I’ve often wondered who is actually in charge at Napier City Council.
In the on-going fallout over the removal of the “War Memorial” name and features of Napier’s (now former) War Memorial Conference Centre a handful of councillors (and I mean “handful – only around four out the dozen in total) have spoken out admitting they might have actually gotten it wrong.
But when elected councillors with up to six terms (that’s 18 years) of hindsight still fail to grasp what their community wants or claim to “not know the history” of the important decisions they are making (here’s a hint – the words “War Memorial” should generally ring foresight alarm bells) such “mea culpas” turn into flimsy excuses very quickly.
A HBT commenter recently observed, given recent council criticism, we could be forgiven for having the impression Napier was being ruled by a dictatorship.
The comments were intended to be pithy, yet, only a day after a recently re-elected councillor’s opinion piece claimed “Councillors Genuinely Keen to Hear From You” and “it is so important to continue to vigorously resist as a community any erosion of democracy and local representation that presents itself” unelected NCC staff declared that, despite hundreds of online comments, letters and texts to the Editor of Hawke’s Bay Today to “Put them Back!”, returning the Eternal Flame and memorial plaques the conference centre “was not on the list of options” presented to yet another publicly-excluded council working group / committee by yet more unelected council staff.
Where is the democracy in that?
Our mayor and CEO, meanwhile, continue to ignore any and all criticism. Instead they sit on and crow about the laurels of an inspection conducted in February, before issues with plunging staff morale and issues over staff restructuring, chlorinated water, and hocking off council headquarters to hotel developers became big PR problems.
Now we have the chasm of credibility and accountability opening underneath the council over the War Memorial and Eternal Flame removal.
The fact the publicity photo chosen to head the article features Napier’s mayor and CEO looking gleeful inside the recently “desecrated” (War Memorial) Conference Centre might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
To many that image could certainly “make mockery” of council hierarchy, justify public criticism and erode Napier ratepayers’ faith that their “local democracy and representation” was being honoured.
There certainly appears to be two councils at work here:
The unelected council management, under the stewardship of the CEO, who run council operations day-to-day and advise / provide the bulk of information and reports to the elected councillors.
And the publicly elected council of twelve councillors and mayor, who make decisions often based solely upon the information provided to them by the unelected management staff.
As reaction to the SK8 Zone debacle revealed, the information council management provides their councillors may not always be as accurate or objective as it could be.
And as I helped reveal late last year the openness and voice of the elected councillors has been somewhat muffled for some time by a Code of Conduct that every councillor must agree to and sign before taking office.
This EMCC – “Elected Members Code of Conduct” prevents publicly-elected councillors from publicly criticising each other, members of the public, or council staff, whose direction in matters like the War Memorial Conference Centre may have lead the councillors’ decisions astray, opened them up to public ridicule and ultimately mean they miss out on a seat at the council table next elections.
Even though it was considered out-dated and can only be changed or rescinded at the beginning of a new council term, all current councillors still signed up to it.
At least this time they pledged allegiance to Napier City (ergo, it’s ratepayers) rather than the local body of the City Council who they had been indentured to for untold elections prior.
Napier’s mayor claimed that the EMCC “had never been invoked“.
Like any pre-employment agreement, councillors signing the Elected Members Code of Conduct before taking their seat at the council table immediately “invoke” it, meaning they have to abide by its laws from the get-go.
It also means Napier’s ratepayers, whose democratic vote selects the councillors to represent them and whose rates pay those councillors’ and council staff’s wages will often never hear the truth behind ratepayer money being wasted, the true reason for plans and directions gone wrong, or see anything resembling accountability in their local government.
The only real opportunity for true democratic change amidst the current unelected council management structure will come in September this year when the publicly elected city councillors will get to vote on whether to continue their current CEO’s contract, or head in a different direction.
Employed as a “Change Manager”, NCC has certainly seen change under his rule. Some has been received positively, but more recently a lot has not.
Will the councillors listen to those constituents who voted them in and are now feeling ignored and subjugated by council decisions?
Or will their EMCC, lack of hindsight and foresight, and bellicose leader muffle, muddle and muzzle them into another term of the same-old, same-old?
Whatever happens, we can be assured of one thing:
Napier deserves better!