Why does it matter?
It matters because you would be hard pressed to find an individual who has more day-to-day impact on the quality of life in the Hastings region of Hawke’s Bay. At least insofar as the workings of local government affect your life.
You see, local issues are getting more and more complex in the region … Do we develop an iconic beach? Do we welcome big-box megastores? Do we fund a new sports complex or a struggling amusement park?
The more complex the issues, the more our elected mayors and councillors, many of whom devote only a part of their time to official duties, are dependent on the professional staff who constitute the local government bureaucracy.
Indeed, in a world where knowledge is power, one might say that our elected public servants — honorable, but part-time and essentially untrained — are utterly at the mercy of the bureaucrats.
Now, that’s not necessarily sinister. After all, the bureaucrats are supposed to be experts in their fields, not dilettantes. They’ve often been around a lot longer than the elected officials who come and go. They’ve seen it all.
But it does raise a question about who is in charge. About whose values have the upper hand. About what independence of judgment, based upon what independent knowledge, can be expected of elected officials when all of their important decisions are based upon the essentially private advice of these bureaucrats.
Just how is the outside public (that’s you and me, the voters) supposed to see behind the curtain to know and — if need be — challenge the advice and counsel given by the staff.
Is that advice accurate, deeply informed, well-reasoned, reflective of the best possible expertise, balanced or biased in its presentation, inclusive of relevant options and viewpoints? Were the right questions even asked?
These questions of accountability need to be explored as local issues and local government become ever more complicated. And as the stakes get steadily higher. Hopefully they’ll get explored in the upcoming local elections.
So who is this man? He’s Murray Gilbertson, Chief Executive of the Hastings District Council … chief bureaucrat. To him and him alone, all the professional staff of the HDC are responsible. What do you know about him? What vision does he have for Hawke’s Bay?
We’ll be “visiting” Murray regularly to find out.