Council Meeting 

 

COUNCIL MEETING 27 JUNE 2012

See COUNCILLOR LARSEN'S post on the meeting here.

BRETT AGNEW
Who said NZ no longer has a good circus to attend. The Dargaville KDC Circus some of us attended last Wednesday would be one of the most entertaining I have ever been privileged to see. The clowns in this circus don’t even need to dress up with painted faces, red noses, and clown suits to give you a laugh...they only need to open their mouths and say a few words and the audience... although some only silently....have the biggest laughs ever.

Animals banned in circuses? Not at the KDC circus....I’ve never before seen so many performing monkeys at one venue.

Perhaps we could hire a train.....place the KDC clowns and monkeys into a couple of caged carriages and stop at every town and city between Dargaville and Invercargill....set up a tent...install a paying booth... and let the KDC circus entertain the paying crowds. Could be one sure way of making money to help pay off the KDC debt.

KDC...what a bloody joke.

Brent Agnew

BRUCE ROGAN chair of the MRRA reports on the council meeting
The next meeting to report on was the council workshop that took place on Wednesday 27 June.

A magnificent turnout from Mangahwai attended this meeting- 41 people travelled over to Dargaville. To everyone’s surprise we found the bridge over the Wairoa River open and unguarded, and were able to get to the council chambers unmolested.

Council clearly intended to stitch the Mangawhai community up with a quick resolution to implement their 200% rates increase on the Mangawhai community, but the presence of a roomful of people who were going to have to pay that increase gave them pause.

The meeting began with a presentation by two people from the NRC (One a consultant). The discussion was about a huge mapping project that is under way that will identify all the significant land and coastal areas in the whole region. Councils will then be required to reflect these landscapes in their protection mechanisms in their district plans.

As they showed us examples of the type of area that will be included in these zones a small L-shaped area appeared near Dargaville and somebody asked what that was. I couldn’t help myself and said, “That’s probably where our money is buried”.

This presentation was supposed to begin at 10.00 and run for half an hour. Nothing began until nearly 10:30, and it was nearly an hour later before the talk fest over the NRC mapping project rambled to a close.

Around this time Cr Harding wandered in, but at least he did. Cr Sutherland didn’t show at all.

The mayor, to his credit, acknowledged the presence of our delegation and gave us an opportunity to express our views and make suggestions. While it is hard to say what might have happened had he not done that, I am of the view that he showed courage and common sense in adopting that course, and the council got a better result out of the day than they otherwise would have, even though most of them did not realise that and never will.

A discussion them took place over the various “options” that the CEO had come up with for getting Mangawhai to dig the council out of its debt chasm.

Jonathan Larsen made a diagram on the white board that attempted to break the debt up into what Mangahwai had agreed to and what it hadn’t (and therefore could not reasonably be expected to pay). A lot of discussion took place around this diagram, and the upshot of it was that it was a big pity, but sure as God made little apples none of the other ward councillors were going to ask their constituents to pay for it.

But more seriously, it became crystal clear that the “plan” as developed by the CEO, is based on a wild speculation that there is going to be huge new development in Mangawhai, and that the new people coming in to Mangawhai are going to pay setup (connection) fees and on-going fees that are already acting to stop development in its tracks. So, under these scenarios, the rates are going to be crippling even IF the development occurs (and it won’t), and they are going to be utterly ruinous if it doesn’t.

It also became clear that the CEO does not understand what is going on. He has learned the CEO jargon, so he sounds like one, but he does not know what the jargon means. If he had had the skill to assess the situation he was walking into it is extremely unlikely that he would have accepted the position. He is engaged in a dance to his own professional death, because if he acts in such a way as to placate the councillors who carry any weight he will cement the rates revolt in a way that brings the entire district to a halt, and his job with it.

If he puts together a plan that would have the slightest chance of working he has to confront his employer and persuade them (actually her) to go out and sell a politically unpalatable bitter pill.

Geange made it very clear that she has no intention of bearing bad news in the direction of her voters, and the others were all nodding assent. Someone used the phrase “Rock and a hard Place”. For the first time in their sorry lives some of them saw that it was them who are between those two things.

I then asked to see the models that they have run where the debt burden is spread uniformly across the entire district, on the grounds that we are all in this together, and if council enacts policies that cause the eastern community to collapse, that will come round and crush the rest of the district.

They have never run such models. The deputy mayor then screeched that that couldn’t happen because her constituents had never been consulted about a scenario like that. This prompted a chorus of rage from the Mangawhai deputation, wanting to know why it was OK to expect us to agree to things without consultation, but not the good burghers of Dargaville and West Coast.

As you sit and watch this council in operation a series of words pass in front of your eyes like the words of songs in old movies…. Incompetent….out-of-touch…..hypocrite……self-serving……pathetic……incredible…..sad.

The CEO explained to the council that they could not now pass a rates resolution in time for the start of the new rating year. He therefore told them what their options were:

1. Do nothing, and borrow (if they can!) enough money to keep the show afloat until rates are set and income starts flowing again.

2. Pass a resolution to set a rate to collect up to 25% of last year’s rate to tie them over until they get their act together. (The LGRA allows for this)

3. Or hurry up and get a resolution passed in the next couple of days.

He then (for some unknown reason) suggested that they go for 20%. Now let me explain this. There is a provision for setting an interim rate of up to 25% of the previous year’s figure. Most councils bill out their rates in four instalments, so they would simply bill one further instalment of their rates from last year, and this would give them three months to get their act together for the new year. This council, because its rates are so enormously exorbitant, bills six times per year. So to achieve the same effect these clowns could have billed 12.5% twice, which would have given them four months to get their act together (and they will need at least that long), and they would have stayed inside the provisions of the Act.

By demanding 20% at an earlier date they are probably Again ACTING ULTRA VIRES (illegally) and exposing themselves to a court challenge that will prevent them from collecting any money at all. He then went on to say that setting an interim rate of any description had some risks associated with it because of the established (but unadmitted) fact that the rates upon which this interim rate would be based are themselves (at least partially) invalid.

Now, here is the interesting part. He (the CEO) placed the options in front of them, because he knows that he did not create this gigantic balls-up himself, and he does not wish to wear the consequences of it. So, for the first time in their sorry pathetic lives this council were told that there were some options on the table and they had to choose one all on their own.

One of the councillors leapt to his feet close to tears and squealed “ But but but, we are completely out of our depth here, what is your advice to us, what should we do?”

To which Ruru replied (couched in his Harvard Business School waffle jargon) “choose one of the options”. Trousers were wet, the smell of untreated sewage filled the air, grimaces appeared on faces all round the table, and the total incapability of this council to accept its responsibility to govern the district it has been elected to govern was on display for all the world to see.

They then side-tracked themselves into an interminable discussion about whether they should impose penalties on ratepayers who were late paying these illegal interim rates, (based, I assume, on an assumption that if they made payment of illegal rates “optional” they could not be blamed for imposing them) and they tried various ridiculous forays into dealing with that.

The deputy mayor, after asking the CEO if it would be possible to manage penalties on a case by case basis (thinking, quite possibly, of her own personal situation) put forward an amendment saying that penalties would be imposed with the full force of the law (on these illegal rates), but they would be “remitted” on a case-by-case basis. Further discussion took place about this nonsense, and they ended up dropping all that and going for 20% with full penalties. Good luck to them with that.

At about this point in proceedings a man (Ned) burst into the room and demanded to know why the council was building a road over his wife’s grave. He was terribly upset. The mayor told him he needed to be speaking to some person who he named, to which Ned replied, “I have just spent the last twenty minutes outside this room talking to that idiot and that is why I am now in here asking you why you have allowed a road to be built over my wife’s grave”.

This incident tended to underscore the complete ineptitude of this council, who cannot get any of the big things right, nor any of the small details either. The poor man turned to the audience and apologised to us for subjecting us to such a tirade. Everyone was very moved.

They were very tired at this point and had a little break. I went to the CEO and asked him if, given his repeated assertion that the illegal rates were legal until the court declared them illegal, he was telling me to go out and get a QC to bring a High Court Action to test the legality of their rates. Both he and the deputy mayor who was sitting close by reacted as if I had applied a red hot poker to their navels. “Not at all, not at all- we want to sit down and work with the community, using focus groups, over the next year or two to work through the issues”.

Part of this conversation was recorded by Radio NZ. I told the deputy mayor that for a few seconds there she had looked almost statesmanlike, suggesting that in view of the probable illegality of the present rates, the imposition of penalties for non-payment of interim rates based on them was a dumb thing to do, but that she had blown herself away by then getting into the case-by-case nonsense.

As I returned to my seat another councillor sitting next to the deputy mayor told me that unless there were penalties involved nobody in the district would ever pay a penny in rates, which told me all I ever needed to know about the value that these councillors think they are adding to democracy in our district. He clearly had no idea that the rates are a debt, and that the council would always have the right to sue for recovery of the debt if they could establish the validity of it. (Is that the issue?)

Then there was a ceremony to award some lovely people, among them our own Loraine Benfield, for their community service, and the mayor dressed up in his robes, and a very fetching necklace, to read the citations. The robe is bright red and lined with what I thought was possum fur (but it could have been ermine, or rabbit?). The present mayor is very tall, and his robes fit him quite well, so if the next mayor is built more like me, he (or she) will look a bit like Dudley Moore, or Gandalf, or Caspar the ghost dressed up in those robes. I doubt if this council will be able to afford new mayoral robes for a century or more (but that wouldn’t stop them sending a deputation to London to get some made in Savile Row). But joking aside, it was very nice to see people receiving some recognition for long years of voluntary service to their communities, and it was especially nice that so many Mangahwai people who know Loraine were there to acknowledge her contribution.

Formalities recommenced. A councillor rose to speak to his notice of motion that he didn’t know anything at all about governance and was out of his depth, and the ratepayer ought to stump up money to teach him about it and rescue them all from drowning. I think the result of this was that everyone (on council) thought this was another good way to dispose of ratepayer money so they voted themselves some training (I think 1 on 1 coaching was mentioned) and it was left to the CEO to come up with some options. He will probably consult Beca Carter on the topic and get some very cost-effective options for advancing the cause of governance without doing any serious harm to the flow of money in the direction of consultants and lawyers.

Then Councillor Larsen spoke to some rather mischievous propositions of his own pertaining to the forgoing of salary by councillors, and the forgoing of ratepayer funded lunch by same. I had had enough by this time, so I left, but I was informed later that these discussions went on for a very long time and were eventually defeated at the ballot box.

The salary one being resisted on the grounds that (as I understood it) if they didn’t take their council salaries they would have to go to working for families for a top-up so they would be getting the money anyway (albeit that they would be getting the money from the general taxpayer and not from the Kaipara ratepayer).

The free lunch debate resulted, I understand, in a decision to have fewer asparagus rolls and not so many dessert options in the future, so we can all look forward to a big reduction in rates from these economies.

But the real message is that the council still don’t get it, and this may well be why Cr Larsen tabled his notices of motion. They have this huge stampeding elephant in the room, and they devote hours and hours to whether they should use teabags or loose leaf tea at the breaks. We have to hope that the review panel will focus their febrile brains.

Next Monday they are going into another huddle, which they aren’t advertising because it is a continuation of a previously advertised huddle. They may be strictly (legally) entitled to do that, but it stinks of artifice to me. Anyone with the time and the stomach for it should consider going over there and keeping an eye on them again. Democracy is very like ice cream left unattended on the bench. It quickly turns to mush.

Bruce Rogan

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