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The Press-News column May 19

Failing leadership by Community Boards.

It will come as little surprise to learn that the bulk of city councillors who voted in favour of super-sizing the number of elected representatives, were indeed the People’s Choice crew, who increasingly vote like a blinkered, partisan block. Ironically, these civic comrades, who want to rack up a bigger bill on running the council, are the same characters who’ve been particularly vociferous against capital divestment of council assets. Any credible consideration of getting the council’s financial house in order, has completely escaped their priorities. Dove-tailing with the representation review, the city council is planning to develop a community governance model, whereby many council decision-making powers are devolved to community boards. The notion sounds fine in theory, but do our community boards currently comprise the requisite calibre and nouse, to make the hard calls and reach firm decisions, frugally and fairly? With the council’s Long Term Plan hearings underway, I subjected myself to several days of the process, on the live-stream, last week. It was a dispiriting spectacle. One by one , the community board chairs fronted up to the council table, cap in hand,  to make their submissions and share their big-spending wish lists – seemingly oblivious to the city’s dire financial predicament. Most of the board chairs dutifully barked their protestations at council asset sales, like graduating parrots from group-think school. The Lyttelton/Mt. Herbert Board chair, Paula Smith, even had the gall to claim her community supported lifting the annual rates rise beyond 8.75%! Spreydon/Heathcote Chair, Paul McMahon, tried to argue that instead of divesting  capital, the Convention Centre should be aborted. McMahon didn’t seem to realise the project is being fully funded by the Crown, prompting the Mayor to bristle with frustration. Then the deputy board chair, Karolin Potter, launched a tirade against any council money being lavished on car parking in the central city, because “we should only use public transport to get to the city”. Adding to the cabaret, Riccarton/Wigram’s Mike Mora called for a spanking regional fuel tax to avert asset sales, until the ever-exasperated Mayor, who couldn’t stomach the malarkey any longer, shut him down with quick-fire lecture on how the council was powerless to impose such funding-stream fantasies. If you were hoping your community board representatives might actually defend your backpocket, and submit savings proposals, to slash the forecast rates hike of 8.75% this year, it was an epic failure. The industry of little jaws and their vice-like grip on the giant, polymammous udder of the city council, prefers to remain detached to the bitter financial reality.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column in The Press.  First published May 19.  

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