Kāpiti Council in Danger of Democratic Blunders

Kapiti Coast District Council HQ

Salima Padamsey reports key moves by the Kāpiti District Council over the past few months have been undemocratic.

And she warns that an extraordinary meeting just before the election could result in a skewed review of the organisation.

She says the Elected Members decided to schedule the extraordinary meeting (i.e. not previously scheduled in the triennium calendar) to be held only 2 days before the final stage of the local body elections!

She adds: ‘At that time, this existing Council will make further decisions about this critically important review project. The timing of their decision process suggests that the staff, not a newly elected Council, will be pretty much in charge of the organisational review.’

History of the review

Ms Padamsey outlines what’s happened, starting in June.

“On 27 June 2019, I and eight other people attended a full Council meeting to put forth our views on the agenda item, ‘Proposed Organisational Review of Council’ and its accompanying staff report during public speaking time.  

“Many speakers were prominent leaders in our community, representing local interests, such as Chamber of Commerce and Kapiti Economic Development Agency. 

Public speaking time at Council meetings is the only forum for direct engagement with our elected officials that is placed “on the public record”. 

It is a valuable tool within our participatory democratic system allowing the public to hold Elected Members to account and ensuring transparency and true representation. 

It provides for public views to become part of the institutional memory of Council, forming a vital part of citizens democratic rights to contribute to their own governance.

Gurunathan cuts speaking time

Kapiti’s Mayor K Gurunathan — cutting down on democratic rights?

Unfortunately, at this Council meeting, the Mayor unilaterally decided to reduce the allocated public speaker time from 3 minutes to 2 minutes per speaker, and instructed the Councillors not to ask any questions of the speakers.

In other words, he ruled there would be no two-way dialogue on this matter! 

Councillors not briefed

Speakers were not prior informed of the speaking time reduction and Councillors were not briefed prior on the fact that they were to be barred from discussion with the speakers. 

Not one Councillor opposed the Mayor’s unilateral decision on speaking time, nor challenged the Mayor in denying them any direct interaction with their ratepaying public. 

Concerns about the review 

However, concerns remain about the review.

First, what was the catalyst for the review to be undertaken now? 

What has inspired Councillors to request that the CEO provide advice on a proposal to commission an independent organisational review now? 

Review vital for indebted council

Why not when the Auditor General’s letter stating that KCDC was the second most indebted Council in New Zealand, for example.

As Dr Cathy Strong pointed out in her article in the Kapiti Independent News of 26 June, she felt the staff report on the organisational review gave a negative spin on steps to get an independent overview of how Council is run

Dr Cathy Strong — strong in name and strong on local democracy

What concerned Dr Strong and other readers of the staff report, was the apparent lack of enthusiasm demonstrated by those authorising the report.

Such a palpable reluctance towards the review suggests the organisation may not welcome the process, and thereby embrace and implement the recommendations.

This review exercise will only be as good as the objective and professional ability of the reviewer and the scope of work prescribed in the Terms of Reference.

KCDC must set criteria to ensure the reviewer has absolutely no conflict of interest with any staff and/or Councillors. 

The scrupulous selection of the reviewer will be the most important step in determining whether the time and money spent will provide a transparent and accountable process, and not merely a whitewash.

We must ask whether the initial findings, and final recommendations, will be in the public domain and open to constructive inputs?

These concerns, and others were presented during public speaking time at the 27th of June.  Minutes of that meeting are now published on the Council website.

Not one of the points made by any of the speakers have been recorded on the public record.  Only the names, and in some cases the organisation they represented, are noted in the meeting minutes.      

For me, the message given to the public regarding this organisational review is clear: “We are not interested in what you have to say and neither will we share your views with the wider community”.

With regard to the mayor cutting the time. I was there and it was appalling. he campaigns on having an harmonious council- he is the cello in the KCDC orchestra, only he is the dictator not the harmoniser seeking consent of councillors.
AS ms Padamsey points out he stopped any participation by his own councillors by stopping them fron=m asking questions. he stopped them performing their democratic function. That was against standing orders.
it is interesting that the only countries that tout how harmonious their governments are include north Korea, China and anti -semitc Malaysia. the later government being financially support by Gurunathan.

@Chris Walker – Of course it has to do with control. Why else would someone turn down an extremely well paying job like senior communications advisor for a massive corporation to become a Councillor that pays only $35k a year (and don’t even get started on the good will of people for their community).

(Please note that I am not against Gwynn Compton, in particular, in any way. I am against all our mayoral candidates. Of course, some more than others.)

Henry, it’s all about control. Control the meeting. Control what the public can do at a meeting. Control the public fullstop.

Control is all to these power junkies. You can dress it up all you want but it always comes back to CONTROL…

@Joanne Birch – “” Standing orders” …” – Important pieces of legislation that ensure our Council functions at all. However, it does reflect on our Council that this clause was included at all. I remember correctly it is not included in the WCC standing orders.

@Martin Halliday –

I agree it was rude of the speaker to cut time. However, it is within his rights as outlined in the council Standing orders. If you become mayor you can have a go at changing that.

Hi Jackie Elliot. I definitely appreciatively your transparency and respect the fact that you have voted against a number of the motions in regards to the organisational review.

However, I have read the newest Terms of Reference for the organisational review, and I was correct when stating that Mayor Gurunathan raised the organisational review at the Chamber of Commerce. I am not giving him any extra credit, nor lessening credit to you in any way. I was merely stating the fact that the mayor and other incumbent Councillors (aside from Cr Benton, and Cr Scott) are *openly* supporting the ‘democratic blunders’ that the review currently is requiring.

Also two other facts which are also worth mentioning: the review has currently costed upwards of $35,000 despite the procurement still being underway, and the procurement improvement program is 6 months behind because of added workload on Council staff. Council is in a tough place.

“You will usually have 3 minutes speaking time. The Chair may restrict the time e.g. to 2 minutes where the total number of speakers exceeds 6”.

This is the crux of the matter. Councillors and the office holders do not like public speaking time in the first place. Being ‘in power’ seems to turn their heads whereby these people are in control and that is the end of the matter. Having to let the ratepayer speak seems to make them uncomfortable. Originally a more fair 5 minutes, then down to 3 because a certain well know advocate took up to 10 minutes to voice the concerns of others which sad to say then led the Otaki Community board to infect the rest of the district with the now famous 3 minute version. Now we have a new kink to the democratic fabric, the 2 minute version. How long can it be to the no minute version one wonders?

We have and never will have any kind of control over these matters. Then when you factor in the democracy killing initiatives going on around the planet things don’t look too rosy for the public at large. Vote all you like but we will just get a few new orchestra members who will contribute to the same olde tunes.

All the fine words in the dictionary will never change the situation for the better unfortunate as that may be.

I’m right behind an independent review…its is crucial to getting answers on questions we’ve all been asking for many years including whether the processes used to spend large amounts of money are appropriate and that ratepayers are getting best value for their bucks.
To be genuinely effective – and not a costly wall-papering job – everything hinges on the strength of the Terms of Reference and finding an independent reviewer with impeccable credentials!
It has to be led by the elected Council to ensure the review is genuinely independent and avoid any suggestion of watering down.

Correcton Henry Tilney – Councilor Jackie Elliott, voiced concerns about the review at the Chamber of Commerce Candidate meeting, not the Mayor. Citing – the timing, 48 hrs before an election, being NOT best practice The expected cost range of $170K – $500K as reasons why I would not support it. However there are also two other important reasons why I will not support this process and prefer to let the next council set terms of reference and approve the review budget.
Secondly despite quoting me extensively in these articles and comments, neither Salima nor Christoher Ruthe mention the fact that I have been completly transparent in speaking about the pending agenda decision on 10th October at 5 public election meetings, at least two of which Christopher Ruthe attended. Choosing to write this, needing to quote me extensively, and not mention my transparency………but then again I am not surprised at all, after all it is election time……….. (by the way, none of you have read the ToR. The ones presented to councillors the morning of the meeting, to sign off had at least 12 amendments to the ones in the publicly available agenda. Yet another reason why I did not approve them)

I also noted in the minutes of the meeting of 27 June, you spoke in favour of a LGNZ conducted review, Jackie, but it appears the CEO cut you short on that one? I’d be interested to hear more from you on that matter – as I’m confounded that the Council has ended up with choosing to go down the route of a very expensive, bureaucratically complicated, consultancy exercise as an alternate – and from the CEOs comment as minuted it was because this private consultancy exercise could be delivered “rapidly”?

PS – Are you saying that the amended ToRs are not publicly available? I have read the one attached to the meeting agenda – is it no longer applicable?

This is an interesting article. Two points. First. The Mayor is criticised for “unilaterally” cutting speeches from 3 minutes to 2 minutes in public speaking time. KCDC rules published on the web site under ” Public Participation at Meetings and Forums
Arrangements for Public Speaking Time | Public Forum | Public Speaking Time on Council and Committee meeting agendas”

You will usually have 3 minutes speaking time. The Chair may restrict the time e.g. to 2 minutes where the total number of speakers exceeds 6.

In the meeting referred to there were 8 speakers. therefore to describe the Mayor’s action as unilateral is a little misleading. He acted according to the rules

Second. if KCDC failed to keep proper records in breach of the public Records Act then the simple solution is to lay a complaint with the Ombudsman. I suggest that is the only way to force kCDC to comply with the law.

Hi Chris,
I presented at this meeting,. Was not happy with the cut down of time. I checked the rules at the time and I’m sure I noted that any change was at the discretion of the mayor ( as chair). Then when rechecked, the parameters had been updated. That was my impression. I’d be interested in knowing when that policy was last updated.

Hi Chris , I would have read that to be a discretionary option in regards to lowering the speaking time.
I was one of the speakers, had prepped and taken time out of my day to be there , that’s at an opportunity cost to myself and voluntarily done.
What was, I think, an important topic, ended up being a farce, and more time wasted on angry and frustrated presenters than came even slightly saved by cutting 6-8 minutes in speaking time.
Not a very democratic or respectful way to treat your community by a Mayor that campaigned on …and is talking about supporting community views.
I felt it to be a waste of my time in the end and a process that that I would be considering a lot less in the future as an effective way to engage with my elected representatives. Not what you want your community thinking .

” lay a complaint with the Ombudsman”. That’ll fix all our political woes, complaining to another political hack.

Good article. But nothing new. Gurunathan spoke at the Chamber of Commerce candidates meeting and said that the Council was going to be potentially reassigning funds less than 48h before the end of the term. So its not like this has snuck up on any of us.

Also around speaking time. I am not saying I am a fan of what Gurunathan did (far from that). But under Standing Order 14.1 the mayor has every right to reduce the public speaking time. As for Councillor interaction with the speakers: I fully agree that it was inappropriate to not allow engagement. However, any engagement that would have come (if any did happen) would have been hard for Councillors to not politicize, and members of the public all approached the table with clear agendas and limited factual basis by which questions could have been asked of them.

Lastly, in regards to Dr. Strong’s comments I fully agree about her perception or the review and since reading the ToR I have thought exactly the same.

Now the question is what are *we* going to do?

I don’t really see any other world where a meaningful discussion could have taken place within the public forum. Ultimately, that is the problem, people can’t really engage with Council in the brief period before meetings, what people need is Councillors who directly interact with them and support them.

Wow….. the words unilateral decision are terrifying. Didn’t Hitler use methods like this in 1936?

As a rate payer and voter there is only one way to show my displeasure. Believe me I will be taking that option.

Insider trading. Staff contracts and preferences with their close relatives and bureaucrats making decisions that should be made by elected representatives show clearly how inefficient this council is and the fact that senior staff are driving Kāpiti in the wrong direction. This shows poor leadership from elected councillors and the mayor.

Go one step further and don’t have elections at all. The present incumbents are doing so well, let them get on with this so representative Democracy.

I advocate that the mayor should lower the time limit of public speaking time to 10 seconds.
“Gidday, my name is Chris Walker from Otaki Beach”…Ding – Next.

In this way by the time a speaker has introduced themselves, the mayor and councillors cannot have their ears contaminated by any awkward requests that they don’t want to hear. Another measure would be for machine gun pits to be installed around the Rimu Road $10,000,000 Refurbished council building. This will solve the problem once and for all. Concentration camps should also be built in all four townships to house any malcontents who have any stupid ideas about democratic freedom.

But seriously folks if you can’t see that Guru has gone power mad then when will you ever? When I voted for him three years ago who could have seen that it would end this way? He can play his cello all he likes but the ‘Democracy Funeral March’ was never much to my taste. “Empowering the community” indeed.

The fact that no councillors stood up to Guru makes them as guilty as he is. If this is the kind of representation you want then you know the orchestra to vote for…


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