As I watched the HB Regional Council grapple with the elusive issue of shared services at its meeting this past week, a simple idea occurred to me that I believe would vastly improve governance in the region.
But first, to set the stage.
The Regional Councillors, responding to bait laid by their staff, were bemoaning the fact that various opportunities proferred by HBRC to achieve efficiencies and economies were being ignored or stymied by the territorial authorities (TAs). Two illustrations were provided:
Resource consent monitoring — the four TAs in the region must comply with a variety of resource consents governing matters like stormwater discharges, water takes and wastewater discharges. HBRC suggests that it has the appropriate staff and expertise to monitor such compliance for the TAs, as opposed to each of them gearing up to do the job. This approach was suggested by HBRC in 2010 … it’s basically gone no where.
Civil defence — HBRC has committed $360,000 to strengthen regional leadership and coordination in this area, including appointing a professional Group Controller for the region. So far, says the HBRC staff paper: “there is still no commitment from Napier City and Hastings District Councils to have anything other than a ‘dotted line’ linkage to the Group Controller.”
How does HBRC propose to deal with these snubs? By spending $10,000 on a consultant to further study the opportunities for and benefits of shared services … with the Manawatu/Wanganui region.
Hellooo! Shared services is failing so well already … let’s study it some more, and maybe find a more willing partner … like an online-ordered wife from Russia.
Apparently this is seen by Regional Councillors as a better option than devoting funds to examining the potential benefits of amalgamation … which, in one incarnation, might involve placing warring councils’ staffs under one political leadership. Of course, amalgamation might result in fewer Councillors, not just fewer staff … and there’s the rub.
But … back to my simple idea.
As long as we do have 49 councillors and four mayors, let’s put them to better use.
My proposal is that each council be required to send one of its councillors to each meeting of every other council meeting in the region (at least for Hastings, Napier and HBRC).
That way, when, say, the HBRC crapped on Hastings or Napier, someone from Hastings and Napier would be present to offer corrections of fact, mount a philosophical defence, beg for money, or at least deliver an eyewitness report of any injustices back to their home team. And no one would have to worry about media ‘mis-communicating’ what was going on, as Regional Councillor von Dadelszen fears.
With this kind of firsthand and direct representation and reporting built into the process, huge amounts of ‘misunderstanding’, wounded egos, active retribution, and passive aggressive behavior could be avoided. Thinking boldly, occasionally problems and impasses might actually be resolved on the spot. Maybe no amalgamation at all would be required.
Just an annual Kumbaya session … in a neutral location of course (Wanganui anyone?).
P.S. HBRC shouldn’t feel especially snubbed (by Napier at least) on Civil Defence matters. The new Baybuzz magazine’s lead story is on HB’s disaster preparedness. The top folks at HDC and HBRC talked candidly with our reporter, Kathy Webb. No one at Napier Council was available.