WHAT’S ON IN COUNCIL THIS WEEK
COMMITTEE week, meaning Wednesday and Thursday are crammed with activity covering just about everything a council could possibly be concerned with. It’s in the committee room, which is a much more informal space than the chamber — operating under much more informal rules, in smaller and less intimidating groups than full council. Each meeting offers a time at the beginning for what is formally called “public forum, petitions, deputations, and representation from tangata whenua”.
In other words, anyone who has a gripe, a grumble, an idea, a suggestion, has the ability to come along and present it to the appropriate committee of council in a reasonably non-scary atmosphere, once a month, regular as clockwork.
Of course, people have access to councillors by phone, mail, email and in person anyway, but this is our extra effort to make sure anyone and everyone can bend our ears, if they have a hobbyhorse.
The only thing you have to do is contact the chairman of the committee in advance (obvious good manners). You’re given 10 minutes but the chair rarely shuts you down on the dot if you are interesting — only if you are excruciatingly boring or your suggestions are stupendously dumb.
Technically, because of the council’s standing orders, councillors are only allowed to ask you questions of clarification rather than getting into a discussion with you — which is often frustrating and leads to councillors asking exceedingly contorted questions actually designed to get discussion going.
On the other hand it is probably wise to have that rule, otherwise we might spend forever talking and never get to the actual agenda.
I know people sometimes feel cheated because they don’t see an immediate result, but that’s just because the council is bound by statute; legally we can only make decisions about things that have been researched and published in advance on the agenda.
So, if we’re interested in what you have to say, we ask staff to do a report on it for the next month’s meeting so we can discuss it properly. If we are not interested, we don’t.
I mean, all of this is common knowledge to anyone interested but one councillor, might have been Graeme Thomson, brought it up during the representation review, and you know how things suddenly strike a chord. This one reminded me, I’m actually pretty proud to be associated with a council that can fairly claim to be among the most transparent, and the most accessible, in the country. We may not be perfect in every way, but by crikey we try hard, and we do our best to listen.
Which is why we sometimes get non-plussed when special interest groups claim they aren’t being listened to, or we need to change to STV voting, or whatever. This is not central government. This is not the Fonterra board. This is not Auckland super city or Christchurch. If you want access to our “corridors of power”, it’s really easy; ring me or any councillor, we’ll help you arrange it. But remember, while you may think your idea is brilliant, we may think you’re an idiot, smile nicely at you, thank you for your contribution, and ignore you!
And one final word on STV (remembering that I’ve been elected under STV and FPP, I’ve got no axe to grind), I looked up the list of candidates for last GDC elections. I looked at the votes, those who were elected and those who missed, and I could not see that STV would have altered anything. I challenge any proponent of STV, tell us which successful candidate you think would have missed out under STV, and which unsuccessful candidate would have succeeded. And then tell us how that would have improved things.
You can’t, because it’s bollocks.