By Roger Childs
Manners maketh man. My mother and others
Into the fiery furnace
In less than a month in office he has
- faced a well publicised personal attack by one of his councillors
- witnessed his CEO sacking a consultant after one day on the job
- seen a raft of controversial issues raised in the district such as fluoride in the water, possible brothels in residential areas, various ideas on the use of the water metres and the debate over coastal hazard lines
- had to put a well known local stirrer in his place at a council committee meeting
- given a lecture to the community on good manners.
However there have been some beer and skittles with official openings, dedicating a clock at the Aquatic Centre, visiting changes on the Otaki River bank, getting out one of the classic cars for the “Run for Youth”, endorsing the White Ribbon Campaign and so on. The mayor has impressed observers on these occasions.
Formal declarations and reality
It all started well with the formal inaugural meeting at Southwards, where newly elected councillors and community board members made a declaration which started with these words
I ____________ declare that I will faithfully and impartially, and according to the best of my skill and judgement, execute and perform in the best interests of the Kapiti Coast District…
Citizens will be hoping that our representatives remember what they publically declared because some have already breached this undertaking.
At this swearing-in ceremony Mayor Church remarked that I think you are well represented, and also stressed that we must never get bogged down in politicking. Unfortunately the politicking has begun.
Challenging the Church
Newly elected Councillor Jackie Elliott wasted little time attacking the new mayor and going public. Over an issue related to standing orders, she accused Ross Church of running ‘the least transparent and democratic Council in New Zealand. A bold claim indeed!
Her challenge was linked to the complicated relationship between
- governance: the council headed by the mayor
- and administration: the KCDC bureaucracy headed by CEO Pat Dougherty
Councils must abide by the Local Government Act 2002 and The Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, however there are grey areas in how they operate with the permanent council staff.
During the last council’s term of office there was plenty of criticism about whether the bureaucrats had too much influence over what the district’s democratically elected representatives could do.
- Dale Evans criticised the CEO and demanded he resign due to poor performance and lack of public confidence in (his) ability to curtail Kapiti’s spiralling spending. Mr Dougherty’s controversial salary increase a few years back was seen to be part of this.
- The mayor was not having any of this. It is not fair to come here and attack and name staff… People can be critical of council performance but personal attacks are unacceptable. He spelled out that people have the right to come along to meetings and have their say in the spirit of democracy so long as they are playing ball and addressing the issue…
- Not surprisingly, Cr Elliott had her say on the matter. In the rush to shut down open and transparent debate, the Mayor and CEO are blundering… An example of this was made last week when the Mayor shut down a public speaker, Dale Evans, saying he was in breach of standing orders… Mr Evans, who was critiquing the performance of the CEO, deserves an apology from the Mayor and meeting Chair for the way he was spoken to in the meeting.
The meaning of democracy
The last council had its critics and the 50% of citizens who voted threw out the mayor, deputy mayor and two other councillors. However, that council achieved a great deal for the community, especially in the areas of infrastructure, public facilities and far-sighted purchases of land for future community use.
The new mayor and some of the newly elected councillors campaigned on a platform promising more consultative and open government. It is to be hoped that the Church council can get on with the business of achieving that aim and do what they promised at the first meeting: …execute and perform in the best interests of the Kapiti Coast District…
Abraham Lincoln famously defined democracy as government of the people, by the people, for the people. Our new council needs to remember that the most important part of the definition is the last phrase.
A vital element of local democracy is freedom of speech, and the columns by Cr Gurunathan and Cr Gaylor in the Kapiti News allow issues to be aired. Ross Church’s cleverly entitled Classic Torque column in both papers is a valuable weekly report. However the mayor would do well to follow his predecessor and have a different focus in each paper.
A big decision made this week was over the future of water issues. Sensibly the council voted in favour of proceeding with the Waikanae River recharge scheme and the metering of water as approved by the last council.
There has been other good news for the district.
- The final go-ahead for the Expressway. The issue of trying to solve the area’s transport problems has been debated for over 40 years and now the community has certainty on a solution. Through traffic will at last be separated from town traffic.
- The increase in submissions and approvals for building projects. The 2013 census spelled out that Kapiti is one of the fastest growing areas in the country and the proposed developments reflect the needs of an expanding district.
Keep your chain on Ross!
A month is a long time in politics and a settling down period for the new council was to be expected. Hopefully our elected representatives can move on to do productive things for the district.
Accepting that it is positive to have different viewpoints thrashed out on issues, it would be great if the Church Council could all sing from the same hymn sheet.
It may not be all things bright and beautiful however, the district would settle for all things wise and wonderful.