§  I believe that this process is so anti democratic and flawed that I am bewildered as to why a retired judge, or any other distinguished person, would wish to give it any credence whatsoever. But be that as it may:

§  Ordinarily, I would not offer statements of this type to Whangarei District Council (WDC) as it is a complete waste of everyone's time. The mayor has made it clear that his council ".. wouldn't want ratepayer's money wasted listening to innate abject whingers[1] … (and the like)". Hopefully, someone "independent" of council may listen; who knows?;

§  I am not opposed to local body reorganisation;

§  I am, however, totally opposed to the method by which this proposal has surfaced and the campaign of misinformation which has supported it.
In particular, the claim that the process is “independent” in any way whatsoever is, I believe, fatuous nonsense and is unsupported by fact. It is simply the Whangarei District Council (WDC) pursuing their own agenda and using ratepayer funds to support their partisan political view;

§  I believe that the manner in which this has been initiated and promoted is a complete disgrace and an abuse of democratic processes. A sham process is being used to ram council's prejudices down people's throats. While this is not unexpected from this council it is, none the less, unacceptable.

The “need” for reorganisation

§  There is absolutely no public clamour for such reorganisation. To the best of my knowledge, in the last three years there has not been a single submission to annual or long term plans requesting a changed structure;

§  Further, I understand that WDC has never raised the issue in either its long term plan or in its annual plan process. There is neither any level of public expectation for such change nor has WDC foreshadowed the need for it;

§  I understand that the possibility was raised at a mayoral forum but, instead of having an ordered process, with proper public participation, three mayors went ahead with their own agendas. Northland Regional Council (NRC), quite correctly, wouldn't have a bar of the flawed process and, subsequently, Kaipara District also pulled out.

The process

§  I believe that the process adopted is ridiculous and undemocratic. The decision to hire McKinlay Douglas as consultants was made by council. However, it was not made in an advertised meeting of council and was not communicated in any way to the public. The motion was passed, with next to no discussion (but, of course, that is the norm at WDC) and certainly no advance notice to the public, at a meeting convened to hear submissions to the sale of inner city parkland on a motion of urgency.
Even though urgency was advanced for this there, clearly, was no urgency;

§  The report was commissioned by three local authorities who, in the case of WDC at least, set the terms of reference with no consultation with their public. NRC, rightly, declined to participate in such an undemocratic and unprincipled exercise;

§  On receipt of the report, I understand that WDC altered the “independent” consultant’s recommendation to suit their own purpose. They then stated their own preference (which, surprise, surprise coincided with the altered recommendation) and proceeded to carry out a series of “consultation” meetings which were simply fronts to promote their own view;

§  They also embarked on a one sided advertising campaign which did nothing other than state their own prejudices. It was far from “independent” and simply reinforced the partisan view that they had held since prior to the McKinlay Report[2]. In addition, it was misrepresentative to suggest outcomes, such as more hip operations, would occur if WDC merged with NRC. The “Other reasons to find out more” are equally as ridiculous. “A better cleaner environment” – yeah right. In fact, I believe that this advertising campaign is completely dishonest and I have issued a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority.

The real need for reorganisation

§  There is no real need. The only argument that I have seen advanced is that one has to deal with two bodies and this causes confusion. Not only is this absolutely ridiculous, it is totally unsupported by any fact whatsoever. How many complaints were received by council? How many submissions were made to annual and long term plans? I have not heard any argument advanced for such a change by anyone other than WDC;

§  Not even cost or efficiency – no-one is claiming any real cost savings or real efficiency gains. In fact, overall it is likely to cost far more than at present even without taking into account the massive restructuring costs;

§  For what benefit? The only cost benefit being claimed is the need to deal with just one authority – this is completely ludicrous and is unsupportable by fact. It is significant that no facts, defining the extent of this “problem”, have been published;

§  The problems stated in the advertisements are fictitious illusions. If there are any real issues they can easily be solved by definition and negotiation (see what should happen below);

§  Should does not equate to will.

Who is promoting this?

§  Claims such as “we can do better” do not bear scrutiny. The organisation promoting this campaign (WDC) is, I believe, by far, the most undemocratic authority in Northland. The April monthly council meeting, for example, lasted just a few minutes and had just one item of business – the granting of an easement over 24 sq m of a narrow strip of land. In contrast the Far North meeting lasted eight hours! Sadly, this is more the rule than the exception and monthly meetings of WDC are characterised by extremely sparse agendas and a complete lack of debate and information. They certainly can do better but there is no evidence in 2˝ years that they have made any effort to do so;

§  WDC have no respect for the public who take an interest in their district and they are quite happy to indulge in abuse and unseemly behaviour towards their critics. As an example, I have attached the mayor’s reaction when asked to consider public forums as provided for in the Local Government Act;

§  I believe that it is no coincidence that the most undemocratic organisation by far in Northland (WDC) is promoting this “reorganisation”. If this is approved then it would lead to a further erosion of democracy. Their advertising campaign seems to be directed at, arguably, the most democratic organisation in Northland (NRC)!

The advertisements

§  Whangarei District Council embarked on a series of advertisements which were misleading, meaningless, one sided and infantile. And they cost ratepayers.
Almost all of these covered only the issue of the confusion in having to deal with two councils. Except, it is not an issue. Council will not supply detail of the number of complaints, I contend, because there are not any;

§  One of these ads even intimated that you would have a better chance of getting a hip replaced if you support a so-called "merger" and that your children would be able to stay in Northland instead of moving away. The campaign is just sanctimonious unsubstantiated drivel using ratepayer money to push a partisan political view which, to my mind, makes it completely anti democratic;

§  Take the one in the Whangarei Leader of 11 May. Each advertisement has a cartoon. The "problem" in this cartoon could be simply handled by having a checklist with appropriate documentation. It could be solved by the setting up of a "one stop shop". And, longer term, it could be solved by having a single comprehensive plan for Northland.
It does not require a massive restructuring as is being talked about;

§  In any case when you are building a house you need to deal with a plumber, an electrician, a builder and so on. The same logic being applied here would mean that these should all merge for the same reason (whatever that is!);

§  The irony for me is that WDC took 120 days to process a resource consent for me (100 days over the legal limit – so much so that if it were today with discounting for late delivery at 1% per day I would have got it for free!). "By the end of May" would be a dream in comparison to WDC's performance;

§  The "Other reasons to find out more" are equally as absurd:

o   We can do better: Sure you can, but does having monthly council meetings that last just two minutes indicate any intent to do better? Or does better mean abolishing public meetings altogether?

o   One tier, no buck passing:  Where is there any evidence that this happens. But, if it is an issue, do better and solve it. It doesn't require massive change. For goodness sake, WDC and NRC are right next to each other. Why can't this be resolved? Because it has never been identified as a problem and, thus, no-one has decided to 'solve' it. In any case, the culture at WDC would, I believe, mitigate against them working in partnership with anybody;

o   A better, cleaner environment: Given Whangarei District's performance, particularly on sewage spills, this is abject nonsense. I believe that they only upgraded the Okara pumping station as they would not have received a consent to discharge to the harbour had they not done so. Now, if they were a unitary authority?;

o   A brighter future for our kids: Once again, this is abject nonsense. How can this be achieved by splitting the regional council in three and adding in the district council?;

o   Auckland Supercity: So what?; the government is to release a discussion paper next year – so why do we need to do something right now?;

o   Conversations are happening right around NZ:  Firstly, this is no conversation and the comment on being caught unprepared like Auckland is fatuous nonsense. The Auckland super city has all of the hallmarks of impending disaster in any case.
So why wouldn't you wait and see what happens?
If the government decides that Northland will be governed in a particular way (as it has with Auckland) that is the way it will be. Full stop.

 And what do people think about the supercity anyway?

§  Aucklanders’ opinions on their super city (NZ Herald, 14 May) make interesting reading with:

o   48.5% of people claiming that it will not make Auckland a better place to live and 37.8% saying it will;

o   52.7% saying that they will be worse off with a single council against 31.2% who feel that they would be better off;

o   49.5% who believe that it will not improve management of the region against 42.1% who believe it will;

§  Surely this tells us something about this Northland charade.

And what about splitting and merging?

§  The greatest problem with merging organisations is the "clash of cultures".
As one who has experienced both councils my experience is:

o   I would characterise WDC as mean spirited, nasty, unfriendly, closed, opaque and arrogant. They have a contempt for democracy and, in particular, for people who wish to participate in it;

o   I would characterise NRC as helpful, friendly, open and transparent. They have a respect for democracy and welcome people's participation in it;

o   Chalk and cheese if you like. I should point out that this is no criticism of the staff at lower levels. Both organisations have some fine staff. The culture of an organisation, however, spreads from the top. WDC must be a trial for many;

§  And, where does this leave Kaipara? Are we going to split the NRC in three? And hasn't the minister already said that Far North is too small to sustain a unitary authority?

One of their silly ads mentions that one unitary authority would cover the Far North and the other the Whangarei & Kaipara districts.

Problem: Despite WDC muscling in on Kaipara District by holding their silly meetings there (which I believe is unethical), Kaipara don't actually want a bar of it in any case!

So why are we bothering with this nonsense at all?;

§  I have some experience of systems. Merging computer and office systems can be a complete nightmare and will take considerably longer and cost considerably more than whatever estimate is put forward;

§  In addition, staff will be required to work with semi-merged systems for some considerable time with a corresponding loss of productivity. Probably just prior to it being taken apart and reorganised again!;

§  One of the dumbest ideas put forward to the Waipu "consultation" meeting was that, since some functions of the NRC would need to be Northland wide the two unitary authorities would need to form a CCO to handle these functions – in other words, a regional council accountable to no-one!

So what should happen?

§  This process should be rejected out of hand and be consigned to the scrap heap;

§  Councillors should individually be required to reimburse ratepayers for their profligate wasting of ratepayer funds on this charade;

§  Areas where there are real issues should be properly identified and discussion held between the parties as to how best these can be addressed within existing structures;

§  Councils must wait for the government's paper and then initiate an agreed and  proper conversation with people to get their ideas on future governance using guidelines within this paper;

§  If there is to be change then it must be agreed that the approach towards whatever form is decided is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In other words small steps rather than a giant leap into the unknown;

§  The process must start with proper conversations with citizens. As an example, get people to present some options for local government at a series of workshops and distil ideas from these workshops. Only then, engage a "consultant" to put together a plan incorporating these ideas, consistent with good governance and with the government’s discussion paper;

§  I believe that this should explore a completely different strategy than now where community boards are central to governance and a structure built up from these boards (bottom up) rather than imposed from the top (top down).

In other words, boards determine what councils may do and not the other way around. But, of course, this is just one idea that the public could advance for consideration.

Debt Level

§  What is the debt level now, Stan (after this silly process)?




Wayne Deeming
15 May 2010

[1] Translation:  people he disagrees with

[2] The McKinlay report itself was hardly independent. Mr McKinlay claimed to have spoken to just 30 people whose names had all been given to him by councils. It is so generic that he could be talking about Buller as far as anyone would know.