The time has come… to talk of many things
The Council needs to do something about leadership. This election is important because of a leadership vacuum which has left the council without a strong voice making it irrelevant to the whims of senior officials and council contractors, and completely aloof from the current Government.
Here are a few things which have been on my mind during the course of this campaign.
First and foremost, the Electoral Commission will make some decisions about the future shape of local government in the region. From my perspective there should be a ballot of the people following the commission’s report to vote the proposal either up or down. The shape of local government belongs to the people, not the commission and certainly not to self-interested politicians.
I do not want to second guess what the outcome of any poll would be but it does put the pressure on Wellington City to clean its hands in readiness for change.
Next work needs to be done to clean up the finances. If a small council like Queenstown Lakes District Council can deliver a zero rate round to its ratepayers, then so can we. The driver to achieve this is about identifying waste and eliminating it. It is not about making staff redundant or attacking their employment contracts. It is about developing a culture among officers and staff that every dollar of ratepayers’ money is treated as sacrosanct. Unnecessary expenditure needs to be stopped.
The next matter concerns Council taking back its public services. Much of this has been contracted out over time as Council Controlled Organisations and Trading Organisations. These organisations were set up to bring in outside expertise but the jury is out on how successful they have been. They have set up their own branding and their own cultures completely independent of the City Council. Getting a democratic accountability from them is enormously difficult.
The experiment of contracting out parking enforcement has been an unmitigated disaster and this must be brought back in house at the very first opportunity.
Let’s return to the crisis of leadership. In politics perception is everything. The perception is that this council has been leaderless and that Council officers have assumed control. Power hates a vacuum and the vacuum will be filled and has been filled by Dr Lavery and his team.
So the new Council will need to re-establish its governance role in order to drive the policy agenda. More than most I understand the difference between governance and management and I feel no qualms about accepting a share of the responsibility for setting the agenda. Once an agenda is set it is the job of Dr Lavery and his team to execute that agenda of work.
And finally a message to whomever becomes the Mayor on 12 October. Please, pick up the phone on Monday morning and ring the Prime Minister. Surely it is about time we started talking to arguably our most important partner in this Capital City.