The Code Uncovered
The Elected Members Code of Conduct (EMCC) statement is reviewed and confirmed at each triennium by Local Councils. The final draft is binding and set in stone under The Local Government Act 2002, and supported by various other legislation. Compliance is monitored by Council at the ‘Conduct Review’ … an open annual meeting which provides for a little privacy protection for Councillors and total privacy protection for Council employees including the Chief Executive. Penalties are available where breach of the Code is established.
All this seems reasonable enough except that the EMCC document in Napier appears to have developed into a cornerstone Deed and now has unofficial ‘constitutional’ status. In a weak Administration, the EMCC is a manifesto that can shift control of the city from the Councillors to the organizational bureaucracy – the staff.
A Shift in Power
The Napier version of the EMCC has obviously been reused, reworked and refined over years, until it has evolved much wider definitions than simply a Code of Conduct for Councillors. It now defines limits on the Mayor and Councillors (‘concerns should not be raised … other than with the Chief Executive‘); it shields council employees from any/all responsibilities (‘elected members, not officers, bear the ultimate responsibility for decisions’); and it delivers dictator-like power to the Chief Executive Officer (‘no lines of reporting will by-pass the Chief Executive Officer’ and ‘statements … should be made only after consultation with the Chief Executive’).
This is a thoroughly scurrilous and subtle legal vehicle and it is conferring power for the organizational staff to control our open democratic process. Results of this shift in control are known to the City’s unhappy clients and Ratepayers, who are totally frustrated, angry, and dismayed that the
Gestapo ooops, Napier City Council appears to exercise a deadening unbridled power.
At Napier City the ‘Elected Members Code of Conduct’ is loaded with cunning diversions which serve to hijack the declared objective ‘to provide guidance to … the Mayor and Councillors.‘ Remember this is supposed to be a Councillors’ Code of Conduct and one would expect it to be less like the ‘da Vinci Code’ and more like the Real Estate Institute ‘Code of Ethics’. It should not be a cover for Council employees stuff ups!
But our concern does not stop there. This intense compulsion for protecting staff raises questions about competency and professionalism of the employees. Why is it necessary to dump everything on the Elected Councillors and almost never sack a civil engineer or the occasional dodgy accountant? (‘Elected Members should ensure the anonymity of individual officers is preserved, and will not comment publicly on the Management or Staff’) Many staff are known as ‘The Grey Brigade’ because they have been on this cushy gravy train for 20, 30, and more years.
Need for Change
The EMCC blunts our Councillors’ real authority and reduces the Representatives’ role to advisor and mediators on behalf of Ratepayers. This creates a silent surging power struggle between Representatives and the bureaucracy and because it is a confused and contentious ‘Code’ it destroys, not builds, partnership possibilities. Councillors are turned out to fend for themselves every three years, but staff (especially the Managers) can make it a life long profession sheltered in the cradle of no responsibility. The EMCC needs to be revisited in an intelligent quest to restore authority to the Elected Representatives and return energy to this near lifeless local body.