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Is this the end of democracy as I knew it?

The Bugle App

Local Contributor

02 April 2024, 5:50 AM

Is this the end of democracy as I knew it?

A debate and associated resolution in the recent March Council meeting drove home that

there have been serious challenges to a fully open and transparent approach during the

course of this Council.


Perhaps the most glaring example happened during debate of Clr Larkins’ Notice of Motion

(NoM) to establish an “Oversight and Implementation Committee” to oversee Council’s

progress towards meeting the requirements of the newly proposed intention to vary the

Performance Improvement Order (PIO), imposed on Council by the Minister for Local

Government.



Oversight of progress in meeting the requirements of the PIO is important in determining

Council’s long-term existence as an elected body rather than a Council in administration. It is

fundamental that any such committee should be the full Council acting as a “committee of the

whole”, as each Councillor bears the same level of responsibility to ensuring the Council

meets the requirements of the PIO. Such a committee of the whole would also allow the

totality of Councillor skills, qualifications and experiences to be brought to the discussion

table.


Clr Larkins proposal was that an existing committee (The CEO’s Performance Review

Committee, consisting of himself, the Mayor Clr Reilly, the Deputy Mayor Clr Draisma and Clr

Croxford) would also constitute the new PIO Oversight and Implementation Committee. The

membership of the committee would therefore be the same set of Councillors who are

responsible for assessing the CEO’s performance. There is no direct logical connection

between the role of these two committees, particularly as the Terms of Reference for the new

committee had not been established prior to the NoM from Clr Larkins. The principal

implication of this is that the membership is locked in.



The approach of Clr Larkins denies membership of the committee to other Councillors who

include a Certified Practising Accountant, and others with governance, risk, project

management and extensive local government expertise. Why would Clr Larkins wish to

exclude such qualifications and skills? Furthermore, this select committee, by implication, has

superior capabilities to the major committees of Council such as the Finance Advisory

Committee, the Audit Risk and Improvement Committee and the Blue Haven advisory

committee all of which have major roles to play in assisting Council meet its PIO benchmarks

and all of which can and should provide objective advice to all Councillors.


The CEO, in her written comments on the NoM, made it quite clear that the full Council

meeting was the place for the oversight and implementation to be enacted and highlighted the

costs and double dipping into the works of already established advisory committees of council

which could provide objective advice to all Councillors equally rather than having that advice

filtered through an undemocratic “clique” of councillors.



Clr Larkins argues in his background notes that somehow this “clique” will provide greater

“political” discipline in the nomination of budgetary items and decisions as part of the political

body of the Council”. The use of the word “political” rather than “elected” goes to the heart of

my fears that this is a power grab. The extra duplicated and unnecessary costs identified by

the CEO and during the debate by Clr Keast, a Practicing Certified Accountant, bring into

question the “discipline” that Clr Larkins is seeking.


Having two separate motions, one for the establishment of the committee and another taking

nominations for membership, has been the successful and transparent and most democratic

process used by Council when establishing and fillings Committees for decades. No longer it

seems in the “new Council order”.


Once the motion was passed to establish the new committee there was no place for further

nominations from Councillors who may have decided to nominate for the new committee

given that it had then been established. Almost punishment for their point of view of

expressing concerns about the committee itself. Membership of a committee should be open

to all Councillors, irrespective of how they voted regarding the establishment and makeup of

the committee.


People may well say the outcome is the same in terms of who would have been supported for

membership, however transparency and democracy must be seen to be done if the

community is to trust this council. There is evidence of a lack of trust everywhere and this will

not help recover what has been lost. Recognising and using the full range of skills and

expertise of all Councillors will help develop that trust.



It is worth reading the 19th March Supplementary Agenda which details the CEO’s new PIO

Implementation Committee and its highly complex agenda to realise that oversite is the role of

the whole Council not a select few.


The Notice of Motion was both arrogant in its intention and simply not needed.


Howard R Jones