In this job, I have fielded the community’s complaints from every direction for decades but last week’s editorial presenced me to the city megolith as it manifested under figurehead Mayor John Banks.
For Waiheke, it has seemed as if we have been in a long, often vicious battle since the early 1990s.
And that, in almost all the conflicts – neighbours and boundaries, the law on stormwater runoff or Matiatia parking – you could trace the root cause back to the absence of council doing a workmanlike job of records, of consistency, of understanding and, often, of humanity.
I know one diligent and hard-working local board member who ruefully admits her only real accomplishment for the community was a beach ramp access.
From our vantage point at the press table, the board for the past six years came as a relief. The mandatory reports from officials were sought on big issues and small stuff got done. Mitigation was at an all-time high. Public forums were cordial and solutions tabled.
The board increased the frequency of its business meetings to fortnightly and required officers to front up with proper advice.
Connections were made all around the gulf.
The Local Government Commission listened constructively to its request for more local governance and a pilot scheme that went some way towards delegation of decisions on local assets and governance was tabled, at least until the sudden commission decision in the late days of the last National government squashed any concept of increased local power.
One of the embryonic scheme’s outcomes had been a questionnaire to benchmark Waiheke ratepayers’ approval ratings for council performance (around 11 percent) and for the local board which scored more than 50 percent for understanding and responding to local needs while recognising their relative powerlessness.
Only six percent of Auckland Council’s $1.4 billion in revenue goes to “governance” – ie the elected officials and the process of finding out what ratepayers want.
It’s a fair bet that a lot of it goes to the long list of six-figure executives who monitor, provide information (or misinformation) and manage the boards they theoretically serve.
In the default position as powerless wailing walls for citizens’ concerns, Auckland’s boards in particular have to fight hard if they are not to be mere gatekeepers for officer agendas.
“Consultation” disappears down a lonely tunnel that says “have your say” and there is high-paid beavering at every management level for recognition and accomplishment to suit corporate ambitions.
As Waiheke candidates start to stake their claim for the October elections, it’s disappointing to know the entente cordiale is over.
The Waiheke local board has been towed back into the old Auckland City method of workshops to manoeuvre the board into Hobson’s Choice positions which can be rubber stamped at board meetings, the public left in the dark as to how the result had been arrived at.
I would be incensed if I had, as a board member, requested a transport plan for Waiheke from Auckland Transport three years ago that arrived in draft at the last board meeting with the community to be consulted over three weeks.
Especially since the draft amounted to anodyne generalities and a list of projects – including rebuilding the Orapiu and Devonport wharves. Work on Matiatia spreads out until 2025.
Digging out information takes massive energy. When ward councillor Mike Lee wanted answers on why a search warrant was served on deputy boardchairman Paul Walden, super city chief executive Steven Town said the prosecution was just what would have been done to any other citizen.
On Waiheke, we know about a long trail of the wet bus ticket consequences to flagrant abuses of district plan provisions: houses erected on beaches or carved into blasted rock and disappearing trees. Come again with the righteous, Hunt For the Wilderpeople scenario over a criminal charge for installing a toilet in your own barn.
Who would want to engage and how does Auckland Council’s intimidation promote any engagement by community members wanting to contest an election to represent their communities?
Such a culture will increasingly appeal to only the thick-skinned or those from a corporate background used to the cold hard cut-and-thrust of the commercial environment.
Frankly, I would prefer to see passionate, sensible community members, the likes of those who populate our multitude of small community groups and school boards and those who have invested their energy and passion into their community. • Liz Waters