A managerialist world

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    Talking to a Wellington colleague wise in the ways of sclerotic bureaucratic practices, I recently outlined the perfunctory and displeasingly short opportunity for the Waiheke community to assess the draft Waiheke Area Plan’s vision for Waiheke between now and 2050.

    Prepared over several years by officials and lavishly workshopped behind closed doors with the Waiheke Local Board, it in many ways highlighted all the things we wanted 20 years ago – and still haven’t got. 

    Clean water in Little Oneroa stream, a transport plan for Matiatia, cost-efficient housing initiatives, visitor infrastructure, alternatives to high water use septic tanks, roads befitting a major traveller destination,  park-and-ride facilities fit for commuters and residents and stormwater management. The stuff of traditional local government but these days, on endless pause.

    Over a measly four weeks sandwiched between the first Covid lockdown and into the second, the haveyoursay process allowed for scant consideration of this anodyne document and its dozen devil-in-the-detail “topic papers”. The lack of process seemed disturbing.

     “Managerialism”, said Norm. “Look it up.” 

    “Managerialism”, used pejoratively, sees the definition of a management caste as “what occurs when a special group, called management, ensconces itself systemically in an organisation and deprives owners and employees of their decision-making power (including the distribution of emolument), and justifies that takeover on the grounds of the managing group’s education and exclusive possession of the codified bodies of knowledge and know-how necessary to the efficient running of the organisation.”

    Profoundly undemocratic, the managerialist society is locked in a substantive ideology, leaving the needs, desires and wishes of the individual to be heard through their membership of acceptable organizations. Its fundamental social units are organisations, not individuals (as capitalism would declare) and democracy has no place in these transactions between organisations.

    It sounds very familiar to those of us who watched successive amalgamations of Auckland’s once prolific roads-and-culverts borough councils and counties, the first at the height of Rogernomics in 1988 and, two decades later, the second – and much criticised – bite of the democratic cherry in the hands of Act MP Rodney Hide, which extinguished  the distinctive characters and priorities the four cities had built up over the two decades: North Shore’s lifestyle, Len Brown’s social initiatives in South Auckland, Waitakere’s  environmental focus and Auckland City’s already managerialist behemoth.

    Both interventions were orchestrated from Central Government’s purported concern that the country’s largest city was too fractious and ungovernable. 

    Unfortunately, the second intervention retained all the managerial staff who had thrived through the first amalgamation and successive restructurings. It also, inexcusably, extinguished Auckland’s unitary watchdog, the Auckland Regional Council. 

    At the time, it seemed so blatant. So overrun with insular senior management. And so unstoppable. 

    It still does. Four days into the second Covid lockdown, and with the public Area Plan feedback closed, I asked Waiheke Local Board chair Cath Handley if she was comfortable that the bare month of public consideration of a seminal document at the heart of Waiheke’s future had been adequate.

    The document had been widely promoted, including by letterbox drop to every household, she said. “There were several ways for people to engage and to feed back, and the Gulf News editorials were themselves timely and encouraging of participation. There were public meetings, and no end of promotion via social media.” 

    Without doubt, a lot of sound work and public enquiry went in to responding to the challenge and a lot of time went on in and around those secret local board workshops with special interest groups but the document has one hard, factual outcome: that Auckland Council will arbitrate the incorporation of the Hauraki Gulf islands into its own urban image. 

    The document says, on page 30, that Auckland Council (alone of all the council’s agencies) will evaluate Waiheke’s residential capacity in the residential and rural areas of western Waiheke, the Rural Urban Boundaries as they apply to Waiheke’s “urban villages”, growth to meet expected housing needs, and the adequacy of infrastructure. 

    The Waiheke Local Board is scheduled to adopt an updated version of the plan in November. 

    It does look very like model managerialism. • Liz Waters

    A managerialist world

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