Full Council Meeting (6 March)

A full council meeting was held on 6 March 2014. All councillors were in attendance.

The agenda included: (1) the TPPA, (2) approval of the local government statement report outlining councils duties and statutory obligations, (3) approval of the councils submissions on a draft local government amendment Bill, (4) the treatment of abandoned wharves, (5) the chief executive’s report, (6) the mayor’s report, and (7) various machinery resolutions, and an update on action items from earlier council meetings.

For this post I intend to focus on the topical items and items of general interest.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

The biggest public interest item was the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) resolution from council which was dominated by very passionate presentations in the public forum (see http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/9802308/TDC-seeks-positive-benefits-from-TPPA). I will not summarise them all, as there were many, but I will note one submission from a resident who highlighted for council the fact that these agreements are usually negotiated in confidence so free and frank discussion (and horse trading) can be agreed upon, before being reported back to the public. Something that council also tended to do. Whether this is a good thing is another matter, although clearly a number of residents in supporting the original Auckland resolution do not think so.

I have discussed the background to the TPPA in an earlier post (including links to resolutions from other councils) and other information on the contents of the TPPA, so I will not outline them again here. Needless to say, council agreed to revisit its earlier resolution on the TPPA, and decided that it would consider adoption of a revised resolution that reflected the will of the community. That said, there was concern by some councilors that the last clause of the proposed resolution would present them a credibility issue and they wanted to acknowledge the reality of the process (ie, that it was unreasonable to expect open disclosure of negotiations during the negotiation phase). But that disclosure to the public through the parliamentary process could be expected after negotiations had concluded. This was the essence of one of the clauses contained in the Wellington Regional Council resolution on the TPPA.

From my perspective I was not to concerned with the wording of the clause. As acknowledged by one of the public forum speakers, this resolution was by its nature, symbolic. Given that acknowledgement, and the fact this is what the community wanted to say, I had no problem in passing the resolution as drafted (and passed by Nelson and Auckland councils). However, other councillors did not feel the same way and sought changes to clause 12 – which the majority of council supported. However, to ensure other elements of clause 12 were not lost, a new clause 13 was added, re-importing the words lost in the earlier changes to clause 12.

I think it is also worth pointing out that negotiations are not always held in secret as the TPPA has been. I know some councillors thought that public consultation was an unrealistic expectation. Recent european trade agreements do not contain secrecy provisions and “every step of these negotiations has been publicly announced and widely reported in the press” (see http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/18/wrong-george-monbiot-nothing-secret-eu-trade-deal).

Overall, a win for democracy and community representation. And for those councilors willing to acknowledge that they are suppose to represent the wishes of their community. A great deal of public frustration with council is the fact it often forgets (or sometimes ignores) what residents want.

As a councillor I consider our job is to ensure the community will is fulfilled, while navigating the statutory obligations of council. This leads me to item 8.2 of the agenda (page 15 to 46), which contains a report on the statutory duties of council. This is certainly an interesting read for those considering taking on the role of a councillor.

Chief Executive’s Report

This report updated council on the CEO’s activity since his last report on 5 December 2013.

The report noted that there was agreement with the Museum trust (eg the Tasman Bays Heritage Trust) to undertake a joint review of operations with council. At present the trust is seeking further funding for improved storage and research facilities. Storage facilities are presently located in the old freezing works. Not the best facilities for historic artifacts.

The report also noted a $6.3 million surplus as at 31 January 2014, based on an existing forecast surplus of $3 million, plus $4.9 million of extra revenue and $1.6 million of additional expenditure. The variance is mainly due to an additional $850,000 in development levies (mostly from Richmond), an extra $247,000 in NZTA grants, and an extra $678,000 in community contributions (eg, $413,000 from donations for the purchase of Baigent reserve, $82,000 from Trustpower, and $40k from DoC for the Cobb Valley road). On the expenditure side, budgeted costs increased due to increases in maintenance expenditure and legal costs (eg Jacket Island).

Although this is probably reflecting timing issues, and the year end financial position is more likely to be an $800,000 surplus from the 2013-14 annual plan budget. This can either reflect improved operational management, poor budgeting in the 2013-14 plan, or a mix of both. Since my arrival on council in October 2013, there have has been a growing enthusiasm (and the odd point of hesitation from some councilors) for getting cost savings. So I am picking that most (if not all) of the surplus is from improved operational management. For example, the finance team were recently able to make substantial cost savings from re-organising the manner it which it managed its finances. Clearly, we have a long way to go to make more savings.

I note in the latest annual plan the large proportion of council funding on community development initiatives. Clearly there is more room for further improvements in this part of council’s budget, so that we get the right balance in terms of where the community want the priorities set. That message is very much about investing in infrastructure to protect homes, while also providing for employment security.

In regard to employment security, I am looking forward to the consultation and debate that will be happening on whether council will continue to fund destination tourism after the 2014-15 plan. That debate has yet to happen, but it is one that needs to start. And just to remind people, the resolution that was passed by council stated that the proposed removal of destination tourism funding was proposed as “a basis for further consultation”. Anyone suggesting that council has decided not to fund destination tourism after June 2015 does not understand what council has stated in its resolutions. Although I acknowledge that some councilors may have already indicated which way they want that debate to go. However, such statements are in my opinion highly premature.

The report also noted that council is reviewing its business systems and processes – including resource needs. This involves moving more towards technology that should ideally require less manual input from staff. For example, moving the paper based resource consent process online for a more streamlined approach. Another initiative has been improvements to Promapp which is used by staff (see https://go.promapp.com/tasmandc). There is still some way to go, but the drive towards continual improvement of operational processes has begun, and that has to be a very welcome improvement.

On the staff front, council employ around 256 staff (approx 230 are full-time). Looking at the annual plan, the estimated cost of staff is around $18-19 million (not including contracted out services). That is a sizeable portion of the council’s overall income and places a sizeable challenge on council to operate smarter.

An interesting observation in recent council survey’s identified that 27% of residents don’t trust or have confidence in council. This is a very high figure. In my opinion this is because council does not listen to the community. You only have to read the comments on the above Nelson Mail item on the TTPA to have that confirmed. Instead council often ignores the submissions of the community during hearings. In my opinion, council are better to take a slower approach to areas of dispute. Especially when there is not the level of urgency. For example, in plan change hearings that take a 50 year view of future need, council are better to revisit zone changes that conflict with residents wishes through subsequent variations. This enables the tensions to be heard more thoroughly and with the addition of time, needs may also have changed or become more obvious.

The recent Olive Estate resource consent hearing is another example, where councilors participated in consent hearings and chose not to exercise discretions provided in the planning rules in favour of the residents. After the hearing, many residents expressed to me the feeling that the presence of councilors on the consent hearing gave it the feeling the decision was a political one and had already been decided. Unfortunately the resulting decision only reinforced those concerns.

Issues from Councillors

During the council meeting councillors were given the opportunity to raise any issues they would like council to consider. I raised the question whether the Richmond South Area should be zoned a compact density area given the storm water issues. I also suggested that the compact density rules needed to be revisited or replaced as they were not achieving outcomes residents were happy with. In my opinion the compact density zones and rules needed to be parked until a proper review of urban density issues had been completed. In my opinion, placing compact density areas on the outsides of town centres is not what compact density development is all about. Otherwise we are only inviting future problems.

I note that since this meeting it has come to my attention that a compact density zone has been proposed in Motueka and that development has already begun. Apparently the developer has surrounded the development with buildings that comply with standard residential development rules to mitigate any impact on surrounding residents. Clearly the developer is in step with the local community and ideas like this should be part of the compact density rules. Unfortunately, at present they are not.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda (containing the reports discussed above) and minutes for this meeting can be found at: http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2014/2014-03-06.

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