I have a confession to make. I've been putting off this day because there is nothing quite as scary as a public fess-up and the fear of what people think, the drama, politics and small town talk. It's not like it's a major mistake either, I've given my time on Council my all. I've tried very hard not lose perspective, tried not to lose my edge (admittedly I haven't been "told off" for a while).
It's important for me to come clean though, it's going to be unavoidably in the papers at some point and I would have preferred to leave it to the last. It's the claims I've made of transparency and honesty; combine that with the damn small town politics and I find myself forced to confess. I really hope you might see some up-sides to it, because I'm disappointed in myself and it's possibly not what you thought I'd do when you voted for me the first time, which is; I've bought a bus.
Half my world thinks I'm mad, the other half think it's just too awesome. But it's a beautiful bus, it's an 11.3 metre, 12 tonne length of mechanical mayhem which I don't yet even have a licence to drive. This isn't a hair-brained last minute what-was-I-thinking idea; nor is it a severe over-reaction to my exposure to local-government. Instead it's a very old hair-brained idea that my family thought up on me near on 6 years ago and has (literally this past weekend) just overcome the main hurdle to getting going.
The plan is to trip around the provincial towns and cities of New Zealand over a space of however long it takes with the main (business) purpose being to drop in on potential clients (Graphic Design Agencies) and introduce them to what Verb (our business) has been developing for the last 12 years.
This is likely to result in a not so little growth for the business which will be exciting for me personally because the effort to achieve a world class product to date has been immense.
There is a second half to this story however and one that I've tried to mitigate. I had hoped there was a way to run for a second term on Council. I have explored all avenues and considered all the possibilities but at the end of the day there is one small law in place from central government that makes it patently clear you have to physically attend meetings. Physically attending meetings these days is an interesting requirement but not one I can change or make work when I'm driving along SH10 . I am particularly disappointed because I believe next term would have been the superior term of the two (the "new guys" are really inspiring some big cultural changes which you might just start seeing soon if you haven't already) and I'm excited about it.
But please don't write me off yet. I still have 1/6 of my term left and I definitely have some more posts up my sleeve with a number of topics I'd like to talk about in retrospect. I'm also chairing the District Services Committee and tomorrow we're discussing one of the biggest potential road funding changes we will have seen in possibly three decades.
So there's a good 6 months of mayhem left in me and I intend to use it to it's fullest. I am also seriously considering a local democracy project to take with me around New Zealand which I could use this blog for, more information on that as I get it.
I expect to see you all at committee day tomorrow (cough).
Got any questions? You've probably realised now the first paragraph wasn't entirely serious :-)
Lets first set the scene with the current thinking...
(NZ Herald article on the banks taking a bit of your savings if they fail).
Here's a NZ politician talking around related topics...
Here's a response:
Like a kid in a candy stall I'm fascinated at just how differently we can view the same things.
What was your moment of understanding in all this?
Council has for the first time ever decided to draw a line and stop the guaranteed funding of seal extensions. Too late in the piece but it still only just happened with 6 to 5 votes.
So since we sealed Stafford Street back in the black and white days we've been engaged in an apparently never ending quest to seal every road in the district. Problem is no-one in our community would seriously want us to do that because the rates would be gigantically high to cover the maintenance of this golden road network.
Logic must preside and at some point there is a place of balance where the percentage of roads sealed is at an affordable level; enough roads are sealed as the community accepts it can afford to maintain.
I would argue we reached that point perhaps quite a bit earlier but especially last year when we effectively reduced our road maintenance because we couldn't keep up (while continuing to guarantee funds for seal extensions). Last year was basically like saying we can't afford to paint our house any-more but we're going to keep adding rooms. This year we've caught up with ourselves and called an end to an old tradition.
That is not to say that no more roads will be sealed. As land use changes and the district shapes around its inhabitants there will become roads that need sealing for whatever reasons (there is also funds and policy for those who want to contribute to sealing a road). What's significant is council signalling an end to the sealing of roads just because they are unsealed.
We've got a lot of challenges to face down around the funding of our road networks (funding has been frozen since 2006 from central government while bitumen prices have spiralled up) so I have to say it's a relief that our community can now consider this proposal and what it means.
Finally the mayor kept using the term "No Frills Budget". I'm really not fond of that term and I hope our dear paper doesn't decide to run that as a headline. It's a not-to-bad budget-given-the-circumstances; and it's an election year budget...
This is sort of like that but more to cover off a question I'm often asked which is "what are the time commitments with being a councillor?" This was certainly not any information I could obtain easily myself before standing.
It looks straight forward on paper. Every two weeks you have something. Either a community board meeting, then committee day and then full council. Rinse and repeat.
During the Christmas break you can be left wondering if you are a councillor at all.
But then you get stretches like the last couple of weeks which for me went like this:
Monday 25th Feb - bylaw review (all day)
Tuesday 26th Feb - bylaw review (left around 2pm)
Wednesday 27th Feb - IR Committee Meeting (2pm till 5pm)
Thursday 28th Feb - NOTHING
Friday 29th Feb - 11:00 - 12:00 CBD parking meters meeting
Monday 4th March - Canterbury Regional Transport Committee (Selwyn) 8:00am - 2:00pm
Tuesday 5th March - Standing Committees (9:30am to around 3pm I think - remember it being an early finish)
Wednesday - NOTHING
Thursday - ZONE 5/6 meeting DUNEDIN 2:45pm - to late
Friday - ZONE 5/6 meeting all day (home around 6;30pm)
This should be expected at this level perhaps around 2-4 times a year. What I've found is rather than a nice rhythmic schedule which you can plan your life around in an orderly fashion - one should expect periods of insanity followed by periods of quiet. This can be difficult to plan for.
It does put pressure on running a business and it also can make it quite awkward for keeping up with blog posts despite the plethora of interesting material. Transport is where some of our immediate challenges are and there have been so many interesting conversations taking place around this (actually forget it - you'd find it boring).
Finally - I was in Christchurch today and had a peak around parts of the city.
I then got home and viewed these photos displaying Japan's clean up progress. Wow.
It was our first day back publicly and since it was a public meeting we were outstanding. The press gallery was abuzz; cameras were flashing and the City reporters were very busy swapping notes. The rumours are they were running a wager system as they grappled to follow our logic and attempt to predict the sway and ceaseless movement of the intellectual athleticism on display.
Yes we are as Greek warriors of the mind, heroes chosen by our renowned populace to lead the city into it's future. Each of us will one day have bronze castings made in our image outside the city library, our names scribed into the city's history books, our votes recorded in detail; methodically filed in the council libraries.
To add to the drama of the day we had a visiting entourage today from the far country of Japan. They were here to study our ways and learn from us. They marvelled at my age, one so young, he looks like a boy yet he holds the seat of a governor. I sat with them for a time.
But let me speak of the debate today. It was as the days of old. Our decisions were bold, our speech eloquent as we indicated our preference for the latest lighting artisans to light our beautiful streets. This beautification of our city will render it stunning in the night sky and pulsating in response to its citizens night-time footprints. We gifted generous portions of our populations wealth to our great many cultural institutions and fairs. We elegantly tackled the delicate issues of the wine and beer trade. In mere hours of deliberation we reached conclusive decisions affecting the accessibility of our famous art gallery. We consumed reports from our engineers about our new bathing pools and deliberated on the finer points of our citizen's enjoyment of those pools. We almost finished a foot bridge.
And this brings me to the highlight of the day which came upon us amidst the glory of the discussion centred on the gifting of generous grants from our people. The clear voice of our newest hero was heard, bravely cutting across the flow of the discussion and calling us all, to a rethink of our ideals. It was asking of us to spend some of our time to reflect back on our core purpose, to reconsider our values and purposes in respect to the current conversation and the changing seasons.
It was "The Moment".
(The following could be read in the vein of "The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy")
Which of course takes us to the immediate and defined process for anyone suggesting we should revisit the reasoning for the discussion that is currently under-way.
They were firstly utterly and magnificently misunderstood. This quickly leads to the being misconstrued - as to be, gosh, how-could-you-be, surely you're not actually against our magnificent endeavours? And then conclusively onto the final phase of the process with an abrupt admonishing for having inserted such a ridiculous what-were-you-thinking "idea" into the discussion in the first place.
After the kerfuffle the only reporter in the gallery picked up her pen, somewhere some tumble weed moved, I reached for the stars in vain to clarify the intent of the proposition, the reporter's pen was laid back on the table and we all moved on to the next grant.
It'll then be elections and this 3 year term in local politics will be complete.
Sooooo is anyone interested in standing at the next election? I'm going on the prowl now to encourage some new people to stand, community minded individuals with an eye to the future.
The challenges we face now are shaping up to be quite different to what our district has faced in the past and we need more people around my age to get active locally and who will live with the consequences of the decisions that need to be made. Based on what I've seen an ability to learn, research, challenge, think sideways and an ability to be considerate are the main attributes you need. Don't worry if you don't know anything about waste water or city planning. These areas of knowledge are useful but very few elected people would have vast knowledge across all areas and the role doesn't expect them to. It's the councillors job to get informed, talk with their communities and make the decisions needing to be made based on the information, debates and consultation.
Remember; it's local government that has vastly more impact on your day to day life than central government and I have a belief that it could likely become a whole lot more important and exciting in terms of quality-of-life type decisions.
Feel free to contact me if your interested, I'll be very honest and want to be very available to anyone who might never had considered such a role but would like to learn more. This next term will be a good one to get involved in if you are interested.
Well I've now got my opportunity and ten months to really explore it. Today the council saw fit to elect me as chairman of the District Services committee. I got a lot of congratulations afterwards which was nice. For the record in trying to stick to my own rules I did not play politics by lobbying or conniving for this new position which now gives me a sense of peace about council's mandate.
I have spent a lot of time fighting for a better governance culture and today I unofficially make that no longer my primary focus (huge sighs of relief all round Timaru I'm sure). I'm changing focus for two reasons:
- because there seems to be no desire for changing or concept of changing this term (was that always the case and I was just a bit thick?...),
- because I now have an opportunity to demonstrate some of what I've been talking about and participate without so easily being marginalized.
I intend to realign this blog to utilize it as a tool to raise awareness of the large challenges we already are facing in some of these areas and to hopefully provide some sense of unity amongst our communities and forward vision.
The real immediate question is of course - will I now still support equal pay for all councillors and rotating chairs now the shoe is on the other foot?
Local Politics is best described as decision-making based on public perception.
Local Governance is best described as decision-making based on reasoned understanding of the results of research and good consultation.
Local Politics generally finds that fear, greed and misinformation are the easiest tools to shape public perception.
Local Governance meanwhile focuses on communicating respectfully in ways that ensure an engaged community with good understanding of contentious issues.
Local Governance will always lose out against Local Politics on contentious issues because the art of clear communication is far more difficult than the leveraging of existing fears. For Local Governance to succeed it requires the majority of governors to really understand their roles to be one of public service and to be able to trust their peers to adhere to the time honoured, rarely practiced standards of public office.
To switch back to Local Governance from Local Politics requires the actions of a brave few to practice Local Governance and wear the logical consequence of angry fearful people inspired by Local Politics. If come an election the population are inspired enough and able to appreciate what has been happening you might get Local Governance, otherwise you stick with Local Politics. It's that simple.
I hope to one day actually witness Local Governance first hand.
So here's a classic example in relation to my previous post Distrust in respects to how media are also partisan to this Local Politics approach. When you read yesterday's editorial and they state in relation to the speaking rights for community boards:
This change came about in reaction to backlash during the present debateit sounds like this was done from a sense of "shivers we'd better throw them a bone". I did not second this motion "in reaction to backlash" as suggested. The motion was put because the Local Politics situation had created the environment where this first and proper step could likely be instigated successfully (where as it hasn't in the last 23 years). Unfortunately and sadly, even this was achieved under the Local Politics model and subsequently it wasn't properly debated and consulted on because no-one was brave enough to question it. The editorial is easier to believe however because it confirms your fears about politicians acting only in self interest - see the pattern? It leads the population to believe that we're still practicing Local Politics, they perhaps believe that themselves which is fine as it's an opinion piece but then they should take a bit more care because I'm not operating under that model and I was never asked.
To put it in context; Council has had the past 23 years to instigate this and hasn't. So either it's a bad idea and this time round everyone acted politically and agreed to it anyway, or no one had seriously considered how to start to address the "wounds". Both points are an indictment.
To point the finger and blame me for the hurt becomes an irresponsibly attempt to include me in the fight and I'm not buying it, my role is District Councillor.
1) The first is that I write from hope. When I'm not feeling much hope I still write but I don't post such writings as they do not inspire and of course work against hope.
2) There is an astonishing level of distrust and fear amongst the older local community towards local government and that is telling me quite a bit about the quality of governance that has gone on historically.
3) There is a seemingly wide group of people who have been told and believe that the ex members of Team Timaru are a green party conspiracy and that I am Green Party Supporter.
At yesterday's representation review I was accused of that last point publicly. Now I don't want to entertain conspiracy theories but their existence at the level that they are is of interest to me in terms of what it says about our community.
In setting the scene I was also yesterday in private conversation with an elected community board member of our community and I was told that they didn't think they would ever forgive me for "opening these old wounds".
On a lighter note I was also called dross (by an ex councillor) and lad (gotta love the "lad" connotations).
So dear district, let me paint my perspective because I fear those who called for change at the last election are not going to get the change they hoped for - mainly an improvement in the quality of governance and representation.
I acknowledge the hurt and pain caused by the amalgamations in 1989 and subsequent attitudes of previous (and current Council). People have talked of the opening of old wounds and I have been accused of that. This is not how I see it as I was seeking constructive forward focused dialogue and what I saw was my trust betrayed by people around the council table and old wounds purposefully inflamed in the media to achieve a political outcome. I saw the community being played in the most cynical sense.
My fragile hope here however is that you can only open an old wound that isn't healed - and medically that is often a good thing to do to get rid of what is stopping the healing and get some air in. I hope now that the community steps back and considers the rhetoric and behavior, name calling, fear mongering and how they have treated some of their community-serving well-intentioned representatives. This is the real sad story here: old turf wars are still shaping our future and costing our community its current tentative steps in thoughtful and positive direction.
I challenge the community to also consider the presence of these conspiracy theories and the damage they do. When I jokingly queried this picture with Richard Lyon and Steve Earnshaw at the council table yesterday, Richard Lyon then told me to say it wasn't so. This makes it pretty difficult to continue sitting around the Council table.
The correct approach in a governance scenario is if you have concerns of such a conspiracy to actually ask first and talk it through and make your views clear. None of this has ever happened and there has been plenty of opportunities throughout the process.
The mayor did the same thing with her accusations in the paper three days after the decision was made to consult on the at large option. She never approached me with her concerns, never suggested she saw a conspiracy and ask me about it. I was accused yesterday of doing the same thing around my concerns of cronyism (a while back) but in fairness to myself - I made my concerns very clear to them in the chamber and no attempt was ever made to allay my fears, plus it was only me and I made my point once.
It's all a bit sordid really isn't it. There is a sense of lingering shame.
This distrust amongst the council fuels and mirrors the distrust within the community. Human history recognises this as the seemingly default state of our species and gave us the term "civic" to convey the better way.
The media seems to accept all this politics as a given and just the way it is. They play along with whoever wants to make a story and seem to be happy to be partisan with this style which creates a pretty dastardly environment for a change in style to be implemented.
In my mind there are no sides to this story - it's a story of a hurting community that has been formed by powers outside of them and is yet to accept and trust the new form that has arisen.
The solution is at the Council as they are the source of the historical generated harm. It requires perceived "urban" councillors to lead the change and offer autonomy, empowerment and most of all respect to the perceived "rural" communities. It equally also requires the communities of interest to start to trust as those changes are implemented and be prepared to forgive and recognise there are new people and attitudes. Part of me wonders if my generation should just hang around and wait for the older generation to pass but then we would then be no different. The progress is in the change and my hope is that these recent events serves as the catalyst.
The first move has been made. This will be my proudest moment of my time on Council - seeing through (with Cr Earnshaw) the introduction of speaking rights at Council for the community boards. It's been at times mocked during the representative review process but it's entirely significant when I hear about the conduct of previous councils. It's also not enough and could end up detrimental if it's not built upon with wise behavior to strengthen the communication and relationships within our district. Without this the council will continue to muddle along hitting the barely good enough mark as it fights its pointless and endless internal battles.
There was nothing more satisfying to me than reversing the actions of a decades long conflict with a move of good faith.
The real work
Roads and rural roads especially is our biggest challenge ahead of us. I find it odd this topic is so political and isn't being resolved in a meaningful manner for our rural communities. Did you know that the road to the Clandeboye diary factory has more exported product travel over it than any other road in New Zealand? This issue is currently handled in a similiar way to the representation review and this is hugely problematic. It's my desire to see the whole story laid out for our rural communities and to let them decide on how they want to tackle the issue because it isn't simple, it requires funding and it's of vital importance to our farming and rural communities. They have been frustrated to date with the quality of maintenance and the council voted to decrease maintenance at the last budget round which doesn't exactly solve the problem. It's the hot potato but I'm happy to tackle it - I've got added challenges in doing so however while perceived to be part of a conspiracy.
From what I've seen of the conduct and old approach to politics locally, the empowering approach I keep referring to has little hope of taking place properly with the current people because the traditional paradigm at council is one of control control control. What is required is a new council made up of people who view their role as one of community service and can go about sensitively restoring the relationships within our community through empowerment. This requires an intelligent election process. I'm quiet concerned the community has burnt out this new batch already, I'm certainly feeling that way.
There has been some significant steps this term in the right direction. Us new Councillors have been bandied around as an asset and attracted some high quality new staff into Council which is a good part of what is required for that cultural change to take place. I care very (very) little about re-election but from the perspective of actually seeing the whole district start to heal from these historic turf wars I hope that our communities of interest can come to see that myself and others were actually the District Councillors from urban Timaru that they've been waiting for and that astoundingly as it may seem to many right now we were going into bat for them.
P.S. I was undecided on the representation review. I started in favour of consulting on the at-large option. Based on the submissions I've ended up in favour of Option 3 (9+3).
Due to a symbolic continual failure to follow good process, my decision to abstain from voting delayed the final decision as the mayor continued her habit of assuming my position and didn't call for those against. I abstained as a statement that I was ashamed of the process, knowing the community did have its decision for now.