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

Media Watch is a focus on New Zealand media, blogs and social media. You can post any items of interested related to media.

A primary aim here is to hold media to account in the political arena. A credible and questioning media is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

A general guideline – post opinion on or excerpts from and links to blog posts or comments of interest, whether they are praise, criticism, pointing out issues or sharing useful information.

As usual avoid anything that could cause any legal issues such as potential defamation or breaching suppression orders. Also remember that keeping things civil, legal and factual is more effective and harder to argue against or discredit.

Sometimes other blogs get irate if their material is highlighted elsewhere but the Internet is specifically designed to share and repeat information and anyone who comments or puts anything into a public forum should be aware that it could be republished elsewhere (but please include attribution).

Local Body deserters

There’s been a number of people who have only recently been elected to local body councils talking about putting themselves forward to stand in the general election.

Apart from the cost any by-elections will impose on the councils, this shows either a shoddy lack of commitment to a three year term they sought from voters less than half a year ago, or a cynical using of their positions as a stepping stone to national politics.

here are some I have heard of just over the last couple of weeks.

Auckland: Denise Lee seeking Maungakiekie MP nomination

Maungakiekie-Tamaki Councillor Denise Lee hopes to bag a National Party nomination and replace outgoing Maungakiekie MP Peseta Sam Lotu-liga when he retires later this year.

Lotu-liga announced in December he would not be seeking re-election of the Auckland seat prompting Lee to jump at the opportunity.

She was re-elected as Maungakiekie-Tamaki Councillor last year after securing the majority of votes.

“When you get selected twice as councillor, and the last time with the majority of votes, it is a good sign that you’re a good representative to serve the people well,” Lee said.

A good representative doesn’t jump off their three year council gig after a few months just because of political opportunism.

Hastings’ mayor Lawrence Yule to seek Tukituki nomination

On Friday he announced he was planning to seek the National Party’s nomination for the Tukituki electorate, after 15 years as mayor or Hastings.

A large number of locals, along with members of the National Party had encouraged him to run, he said.

“I did not expect Craig Foss to resign, now I have to deal with that opportunity. I have been pretty humbled by the number of people who have approached me to stand.  I think I can make a difference in Wellington, for the people of Tukituki, and for the National Party,” he said.

Deal with an opportunity for himself and stuff the people who voted him as mayor, and will have to fund his ship jumping if he succeeds.

Wellington:  Paul Eagle looks at running in Rongotai as Annette King heads for list

Less than three months after becoming Wellington’s deputy mayor, Paul Eagle is eyeing up a seat in Parliament.

Eagle said he was considering calls from Labour Party members to contest Rongotai, the Wellington electorate seat long held by the party’s deputy leader, Annette King.

If he did contest Rongotai, he would stay on as deputy mayor  – though he may drop some portfolios – but said there would be “a resignation immediately” if he won the seat.

So he would ditch some of his council responsibilities to suit his own ambitions, essentially using his deputy mayor salary to tide himself through a national election campaign and only resign if how won the seat.

How convenient for him – and inconvenient and expensive for his council.

And there’s two Green councillors here: Nelson byelection could be parting gift from councillors bound for Beehive

An $80,000 byelection could be on the cards for Nelson if two city councillors buzz off to the Beehive.

Second-term councillor Matt Lawrey is the Green Party candidate for Nelson in this year’s general election, while third-term councillor Kate Fulton is still waiting to hear if she’ll win her bid for the West Coast-Tasman candidacy.

If either win the electoral seats, or are placed in Parliament as Green Party List MPs, Nelson City Council will foot the bill for an $80,000 by-election.

So Lawrey is already committed to being a part time councillor, part time general election campaigner.

Councillor Matt Lawrey said it might be time to revisit the legislation that governs how city councillors are replaced.

“[It] does raise questions, and maybe it’s time we looked at changing the system so in the event of a councillor dying or having to leave the role, the next highest polling candidate gets a seat at the table,” Lawrey said.

“That would certainly be a cheaper and more efficient way of doing things.”

But Lawrey is not “having to leave the role”, he is trying to switch jobs mid term because it suits him. A cheaper way of replacing councillors might help him justify his lack of commitment, but it’s not good practice.

But Chief Electoral Officer at electionz.com Warwick Lampp said the legislation ensured fair process in cases where the next highest polling candidate received significantly fewer votes than the winning candidate.

“I think you could legitimately argue that the community didn’t want that person and then they’ve [been given] them… It has to go back to the democratic function with a completely new election, where anyone can stand,” Lampp said.

The highest polling failed candidate could have got hardly any votes.

And it’s not very fair on candidates who put time and money into standing in the local body elections and just miss out for successful candidates to desert at their convenience.

Are there any others who have announced their wish to desert their elected position just  a few months in to a three year term?

Do you give a toss that local government is broken?

Jason Krupp writes at The Spinoff: Local government in NZ is broken and dying – and hardly anyone gives a toss

Local government in Zealand is broken and dying, only it is dying so slowly that you’d hardly notice it unless you are looking, and it is a problem.

How broken is it? Do you give a toss?

Krupp cites two reasons why he thinks it is broken.

The first is that the system has been designed to blunt the power of the local ballot box. Unlike national elections, where election promises translate into political mandates, at the local level they carry much less weight. That’s because under the Local Government Act, a mayor’s powers are largely limited to leading the long-term and annual planning process.

Very often newly elected mayors and councillors have to live with the existing plan until the next planning review cycle, which in some cases can take up to 18 months.

Rather than sit on their hands for 18 months after this year’s elections perhaps this is why a number of councils set about debating and voting on lobbying Parliament on deep sea drilling – a pointless waste of time but something to make them feel important about.

The second factor that dilutes local democratic choice is the work load central government places on local government. This is something not many people are aware of.

As creatures of statute, councils are entirely answerable to central government. With the stroke of a pen, parliament can hand tasks to local government, set service standards, and dictate local operations. Councils are obliged to accept these responsibilities, or be replaced by statutory managers. And central government does kind of task shifting all the time. At last count there are more than 30 pieces of legislation that conferred responsibility to local government – and that excludes the Local Government Act.

But while central government is happy to pass on tasks, it is much less forthcoming with funding.

With rates rising far faster than inflation it’s kind of obvious who ends up funding all the bureaucratic obligations.

These factors conspire to create not just a democratic gap but an accountability gap too. Ratepayers and residents are effectively locked out of the running of their community, and they are unable to tell which tier of government is responsible for which service. All they do know is the one way direction of their rates bills: upward.

Some ratepayers and residents aren’t locked out, they actively lobby on things like anti-fossil fuel policies that either push or enable (I think some councillors are involved in this activism) that ends up costing ratepayers more.

Then it becomes obvious where Krupp is coming from – he’s a lobbyist.

At the NZ Initiative we have proposed a different solution in the report The Local Manifesto: Restoring Local Government Accountability.

We want to make councils ultimately responsible for all local matters by amending the Local Government Act in a way that strictly sets out which tasks and services local government is solely responsible for. That way when rates shoot up, ratepayers know who ask tough question of. You can’t pass the buck when there is no one to pass it to.

The flip side of this is that it frees central government to focus on national level matters. As it stands, no matter is too small or local that central government won’t get involved. Take the review of dog control rules currently being conducted by Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston. Or Local Government Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga’s review of campervan bylaws.

These are both classic examples of one-size-fits-all thinking. It ignores local differences and allows councils to shift the blame for their poor performance onto central government. If central government wants to encourage local responsibility, it needs to stop behaving like an overbearing helicopter parent.

There is of course a case to be made that there may be some instances where it is advantageous for central government setting policy at a local level. But if it does so, it must bear the costs of this intervention, or give communities the opportunity to opt out. Central government’s regulatory free lunch, where it gets to pass policy free of charge, has to end.

A key feature of successful local government structures overseas is financial incentives. We need to introduce these in New Zealand. If central government wants to encourage councils to do the right thing, such as pursue faster economic growth or free land for housing, it needs to introduce financial rewards for doing so. It cannot hog all the benefits and pass on all the costs.

Imagine how local government and the public’s attitude to releasing land for housing would change if the government paid councils a grant for every new house built within a limited timeframe. Or to what degree local red tape would be slashed if councils got a slice of the goods and services tax on any additional economic growth they helped encourage?

There is a caveat though. If this weighty responsibility is to be handed to local government, councils need to prove they can handle it. They need to demonstrate that they can be trusted as wise spenders of public money. Right now the cost benefit analysis on long-term plans amounts to little more than a list of pros and cons. Councillors wishing decisions to fall one way or the other just need to make sure the respective pro/con column is longer. This is the kind of thinking that results in Blenheim’s white elephant theatre.

Councils also need to show that their actions are steered by the will of the community.

Mechanisms like non-binding local referenda and community juries can be an effective means of securing buy-in on long-term plans. Another upside from this is that it confronts communities with the costs of their decisions. Yes, you can have gold plated sewer pipes, but you have to pay for it.

If this sounds like an odd set up, it is probably worth noting local government in New Zealand is really the oddity. Most Western countries have devolved decision-making down to the local level to a far greater degree than New Zealand. Even in highly centralised countries like the United Kingdom, powers that were once vested in Whitehall are being handed back to local authorities as part of the city deal process.

Ultimately, if we want local government to be open, accountable and democratic – something not found in the current system – then we need to reform the laws that govern the sector. It is almost a no-brainer. We trust voters to make wise decisions at the ballot box, why not entrust them to run their own communities?

But will anything change? Do you care if it does or doesn’t?

The NZ Initiative may need to get some supportive councillors elected then rally  a handful of people to promote policies and stack submissions so that the councils can claim to be following the will of the people (the small number who take part).

Mentioning things like cycling is good, recycling is better and oil is bad will help if they want to influence existing councils.

Botany by-election $100,000+

An elected member was sworn in at the Howick Local Board’s inaugural meeting on November 3, but stormed out and resigned moments later after missing out on being made chairwoman.

This means a by-election will be needed and will cost at least $100,000.

Eastern Courier: Botany by-election expected to cost more than $100,000

Lucy Schwaner was sworn in at the Howick Local Board’s inaugural meeting on November 3, but stormed out and resigned moments later after missing out on being made chairwoman.

Schwaner, the wife of Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross, then took out a full-page ad in the local Eastern Courier newspaper attacking the board’s incumbent chairman David Collings.

Auckland Council said on Thursday that a by-election to fill Schwaner’s seat, in the Botany subdivision of the local board, was expected to cost more than $100,000.

A very expensive hissy fit.

Schwaner issued a statement on Thursday morning, saying she stands by her reasons for resigning. 

“It’s unfortunate there is a cost for appointing a replacement member of the Howick Local Board,” she says.

“However, the cost to the community is far greater if the Howick Local Board were allowed to continue unchecked and without its deep problems or poor leadership highlighted for the public.

“Leaving the Howick Local Board was the most honourable course of action, given I have no confidence in the leadership of David Collings. “

I don’t think it looks honourable at all – what about honouring the democratic process?

She ironically refers to ‘poor leadership’ – cutting and running is not exactly doing anything to keep a check on the local board.

Schwaner noted that Mike Turinsky was the highest-ranked unsuccessful candidate in the local board election.

The cost of a by-election could be avoided if other groups decided not to put a candidate forward and allowed Turinsky to fill the vacancy unchallenged, she said.

However, the council said there was no alternative under the Local Electoral Act but to run a by-election.

If Schwaner ever stands for election again voters should be very wary of her commitment.