Are Democracy & Accountability Missing Out in the New KCDC?

Salima Padamsey reports that at KCDC’s first meeting of the new triennium significant changes to Council’s governance were made with little to no explanation of the rationale.   

KCDC — home of local democracy no more?

The Local Government Act provides for the Mayor to establish committees and appoint his choice of elected members to serve on those committees.

In this triennium, Mayor K Gurunathan disestablished the (previously separate) Operations and Finance Committee and Strategy and Policy Committees.

Instead, it appears he amalgamated them into one ‘super’ Committee, now called the Strategy and Operations Committee.  

Given KCDC is the second most indebted Council in the country, the absence of a finance-specific committee may serve to diminish specific focus and scrutiny of Council finances.  Such a major change needs explanation and justification.

The second significant change to the governance framework was the introduction of portfolio management positions. 

The accompanying Officer’s Report explains that, “A portfolio approach enables individual councillors to be given responsibility for a particular focus and enables individual councillors to take an active leadership role within the community.”  

Portfolios, plus money, for some Councillors

The 14 portfolios identified in the report fall into 2 categories, A and B. 

Elected members holding portfolios in category A receive an additional $14,610 per annum in remuneration, and those holding portfolios in category B receive an additional $9,056 per annum in remuneration.

The Officer’s Report provides no detail on how these portfolio holders will report back to the Council or the community. Nor does it detail how their roles will influence inputs to decision-making. 

An Official Information Act request for all documents and correspondences relating to portfolio management since the commencement of the triennium, provided me with little written evidence that councillors are taking an “active leadership” role in those assigned areas.

The documents obtained indicate that initially, staff were assigned to be liaison officers to the portfolio holders, but that action seems to be as far as the implementation of the new governance framework has progressed. 

The scope of work specific to each portfolio and the public reporting requirements from portfolio holders is not defined. There are no ongoing meetings between portfolio holders and staff. 

Councillors confused

Discussions with various councillors indicate they too are confused with respect to how to make substantive progress within these specific portfolio governance roles.  

Some Councillors have more than one portfolio assigned, whereas Councillor Randall has no portfolio assignment at all. I understand he was never offered one. 

This new governance framework was to be reviewed by Council three months from the commencement of the triennium.  This has not happened. In an email dated 21 January 2020, the Mayor explains to councillors that, “…this is a new approach so there is a suck-it-and-see element”.

My investigation of the new governance framework suggests the implementation of portfolio management has been woeful. 

No accountability

There is no accountability mechanism in place for the community to judge the effectiveness of councillors in these roles.

The non-assignment of a portfolio to one councillor seems undemocratic for him and his constituents.

And the single ‘super’ Committee structure is of concern for reasons that I will outline in a future column.

Portfolio A remuneration of $14,610 is equivalent to the job seeker allowance for a single person over 25 years!!!

The Portfolio remuneration is in ADDITION to the NORMAL councilors remuneration plus EXTRA for chairs of committees plus various OTHER BENEFITS for use of mobiles, broadband etc, etc, etc.

Portfolio holding councilors (all except councilor Randal who holds no portfolio) appear to be required to do little or nothing specific for this additional remuneration. If nothing is being done or achieved by portfolio holding councilors why are they paid addition remuneration?

Can the Mayor advise the ratepayers the outcome of his ‘suck it and see’ approach to date…it is certainly not evident to the ratepayers, especially in these difficult economic times, when one might have thought fiscal prudence was necessary

Ratepayers deserve a full explanation of what has been achieved to date under this ‘suck and see’ approach.

Where is the strategy, the policy, the outcomes,not least the public available records resulting, from this ‘portfolio’ process?

Least we forget the current Mayor campaigned on ‘ OPEN, TRANSPARENT and ACCOUNTABLE’…….

The Portfolio system appears to be a way of being ‘CLOSED, OBSCURE and UNACCOUNTABLE’ to ratepayers.

The poor design and delivery aspects of Kapiti’s ad hoc portfolio system was highlighted during the Covid19 crisis when the Health Portfolio holder (Councillor Martin Halliday) appeared to be side-lined and had no or little input, influence and say into our Council’s Covid response…

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