Since writing my Murky Waters post on Sunday about the modus operandi of the Regional Council and its holding company, HBRIC, I’ve had numerous inquiries … mostly incredulous.
The gist of the questions … “Who’s in charge there, anyway?”
Most people have the quaint notion that their elected representatives, Councillors, are supposed to be in charge.
So they naively assume that if a Councillor asks for a piece of official information — for instance, a boilerplate Water Users Agreement, the financial linchpin of the proposed dam scheme — the response should be automatic and straightforward … staff should provide that information forthwith.
Or, if HBRIC decides to file a resource consent for 15 million cubic metres of aquifer water, elected Councillors should not find out about it two months later, from outside sources.
So the questioners press on … “Who exactly makes the decisions to say NO to information requests from elected Councillors?” [Or at least from certain Councillors.]
Here’s my impression.
If the information is held by HBRIC, access to it is denied by HBRIC chief executive Andrew Newman and/or chairman Andy Pearce. Presumably with acquiescence of other HBRIC directors.
Actually, it’s not considered kosher for mere elected Councillors to request information directly from HBRIC.
We are expected to make such requests through our Regional Council chairman, Fenton Wilson, and/or interim chief executive Liz Lambert. Either one might or might not accede to, endorse or pursue the request. A case in point would be Councillor Graham’s official request to chairman Wilson, weeks ago (on behalf of himself and Councillors Barker, Beaven and Belford), for various pieces of financial information regarding the dam. To date, no reply … no information … not even a polite rejection of the request.
The requests just seem to disappear into a silent black void. Moreover, as Councillor Barker often comments, then there’s what we don’t know, and therefore cannot ask about!
This doesn’t seem to concern HBRIC directors, just as it doesn’t concern the five Councillors who appear to have no probing questions about the viability of the dam scheme.
However, the business people I talk to in the community are quite alarmed. They (like the HBRIC directors) serve or have served as corporate directors and tend to project that sector’s sense of “Who’s in charge?” into the governmental realm. In their world, a director has an absolute right to any information they request of management. And indeed directors are legally culpable if things go awry and they haven’t been diligent in seeking and acting upon the relevant information.
Applying that principle to the Council scenario, they see Councillors as akin to directors … with a right and duty to pursue and receive relevant information for their decision-making. And they find it incredible that ‘management’ denies such information to Councillors.
But folks, that’s the way it goes in the regime of Pearce, Newman, Wilson and Lambert.
When it comes to anything related to the dam, there’s no question who is charge. And it ain’t us ‘rank and file’ Councillors.
As former Councillor Bill Sutton writes:
“So far as I can judge from outside, HBRIC is now effectively running the Council, rather than the other way round. Yet the HBRIC members are not elected, and not directly accountable to ratepayers. Why is this travesty being allowed to continue?”
Fair question, Bill. Put it to your Napier representatives on the Regional Council.