Let’s bring democracy back to the Hastings District Council.
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!
There’s 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
The second erosion of democracy is the loss of decision making of the council’s committees. It’s not that they don’t have the power, they just don’t meet. An example of that is the Councils tenders committee – they met 4 times between January and April this year but haven’t since the Council meeting in early May.
Could that be anything to do with the fact that the deputy mayor, Cr Kerr moved a motion which was passed, that the CEO of council be granted an increased delegated authority up from $500,000 to $5 million. While the spending authority is for projects that are approved by council, it does mean that the third tier of government, the bureaucrats can now manage the programs without reference back to our representatives – your councillors.
When we hear that projects like the drinking water program are forecast to exceed budget by over 10 million dollars, doesn’t that raise alarm bells about the process that council is accepting?
- 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 – with a generous helping hand from the mayor and her deputy? Is it a wise decision to allow the senior executive to write a cheque for $5 million 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.
Stop spending what we don’t have, stop wasting precious funds on stupid decisions like the craggy range track, maintain and manage our infrastructure properly so we don’t saddle future generations with crippling problems like the havelock north water disaster.
And finally, dare I say it, but it is time to look at the staffing structure that costs our ratepayers $35 million this year. On the current forecast, we’ll spend almost half a billion 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.