Your democratic rights are being eroded.

Let’s bring democracy back to local councils.

Seems to me that gradually, the sound principles of democracy are being eroded at the expense of the ratepayers.

As a community we elect our representatives to carry out the policies that we all approve through the ballot box every three years or through consultation and annual planning.

But it appears that this is not being done.

  • Voting rights – they’re your rights!

Over the past year, central government has been ‘encouraging’ councils around the country to introduce separate Maori Wards.  I have no argument with good representation for all sectors of our community, but I don’t think we should be dragged into separatist thinking. In truth, Maori Wards undermine the ability of Maori to vote for non-Maori councillors who may work for them – you see, if you are on the Maori Roll, you can only vote for a councillor candidate in that ward and not for any other councillor – as the rest of the ratepayers can. Currently, in South Taranaki a voter on the Maori Roll can select up to 6 councillors from the list of candidates so they get to pick a council (and of course the Mayor) that will work for them. With the ward system, they will only be able to vote for one councillor from the candidates in their Maori Council Ward.

At then end of the day, I don’t support any ward systems. All councillors should be elected at large and represent the interests of the whole community, not just one small sector.

There’s also been a debate about voting rights given to ‘appointees’ on standing committees – these are people who have not been elected by you but are demanding that they have a say in the decision making in your council. My bottom line is, if you want to vote in council meetings, put your name on the ballot paper like I have and let the people decide. Don’t expect to walk in and demand a vote based on creed or race.

  • Return decision making to councillors
  • Councils’ authority usurped?

Is the issue the fact that there are no checks and balances anymore? Is the issue that council has allowed staff to usurp their authority. Is it a wise decision to allow the senior executive to write large cheques without specific approval of your elected councillors?

Here we were, trusting our elected representatives to provide rigorous oversight to ensure our precious rates are spent wisely, to ensure that we use the very best practices to ensure projects are managed in a responsible fiscally prudent manner, and all this time, the council  committees have not sat to provide the protection we expect and the bureaucrats gleefully run their own program.

Now don’t get me wrong, all of the projects like the safe water program are essential to the good management of the district but it’s how they are run, who has the oversight and who is protecting your investment for the future.

And don’t mistake my criticism for distrust of all the executive staff. We know there are some really talented people, but council are not giving them the direction and parameters to meet your expectations.

The current council in their long-term financial strategy (who manages that portfolio you should ask) forecast rates to double within 10 years. Now it’s hard enough for those on a fixed income, but it’s equally as hard for the self-employed, for the farmer with a hundred other challenges without absurd rate burdens, and for the commercial and industrial sector whose rates are already sky-high.

  • Get the spending under control.

So, the answer isn’t easy, but there’s a good place to start. Get the spending under control, just like the business community have to, just like the household budget and just like those out on the land.

And finally, dare I say it, but it is time to look at the staffing structure that costs our ratepayers an astronomical amount this year. On the current forecast, we’ll spend millions of dollars in salaries over the next decade, but will we be any better off?

I don’t think so.

It’s time to return the power to your councillors’ hands.

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