Road show on Local Government

After the preliminary round of meetings regarding the McKinlay Douglas report and its portrayal of Northland governance I felt it necessary to pursue the Whangarei District Council re-enactment, providing a round of public meetings to inform the ratepayers. Starting in Waipu, on Monday 19th April, the debate was somewhat lively with some fairly stern statements expressed by Regional Council members. Mangakahia, Tuesday, was blessed with the late attendance by the mayor who listened quietly on the sideline whilst a local couple asked about any new entities responsibility regarding claims against present councils for negligence. Not surprisingly, this brought the meeting to a fairly abrupt ending. The Ngunguru meeting on Wednesday had a reasonable attendance as questions regarding what the costs to ratepayers was going to be, to which there are no cold hard facts available, only assumptions. The rigid need of environmental monitoring was also high in the opinions of many. Thursdayís meeting at Forum North witnessed the best attendance by far.Some fairly staunch statements were made regarding the assets of the NRC being wanted by the District Councils, gaining applause from the crowd. The meeting was rekindled, after an early closure, when an ex councillor pointed out that there were still people with questions and the meeting was advertised as 6-8pm.

Week two, Monday at Ruakaka and there was discussion whether it was possible to get all four authorities back at the discussion table. Being present the mayor was also prepared to give his right arm if this resulted, so did he or did he not have confidence in a change of attitudes. Passion again was expressed by one of the areas always vigilant watchdogs.Hikurangi was most certainly not a dry meeting on Tuesday as en route the skies opened and dripped of the gold we had all been waiting for. Those that braved the elements could still not be informed of any cost increases or decreases to ratepayers as this area still appears to be pie in the sky.The Maungakaramea, Wednesday, meeting was enlightened that there were conspiracy theories about asset grabs. Do concerned residents now look like conspiratists? The words of confusion, delays and frustration which have also been displayed throughout the glossy flyer, distributed to the residents of Whangarei and Kaipara, do nothing but paint a pre-orchestrated picture by council of doubt over the present Northland governance arrangement. There was a lack of sausages (you needed to be there) at the Parua Bay Thursday meeting but the chips were down when comments regarding support towards the NRCís good working relationship were expressed. Fortunately these were witnessed comments (made by a councillor at an earlier in the day Far North District Council meeting) and undermined the inference of unsatisfactory working relationships between the NRC and district councils. This meeting was also attended by Greg Innes, who had written a supportive peer review for council, who made comments substantiating councilís viewpoint.

After attending eight meetings I found in general the chairing and presentation of the meetings was professional with fairly robust rules spelt out at a couple of the events. The attendance numbers of most meetings was in my opinion relatively poor except at Forum North,but let that not detract from the quality of the attendees which was pleasing to witness first hand their enthusiasm towards the needs of their community.

The review of Local Government was described on the majority of occasions as not being a sexy subject but at the largest meeting described as a dry one. I am still attempting to come to grips on this round of the debate, it having meant to be a neutral stance to start off with.And yet after pawing through the definitions of neutral I fail to find any that fit the scenario. When asked the cost of this discussion and submission exercise, answers given by different presenters were between $60,000 and $200,000.

There was little evidence presented at any of the meetings to support the claim that the current setup was not serving Northland well. When the issue of cost of change was queried the regularly described example was in 1989 when the district received more seal extensions as a result. Is this what Northland needs in preference to other infrastructure improvements? We have experienced shortage of resources recently and pollution of the environment issues regularly. There were regular claims about the ratepayers owning the assets: True, if they are not sold during any changes, then we would loose ownership. The large area of Northland has been described as a hurdle for one unitary authority, but if present technology is used, as experienced by some authorities, I donít believe that is an issue. Perhaps the lack of interest by WDC in the single unitary option is the possibility that it may be focused around a regional council base. In my opinion the future of Northlands governance will be directed by central government so letís hope this exercise is not a waste of ratepayers dwindling funds.

It was also interesting to note the complete absence or low attendance by some councillorsÖ. does this mean they do not support any of the potential changes?

I would love to give you more valid information to make a decision upon, but really there is little guts to it, unknowing any real likely benefits.

Take the time, make a statement on the process. Information is available from the Whangarei District Council,website www.wdc.govt.nzor my own website.

Warren Slater