The strength of Democracy lies in the ability of the democratically elected decision makers to understand and reflect the heart- beat of the community.
In our great city, Democracy does not seem to be getting a fair hearing, currently when making extremely expensive decisions on our behalf, councillors have:
Just 4 days to digest 1500 page reports
Almost no time to communicate with the community
Proposals that are largely driven by Council staff, not the Community
Submissions that are largely ignored
For oral submissions, just 3 minutes of speaking time, plus 2 minutes for questions
This has resulted in decisions like the Claudelands Event centre where the proposal indicated a $1.5m yearly profit, and now makes actual losses of around $10m per year. (Andrew Bydder Column: https://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/opinion/106347954/opinion-claudelands-was-never-a-good-idea). That is equivalent to the rates for around 3,600 ratepayers!
CAN WE FIX COUNCIL DEMOCRACY?
Democracy requires that our representatives make good decisions. Those elected councillors have the obligation to:
Gather the Facts.
Determine the Science/engineering based strengths and weaknesses of projects.
Determine the Social Impact, both positive and negative.
Carry out detailed and impartial Cost Benefit Analysis to determine the realistic economic benefits and short-term / long-term financial risks to the community.
Determine the appropriate amount of time needed to negotiate the best solution.
Require that submissions are actually listened to, and to avoid misleading submission documents, questionnaires, and the cherry picking of submission responses.
In addition to the above, the credibility of democracy requires community acceptance of the Strategic 10 year Plan, BEFORE voting.
One of the challenges of our current system is the Elected Member appointment process. Although many skills sit around the table, no individual has the complete set of skills to decipher the complexities of Council business.
HOW CAN WE ADDRESS THE KNOWLEDGE SHORTFALL?
Council Elected Members need to ensure independent subject matter working groups with subject matter experts and community leaders advise on an appropriate way to address the current shortcomings. It seems counterproductive that the community has become so removed from the decision making process relating to THEIR RATES. It also seems problematic that council staff seem to be the sole driver of decisions that directly impact their employment situation. While they are a crucial stakeholder with valuable expertise, the voice of the resident and ratepayer needs greater emphasis, given we pay the bills.
It is equally important that more information is provided to the community and processes and decision making systems are made fully Transparent. It is your money, it is the least that you should demand and receive.