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Changing structures and a GDC first

Opinion Piece

With the success of the inaugural swearing-in of council we are all official now and ready to get down to the business of governing the region. One highlight for me, and a first, was being able to speak my oath in both te reo and English — very fitting, I believe, with our recent Tuia 250 commemorations opening up further dialogue about our dual heritage.

Another exciting first for this council will be our meeting this Thursday, which will be hosted at Te Poho o Rawiri Marae.

Our Mayor Rehette Stolz has made a commitment to take the council to the people this term; this has been a constant request from the community, and I believe gives more opportunities to better engage with our community and involve them in local politics and deliberative decision-making.

While the agenda isn’t too intense, we will be adopting our code of conduct before it undergoes a much-needed review.

We also have a paper to discuss on a recovery group plan from our Civil Defence Emergency Management.

Changes to the names and structures of our committees mean we will meet together as a whole council more often, leading to a stronger focus on governance and better decision-making.

The bonus of newly-elected councillors is the fresh energy they bring to the table. They will have opportunities to share their skills and put themselves forward for positions within the new committees as well as a number of other committees within the community.

I know there are at least six councillors keen to be on the newly-branded “Trust Tairawhiti”, as the council-appointed trustee. The Mayor will determine who that is and as one of the six, I can only wait and see who that person will be.

Of course, we have already had some email traffic and questions raised about the rationale of the changes being implemented. As with any changes, we need to deliberate the benefits and understand the reasons for these changes.

Recent training and discussions have identified the new committee structures will decentralise decision-making to committees of the whole. This allows the council to maximise its decision-making to strategic and district-wide issues as prescribed in the Act. In doing so, it also allows for faster decision-making at the committee level and an inclusive approach to learning and shared decision-making, with all elected members engaged.

The committee functions reinforce the council’s status as a unitary council where it has the opportunity to integrate its strategic direction, plans and policies, services and operations to fully understand the sum of its parts. Committees of the whole, with better-defined functions, avoids the same paper going to two committees because of overlapping interests.

There is less re-litigation of decisions and overturning at full council. Furthermore, for a unitary authority of this size, the number of committees is appropriate on balance to comparable councils.

In addition, the committee structure has been reviewed by our internal legal counsel and compared with other unitary models. The Local Government Act 2002 section 39 requires that a local authority separates regulatory responsibilities so far as is practical. Section 42(3) echoes that but also acknowledges that ultimately councils have to resolve conflicting objectives and look at the big picture, working around conflicts. The chief executive is also required to give effect to this through the management structure.

Overall, we have a strong team of people who I sense want to do a great job in representing the region at the council table. Of course, as a councillor, what you do has far greater impact than what you say.