At the start of my campaign I undertook to provide an open diary to ensure that there was greater transparency of council activities for the benefit of the general public. Clearly not everything can be discussed in this blog as some issues are subject to confidentiality. Accordingly, what follows is a summary of my notes and opinions of discussions around the council table that were open to the public.
Todays Council Agenda
A full Council meeting was held today. The agenda comprised:
- declarations by Cr Murfin and Cr Dowler who were not present at the inaugural council meeting;
- two submissions from the public;
- consideration of amendments to standing orders;
- the establishment of council committees and the appointment of councillors to specific roles;
- confirmation of the delegated authority register (allowing spending to specific thresholds by designated staff);
- confirmation of councillors remuneration and expenses entitlements;
- proposal to employ four new staff;
- the CEO’s activity report; and
- other various administrative matters
All councillors were in attendance, with Cr Higgins sending apologies.
To keep this post short, I have summarised the main items that took up most of the councils time ,being: public submissions, council appointments, and a proposal to appointment four new staff.
The first public submission highlighted concerns with the cost of the lee valley dam and appointing 4 new staff when many councillors and mayoral statements made during the election undertook to reduce debt and keep rates down. The submission did not think a legal advisor and commercial manager were a necessary expense given the commercial committee already comprised business people. The submission also highlighted the need to ensure public committees like the Waimea plains committee comprised individuals with different viewpoints to ensure robust discussion of issues. Finally, it raised the ethical and moral issue of the previous council making directorial appointments that bound the new council. The suggestion being that the new council should make such an appointment.
The second public submission highlighted the consent costs the public incur and the hoops applicants are expected to jump through.
The mayor recommended the following appointments, which were not contested. Chair positions and directorships receive additional remuneration on top of base councillor salaries. A chair position receives an additional 20% loading on their base salary.
Base remuneration is as follows: Mayor ($123,850), Deputy Mayor ($41,210), Councillors ($31,700), Motueka Community Board member ($6,000), Motueka Community Board chair ($12,000), Golden Bay Community Board member ($5,500), Golden Bay Community Board chair ($11,000).
The committee appointments are:
- Community development committee: Cr Edgar (chair), Cr Bouillir (deputy), and all other councillors.
- Engineering services committee: Cr Norris (chair), Cr Dowler (deputy), and all other councillors.
- Corporate services committee: Cr King (chair), Cr Higgins (deputy), and all other councillors.
- Environment and planning committee: Cr Bryant (chair), Cr Ensor (deputy), and all other councillors.
The sub-committee appointments are:
- Audit: Cr Higgins (chair), Cr Greening, Cr King, Cr Inglis, Cr Sangster.
- CEO review: Mayor, Cr Edgar, Cr Ensor.
- Community awards: Cr Edgar, Cr Bouillir.
- Development contributions: Cr Norriss, Cr Ensor
- Communications: Cr Edgar (chair), Cr Bouillir, Cr Bryant, Cr Dowler, Cr Greening.
- Community grants and facilities: Cr Bouillir (chair), Cr Bryant, Cr Canton, Cr Edgar, Cr King.
- Creative communities: Cr Bouillir (chair), Cr Murfin
- Commercial: Cr King, Cr Ensor and business directors (Alan Dunn, Phil Grover, Roger Taylor).
- District licensing: Cr Ensor (chair), Cr Bryant (deputy) plus 3 members (David Lewis, Laurence Gabites, Jean Hodson).
- Tenders panel: Cr Norriss, Cr King, Cr Edgar, CEO.
- Joint shareholders: Mayor, Cr King, Cr Bryant.
- Nelson Regional Sewerage Business: Cr Higgins, Cr Dowler.
- Nelson Airport Ltd: Appointment deferred to the next full council meeting ($15,000 annual fee).
- Port Nelson Ltd: Cr King (appointed by previous council, $30,000 annual fee).
Four New Staff
Much of council’s time was spent discussing the merits of the four new staff appointments. The proposal from council was to use unbudgeted income of $170,000 to finance the roles up to 30 June 2014 (being the start of the next financial year for council budgets) and thereafter paid out of additional annual costs of $340,000. Council was unanimous that the two accounting roles (one fixed for a 2 year period) were justified given the financial planning focus of council over the next three years.
More controversially, was the appointment of a part-time legal advisor (0.5 fte) and a commercial manager to support the commercial subcommittee (see above). The part-time legal advisor position was promoted on the basis of cost savings and the commercial manager on improving information going to the commercial committee and facilitating role between businesses and council.
Cr KIng and Cr Ensor gave spirited arguments for having a commercial manager on the basis of the income opportunities and improved information the position would offer. As did the Mayor. I believe the timing is not right to engage such a role. I pointed out that the commercial sub-committee’s terms of reference appeared to be the same as the commercial manager’s purpose. If we are hiring directors with business acumen, why are we paying for a commercial manager to perform a similar function. I believe existing council staff can provide the sub-committee the necessary financial data without creating another role. In my opinion, the commercial sub-committee directors who are paid well for their participation and employed for their ability to identify opportunities to improve the performance of council assets. They should be identifying the business opportunities and assembling the business cases for them, not the commercial manager.
After much discussion a resolution was drafted to employ all four staff. The legal advisor role was to be paid from an existing budget for contracting lawyers from 30 June 2014. Similarly, the commercial manager will be financed from the councils current salary budget from 30 June 2014. However, from the date of employment until 30 June 2014 those salaries will be paid from the unbudgeted income.
After further discussion, the resolution to employ new staff was modified by adding a request for information of the cost neutrality or savings from the two appointments. Unfortunately, due to the vote being rushed by the Mayor, an amended resolution that deferred both appointments from 30 June 2014 (thus ensuring that all the unbudgeted income could be directed to debt repayment) could not be made. The resolution appointing all four staff was passed. I voted against the resolution as worded, because I felt that the legal advisor and commercial manager positions should have been deferred until 31 June 2014 when they could be funded from existing budget streams.
On further inquiry, I was also told that I could not propose a resolution to amend this oversight. Some other councillors left the chamber somewhat dismayed that the resolution had appointed 4 new staff, as they had thought they would be deferred until after additional information requested by council had been provided. The outcome is that some of the unbudgeted income was saved (in particular, dividend income from the Nelson Airport), which can now be directed to debt repayment. But alas, not all of it.
This was the first test of our council’s resolve to reduce spending, reduce debt, and keep rates down. I’d give it a C+, “must try harder”.