I observed the ten-year planning reviews reasonably closely this season, at least as practised by the Regional, Hastings and Napier Councils.
Here are the grades I would give:
HB Regional Council — A minus
Those interested in Regional Council issues were well-prepped by the Council in the months leading up to formal consultation through briefing papers on key strategic issues, meetings with a broad range of stakeholders, publication of an intelligent pre-LTCCP booklet on strategic choices (Embracing Futures Thinking), followed by the LTCCP document itself, which presented the issues and numbers clearly, as well as a simplified presentation in its ratepayer newsletter, The Big Picture.
In the HBRC materials, the priorities the Council was testing with the public were very explicit and fairly presented. Submitters making verbal presentation received officers’ comments in advance, and presenters were heard by Councillors as well as the CEO and senior staff. Council also made presentations in CHB and Wairoa, as well as co-sponsoring an exposition with Hastings Council.
I can’t fault the process. But since the Council didn’t agree with everything in my submission, as a matter of principle I can only award an A minus!
Hastings District Council — B minus
Hastings also conducted pre-consultations with key stakeholders around a specially-prepared “futures” planning document (What Should the Future of Hastings Look Like?). The Council mailed a survey to District ratepayers, offering them the opportunity to easily voice their opinions on ten pre-selected issues. The formal LTCCP document came in two parts … plenty of information!
The submission hearings gave interested citizens full opportunity to present their views in person. And since officers’ comments were provided in advance, presenters had the opportunity to respond to those if they wished. Indeed, some of the most constructive exchanges occurred when Councillors were able to engage presenters around the views and recommendations put forward by staff.
Complaints? The main LTCCP volume was too wordy and repetitious … lots of planning gobbledygook and aspirational rhetoric. It was also difficult to reconcile numbers from location to location in the various sections and parts.
But more troubling is the way this Council tees up issues. In the mailed survey, some questions were over-simplified; others not presented in the context of the trade-offs they actually represented. Then there’s the question: Why bother with the survey? The survey results received no Councillor discussion at all … zero (more on this to come). So, should the survey score points? I think not.
In the main LTCCP document, some of the most significant proposed expenditures and plans received comparatively little explanation or justification. I have in mind, for example, the millions allocated to revising the district plan, for introducing “customer service” to HDC’s culture and operations, and for the HB Museum & Art Gallery. These collectively account for about $8 million in expenditure, and all have some degree of merit … but the ratepayer will not find that case made in the LTCCP.
As I see it, HDC scores points for giving submissions serious attention, but loses points for the way it “manages” the framing of issues and the back-up information provided (or not).
Napier City Council — F
Napier’s presentation of LTCCP plans and background was more sizzle than steak. For example, its clever DVD presentation was more a sales gimmick (“Isn’t everything grand in Art Deco city?”) than a serious presentation of issues and trade-offs. The same can be said of the Proudly Napier newsletter mailed to residents. And the formal LTCCP documents provided the least detail of the three Councils in terms of explaining what might actually be going on.
Alone among these three Councils, NCC did not provide verbal presenters with any officers’ comments prior to their presentations … leaving both Councillors and submitters flying blind during the hearings. Mayor Arnott thinks this is virtuous, as it leaves Councillors “untainted” by officers’ comments. This is nonsense … the real reason is to avoid the untidiness of submitters being able to rebut or directly contest staff views, information or recommendations. I, for one, asked for clarification on several factual items where I thought sizable expenditures (in the million dollar plus category for each) were unexplained. No response given.
Speaking of staff, the NCC also is the only Council of the three where the Chief Executive did not bother to even attend the submissions. When I queried him on this, the CEO said, yawn, he was content with being briefed, yawn, by his senior staff.
I think these two oddities — no advance circulation of officers’ comments and no CEO participation in hearings — say all that needs to be said about how Napier Council views public participation in the LTCCP process. They regard it as a gigantic pain in the ass.
For attitude alone, Napier City Council fails the course.
There you have it … “democracy” in action, LTCCP-style.