Sunday, September 26, 2010

Owen McShane: Fourteen Tips for New Mayors

As we go into the local body elections many of our friends and colleagues are standing as candidates, or are working to assist those who are. These good people hope to make a difference.
 I wrote the following "Tips for Mayors and Councillors" just before the election of 2003, and repeated it for the election of 2007. I now find that sitting councillors are asking me to send it to them once again. They have found these tips were worth while. You might like to pass them on to anyone you know who might benefit from them.

You are a new Mayor, or a new Councillor. You want “to make a difference”.

You may however be wondering how strong your mandate is, given the low voter turnout. I suspect one reason for the low turnout is that many voters have realized the staff actually run everything and that councillors do not know how to bring them under control or even have any idea what is going on. So why bother voting?

However, it seems to me that the big “upsets” have taken place in those councils were the staff are most out of control and are aggressively promoting their own social agendas and especially “socialisation by stealth”.

Consequently, those of us who have voted for you are now looking to you to take firm control and act like real Governors, rather than sit back and enjoy the meeting fees and morning and afternoon teas.

So you do have a mandate – a mandate to bring the politically-correct bureaucrats to heel, and even to clean out the stables.

However, be warned. The bureaucrats have been preparing for your arrival. Mayors in New Zealand have few powers – some of your staff are determined to neutralise even these.

Here are a few tips to help you retain a few powers of your own, make a few friends, and be re-elected if you choose.

1. Delegated Authorities

As soon as your Council is properly established, the CEO will table a document that delegates a whole range of decisions to the staff.

Don’t vote on it!

Put it on hold, give councillors time to digest the contents, and to discuss just what the delegations actually mean. Then make any delegations provisional, and demand they be brought back for confirmation every three months.

2 Going to Court

Adopt a standing order that says Council will not take a ratepayer to court, or support another agency’s court action without the consent of full Council. Otherwise your staff will spend ratepayers’ money supporting cases brought by DoC, other Councils, the Forest and Bird Society, and other agents of socialisation – all claiming to represent the public interest while spending your ratepayers’ money.

3. Case Law

Insist that staff provide councillors with regular updates on significant RMA Case Law. Many staff have a policy “not to advise Councillors of Case Law”.

No wonder.

No “Strategic Planner” is likely to tell their councillors about the Dye (1) decision, in which the Court of Appeal pulled the rug out from under all those plans and decisions based on “hand waving” about “cumulative effects”. The Appeal Court rejected the notion that a present application should be declined by the possibility of “unknown actions, by unknowable people, in an unknowable future”. This decision caused a panic among the zealots.

However, they have now written such cumulative effects specifically into their plans and depend on the Courts to rule that plans “trump” the Act, because they are legitimized by consultation.

Believe me – these “strategic planners” never sleep.

4 Employ an Economist or Three

Section 32 of the RMA demands that all policies, methods and rules be subject to a proper cost and benefit analysis. It never happens. When I have challenged this deficiency during Hearings, the staff admit they don’t know how to do it.

So employ a few bona fide economists who do.

5 Get rid of the “Planners”

The RMA is not a planning act. It never mentions the word as a verb. The RMA rejected the planning philosophy of the old Town and Country Planning Act in favour of a focus on environmental effects. But the Planning Institute still exists. So the RMA is administered by a profession which is hostile to the central purpose of the Act.

So change the name of the Planning Department to “Resource Management Department” and take “planning” and “planner” out of all the job titles. The frustrated planners will go somewhere else – preferably to North Korea.

6 Seek Contestable Advice

Your Council will receive reports on applications and proposed policies which will make you uneasy because they seem contrary to your common sense. If you question these recommendations you will be told "The RMA made me do it" or “The LGA made me do it” and you will be given little choice but to nod your head.

So set up a special policy committee, with its own budget, which can be instructed by Council to seek contestable advice from outside council. My experience is that most “unreasonable” reports are actually unlawful – they are written by soviet-style planners, rather than by sound resource managers.

7 The Many Meanings of Section 5

Ask your RMA managers what is meant by Section 5 of the RMA and in particular that part which “enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing ... ".

Let me know what they tell you.

8 Cars and Parking

Many of your staff and some of your councillors believe public transport promotes purity and virtue, and trains grant sainthood.

It’s their right, and it's a free country.

Just insist they give up their car-parks – especially the ones right outside Council's front door.

Why do so many planners hate cars? Because cars set people free, which means they can’t be planned.

9 Don't Amalgamate

Whatever problems your district has, unless you have fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, amalgamation will only make things worse.

That goes for Auckland too.

10 Consultation (1) – check the lists

The RMA and LGA require that Councils consult with the people and the communities of the District during the preparation of annual plans, changes to plans – and indeed virtually everything.

Your staff will go out and consult with the “appropriate” groups.

Check the lists.

You will find groups like Forest and Bird Society, the Environmental this-and-that, the so-and-so protection societies, and the BANANAS (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) are all on the list. But for some reason the Chamber of Commerce, the Real Estate Institute, the Institute of Valuers, the Property Institute, Federated Farmers, and anyone who actually wants to get out of bed and do something, will be strangely absent.

And who consults with the newcomers – the migrants waiting in the wings?

Set it right.

11 Consultation (2) – we don’t have to consult with anyone

Councils have to consult with people and communities, including Maori, while preparing plans. But applicants for consents don't have to consult with anyone – unless they choose to so as to avoid notification.

Your staff may tell you otherwise.

They're wrong.

12 Compensation for Significant Natural Areas etc.

Your staff will tell you that compensation is not payable under the RMA. Tell them to read Part VIII of the Act and write out one hundred times the contents of sections 189 and 198 especially 198(5).

13 Have only two plans in place at any one time.

Bureaucrats thrive on discretion and multiple plans provide infinite discretion and totally disempower landowners. Hence insist that your Council has no more than its operative plan, and one proposed plan, before the public at any time. This will provide an incentive to get the proposed plan operative.

Be ready for a fight.

14 “May the Force be with You”.

I could go on.

But if you take only a few of these steps you will put your staff in their proper place and show that you mean to be in control. After all, you were elected – they weren’t.

But if they make the people furious, they keep their jobs, while you lose yours.

Good luck.

(1) Russel Dye vs Auckland Regional Council and Rodney District Council, Court of Appeal, CA86/01, 11 September 2001

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a former local body politician, I can say from experience that what Owen has said is exactly right. It's a useful list to have, and hopefully read by the new crop during the interludes between all of the back-slaps and "you're a jolly good fellow" compliments from council staff; who have pencils at the ready to write new laws while the window of innocence and goodwill lasts.