A local government expert says he’ll stand for the Kāpiti Mayoralty with the aim of bringing back accountability to the Kāpiti Coast District Council.
Chris Mitchell says the Council bureaucracy is now an ‘extreme example’ of the way an organisation can become remote from the people it’s supposed to seve. And he’s the first candidate from outside the KCDC to declare his intention of standing.
He says: “Phone calls to Council staff are not answered, emails may or may not be answered, the contact details of responsible individuals are treated as highly sensitive and secret.”
In his campaign statement, Chris Mitchell says:
“I’m a long-time Waikanae resident with strong background in how councils should operate. More important, I have the support of my wife Sue Smith in my bid for mayor.
I co-authored the New Zealand textbook: Local Government Law in Practice. And I am an adjunct Law Faculty member at Victoria University, where I have taught resource management law.
As a lawyer, I have specialised in resource management, planning, and local government law for about 40 years. Over this time, I have done work for many local authorities, and for many private and corporate clients who have to deal with local authorities.
In recent years, much of my work has been as an independent chair of various Council commissioner panels dealing with resource consents and proposed district plan changes.
‘Why am I standing?‘
Over the last decade or more, there has been a trend across the public sector for organisations to be become more remote from the people and communities they serve.
The Kāpiti Coast District Council has become an extreme example of this trend.
I have lost count of the number of people who need help to get answers from Council to important but basic and routine questions which affect them commercially or personally.
( as mentioned in the introduction) “Phone calls to Council staff are not answered, emails may or may not be answered, the contact details of responsible individuals are treated as highly sensitive and secret.
Information, let alone reliable information, is hard to get, particularly in real time. Often these are small things which can and should be easily fixed. But the problems have crept into the big issues as well.
Coastal Ratepayers United
I have acted for Coastal Ratepayers United – the largest residents’ group in the District, certainly one of the largest in the country.
The residents represented by CRU account for over well over 10% of the Council’s annual rates income. Yet the Council has, for many months, from the CEO and senior management to the Mayor and many councillors, refused to meet with CRU.
The ‘reason’ for all this is that the Council wants these conversations to be held through the filter of a ‘community advisory panel’ which it has handpicked to do the job.
In essence, our political representatives have outsourced their only real job, which is to oversee the organisation and to engage with and understand what the community wants the Council to do. That, after all, is the statutory purpose of local government.
Management has taken over
Why me? I have seen many enthusiastic and able people elected to Council and become completely thwarted by the inertia of process, and the agendas set, not by the community, but by management. Too many councillors simply give up on their ideas.
Others are just captured by the process, and the insistence that following the agenda is the only option.
‘The last straw’
The last straw for me was the Council’s 2021 review of its own representation: far from attempting to find solutions to the increasing loss of engagement with the community, the Council adopted a proposal which was even less democratic – abolition of community boards and the merger of the largest urban areas into a single ward.
“What I will do”
Council needs a reset to acknowledge that it exists to serve the District’s communities. It needs to face out rather than in, and to import ideas and skills from the community – not resist them. Management needs to be redirected accordingly. The role of elected members is to understand and speak up for their communities, and to direct the organisation.
I have a lot of experience in local government. As a lawyer I see the best and worst in terms of practice, leadership and engagement. I know that our Council does not have to be this way.
The Kāpiti Coast is one of the best places to live. It deserves a much better Council.”