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Ross Church had a challenging start to his mayoralty
Ross Church had a challenging start to his mayoralty

Easier to oppose than govern

By Roger Childs

Three years ago KIN published an article called A Fiery Church Baptism. It was on the early days of the mayoralty of Ross Church.

Like K Gurunathan (Guru), Ross Church had been a councillor in the Jenny Rowan regime, but had not always seen eye to eye with her, notably over the issue of water metres.

However, as mayor himself, he accepted the democratic decision to install the metres, but was taken to task by some councillors, notably Jackie Elliott.

Both Church and Gurunathan found that once in charge at the top of the Council table, life was very different from being a councillor on the side.

Bringing the good news from Otaki to Paraparaumu

Just bring me the good news. Attributed to Mussolini

The new mayor has things to learn
The new mayor has things to learn

During his years “in opposition” Guru had a weekly column in the Kapiti News: “Notes from a Corner Dairy.”  He examined many local issues in detail, and as a journalistic sniper often criticised the decisions made by the elected Council, and the actions of Pat Dougherty and the KCDC management.

The column continues, however, like previous mayors, the weekly report from the top has a distinctly positive approach. There is no problem with this, however Guru does need to be realistic in his reporting and address issues that are raised by the people who elected him and help pay his salary.

A case in point was the shambles over the tsunami warning which followed the disastrous North Canterbury earthquake. The Kapiti Coast was not alone in being confused, however no sirens sounded here and people, who did drive inland in search of higher ground, found that the lights in Kapiti Road did not facilitate rapid movement towards the hills.

Guru, in his post-earthquake column, focused on the excellent organisation and work done by Council staff, but did not comment on getting KCDC policy on tsunami warnings sorted out.

Putting feet wrong

Councillor Michael Scott: best man for the leadership of the key committee?
Councillor Michael Scott: best man for the leadership of the key committee?

The new mayor faced reality when at the first official meeting of the newly elected Council after the inauguration, local activist Dale Evans, questioned the appointment of Michael Scott to the chairmanship of the key Business and Finance Committee. Guru had been very critical of Cr M Scott’s role in the last Code of Conduct case of the previous triennium.

However, Guru justified the appointment on the basis that the councillor had been re-elected to  the Waikanae Ward and had the skills for the job. Not everyone agreed, and some councillors will also be wondering about the overall fairness of the allocation of committee and community liaison portfolios.

Later, over the issue of pay increases for the new elected council and committee chair-people, the new mayor used his casting vote to push the extra expenditure through. Not quite what voters expected from the man who preached financial responsibility on the campaign trail.

Then at the first council meeting with a 30 minute Public Forum, the mayor got into a heated verbal exchange with Salima Padamsey over coastal erosion policy.  Furthermore, he did not provide a convincing response to the question of why the forum submissions from ratepayers were not livestreamed and put on the public record.

This last issue will no doubt surface again at the next meeting on Thursday November 24.

The early part of the first hundred days has been a mixed bag for the new occupant of the mayor’s office. People are wondering if he will carry out his commitment on the hustings, to running a local authority which would conduct its business in an open, transparent and democratically accountable manner.

Getting back on track

It is early days, however Mayor Gurunathan needs to start fulfilling the trust that Kapiti citizens have placed in him.

He can begin by reversing the current restriction on the Public Forum, which, in the words of the KCDC website, will:

  • not be subject to Standing Orders
  • not be minuted or livestreamed.









Why are Mayor Gurunathan and Councilors so determined NOT to have the Public Forum sessions recorded or minuted? Maybe Councilors do not wish to be held to account for their utterances or in most cases are indifferent to ratepayers? (The Chair really should demand Councilors stop fiddling with their IPads during the Council sessions and be clearly engaged or at least pretend to be engaged–its rude if nothing else–note particularly to M Scott).

Where is the supposed cultural change of ‘Openness and Transparency’, section 14 of LG Act applies! Has the Mayor so soon forgotten his electioneering billboards? Was it just a slogan with no serious intent? Did he not take a legal case to the High Court, paid for by ratepayers, to achieve ‘Openness and Transparency’ as it related to the CEO? Maybe Openness and Transparency only applies when its convenient as ‘poacher’ not ‘gamekeeper’, sorry ‘head gamekeeper’! Those ‘baubles’ again! That arrogance.

We heard all these promises before during Ross Church’s previous campaign and look at what happened there-more secrecy not less–; at least Church was consistently wrong). Is this merely another spin or TRUMP like move ‘it was only a campaign pledge but a rather good one’ (Penze), to be discarded almost as soon as the incumbent assumes power.

Talking of TRUMP is there not a parallel with Mayor Gurunathan’s threat/bullyboy tactics to move the Public Forum sessions to the market or abandon them altogether, frankly an irrelevance, (it’s the recoding that’s the issue not the location just in case you did not get it Mayor) or his attempts to derail Salema Pademsay’s presentations by questioning her authority to present her concerns, a shameful episode that awaits an urgent public apology from the Mayor. (It has not taken long for the new Mayor’s colors to become truly visible. Clearly he has been captured either by the ‘baubles of office’ in incredibly short order or the senior staff culture have quickly transferred their ‘attach and defend’ approach of ‘we know best’ rather than listening for possibility and contribution).

(Likely cost to ratepayers of defending Environmental Court case of up to M$0.5of rates (equivalent to 1% rates rise on anything over budget) rather than attempt resolution with CRU, a much less expensive option with an opportunity for community participation, dialogue and great technical input and knowhow–did the mayor not promise a new approach. He did promise a WALL! Maybe its going to be built by Mexicans?

On a practical level records of these Public Forums are important to keep ratepayers and the public up to date with ratepayers concerns. Not everyone has the time or inclination to attend Council meetings and Council’s Facebook page has any negative comments quickly deleted. It would also provide feedback and demonstrate follow up by Councilors to legitimate concerns.

A case in point being the lady as a low level creator of refuse ( 1 bag every 3-4 weeks like me) who raised the issue of discontinuity of the street rubbish bag collection and the requirement for people to have wheelie bins (Social benefit for Corporate Greed) that they do not need or should have to pay for just to use once a month.

A further personal case in point concerns storm water and flooding as it affects my rural property in Otaihanga, (and many others throughout the District) an issue I raised yet again at today’s Public Forum, having raised it before with Council policy staff, regulatory staff, hearings related, staff on several occasions, at Council Meetings, at Council Regulatory Meetings with May 15 20 year flood photos, at Community Board meetings, with individual previous Councilors, Welsh-(the only one who actually came and talked to me on site but then I heard nothing further!), and Councilor Gurunathan, and D. Scott during the last trienium, and at the PDP hearings all to no avail and with little if any response.

If these Public Forums are not recorded or even stopped altogether as the Mayor implied by threatening to hold in the market, (it’s still a meeting of Council, Mayor Gurunathan and hence subject to its standing orders and the LG Act and required to be recorded-legal requirement), there will then be no forum for ratepayers to address Council, where the subject matter does not align with any Council meeting agenda. Is this Democracy or Facisim or even Trumpism?

The previous more informal format worked well, but again no minutes were taken and little follow up occurred and most Councilors did not attend.

Maybe Councilors should be forced to advertise and forced to hold surgeries and actually keep records-that’s a novel idea! Maybe staff could also keep proper records!!!!! Maybe Councilors should have KPI’s so we can assess their effectiveness and adjust their salaries accordingly by a Citizen’s Committee? Maybe the Mayor could encourage a Citizen’s column in the local press to counter the constant Council spin machine including his now terribly positive Corner Dairy–at least he writes it himself saving $40k a year on salaried spin doctors.

After all the Mayor has and does constantly espouse democracy and grass roots activisim with I suspect little real commitment and with little understanding of how to actually engage and get the community to participate in any meaningful way. Message to the Mayor, prove me otherwise. At least answer my question put to you at today’s Public Forum. ” Can you confirm whether you had meetings with CRU about manages Coastal Retreat since becoming Mayor”? If you did not, can you correct your statement of the first Public Forum that you did have meetings with CRU about Coastal Retreat? We need HONESTY, OPENNESS AND TRANSPARENCY not silly games or gamesmanship. Such a disappointment so early on.

I still challenge the Councilors to prove me wrong that they are ‘clueless’. I await with baited breath.

I will continue to ‘jerk the lead’.

My concern is that two new chairs are to
Receive 25% increase in salary when four councillors voted no.
Who suggested 25%?