $200-400. I am horrified by this level of increase – and it sounds like it is what much of the country should be expecting.

ODT: DCC approves second highest rates increase since 1989

The Dunedin City Council has backed a higher-than-expected rates rise of 7.84%, after agreeing to a series of last-minute funding boosts yesterday.

Plus:

The council has also signed off on a 4% increase in most fees and charges.

The waffle:

But Mayor Dave Cull insists the rates hike, like the fees and charges, are just a normal part of the cycle as cities invest in their futures.

That was within the council’s new self-imposed rates limit of 8% for the first year.

That’s about four times the rate of inflation.

Council chief executive Sue Bidrose said the city’s rates would remain in the lower quartile, while other centres across the country eyed increases of between 3% and 15%.

Lower quartile, about average, that’s tosh when trying to make excuses for an increase of about 8%.

It’s not as bad as 15%, but that’s like saying it’s not as bad getting two teeth pulled by the dentist as getting four teeth pulled.

Mr Cull said cities went through cycles of investment, leading to periods of higher rates increases, but the alternative would be worse.

Those cities that kept rates artificially low by not spending in the short term were eventually forced to catch up, leading to ”massive rates increases” later, he said.

”They pay the price in the end. The idea is to try to keep it smooth, but every now and then you have got to invest,” he said.

More nonsense. I think that rates have been rising ahead of inflation for yonks.

This is budget day news. I don’t expect to get any joy from the Government today either, but the budget shouldn’t be this bad.

Wellington also wants fuel tax

The regional fuel tax for Auckland could spread, if other regions get what they want.

RNZ:  Wellington council offers to join fuel tax plan

Greater Wellington Regional Council would implement a fuel tax if legislation before the house is passed, it says.

Under the proposed law change the regional fuel tax can be charged in Auckland and, from 2021, councils in other areas would also be able to implement one.

Council chair Chris Laidlaw said the tax would be put toward transport infrastructure developments.

“We already have several business cases in front of the government under consideration for rail improvements through the region including the Wairarapa … there are a variety of projects emerging from the ‘Lets Get Wellington Moving’ exercise, which is nearing completion,” Mr Laidlaw said.

He said the cost of these projects meant the council needed all the help it could get.

“They have to be paid for and the local government sector simply doesn’t have the resources to do this and our rates rises are heavy enough as it is,” he said.

He said introducing a regional fuel tax was the most sensible way of raising money for the expensive projects.

Of course other regions would like to avoid direct responsibility for rates rises by instead using different sorts of taxes.

Media watch – Friday

10 February 2017

MediaWatch

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