Sunday, March 14, 2010
Frank Newman: Activists on Council Payroll
The turnout to the meeting was typically dismal (but more than the nil turnout to another of the meetings!). The same clique of 20 or so aging faces that always attend these meetings locally were there, plus a few others. It was like stepping back in time and having to listen to their same complaints: houses are visual pollution and the council should stop all development, forestry trucks are dangerous and should not be allowed on the roads, and dogs and cats should be banned from households living next to bush reserves.
I could not help but laugh aloud when council staff called us to a particular part of the hall where they laid out maps of the district. Like kindy, we watched as dominos were piled like Jenga game blocks to show us the perilous effects of projected population increases, which was made even more perilous by overlays showing the apparently imminent threat of rising seas on the one hand and looming drought on the other. In response the same old familiar faces nodded in approval, tut tutting about the dire state of our planet, then made earnest pleas for council to do something to make people change their behaviour and stop them from living where they want to live!
While on the one hand it’s comical, it’s also disturbing to see environmental activists, including those on ratepayer paid salaries, manipulating the local government process.
Staff offered three “Futures” for comment. According to them our futures ranged from do nothing (Future 1) through to consolidating growth into certain areas ("Nodes") they considered appropriate. They made no secret of the fact that they favoured Future 3, and declared 78% of all public submissions received so far favoured Future 3. What they did not mention is only 48 comments had been received, all of those from people attending these meetings – people like the aging ladies at our local meeting who claim to be speaking for the planet because the planet can’t speak for itself (but if it could it would say whatever they were saying). Of course staff don’t mind this, because it suits their cause to have these sympathisers making submissions.
Another thing staff omitted to mention is that Future 3 is Smart Growth under another guise (see http://www.smartgrowth.org/). Smart Growth’s a concept being pushed by environmental advocates because, according to their website, “… communities are questioning the wisdom of… eating up the open space and prime agricultural lands at the suburban fringe, and polluting the air of an entire region by driving farther to get places.”
As it happens the staff member advocating Future 3 was the very same staff member who spends all of his time at the council writing papers on activist causes, like the need to have tree protection policies to prevent the mass desecration of all native flora, and he recently completed a 110 page report on the perils of global warming (a report that drew heavily on the Stern and the IPCC reports). No mention was made of research that contradicted those reports.
When questioned, he revealed they had not costed Future 3 and could not say what effect it would have on household rates. Nor had they done a sensitivity analysis to show the effect changes in population growth had on the height of the tettering piles of dominos. They did however say their figures were based on Statistics New Zealand data. That of course was a half truth – no doubt the historical data was from Stats NZ data but the 40 year projections were their own - details of which were conveniently not disclosed.
When chatting after the presentation, the head of the Policy Department said his greatest fear was that councillors would ignore their report! While that's his greatest fear and my greatest hope, his comment reveals staff not councillors are setting their work agenda, and staff are using whatever tactics they can to have their pet projects implemented – including holding farcical public consultation meetings attended by socialist environmental activists.
In the Whangarei District Council there are more people writing social and environmental policy reports than there are staff processing resource consents! In my view councillors should sack the entire Policy department so they can flee to the welcoming embrace of more appropriate organisations like DOC or the United Nations. Ratepayers would save about $1.5m in salaries alone and no doubt the same again in other costs. $3m is about 10% of the general rate take, which is a sizable reduction and no doubt one that would be appreciated by ratepayers.
The most disappointing thing about this is councillors are too dim to realise they are being manipulated by their staff.
at 4:36 PM