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Tips For New Mayors – And Councillors Too

Tips For New Mayors – And Councillors Too

You are a new Mayor, or a new councillor. You want “to make a difference”. You may be determined to bring the politically correct bureaucrats to heel.

Be warned.

They have been preparing for your arrival. Mayors in New Zealand have few powers – your staff are determined to neutralise even these.

Most of the grievances in your community will relate to the Resource Management Act – this is where the zealots have most opportunity to abuse their powers.

Here are a few tips to help you retain a few powers of your own, make a few friends, and be re-elected if you choose.

1. Delegated Authorities

As soon as your Council is properly established the CEO will table a document which delegates a whole range of decisions to the staff.

Don’t put it to the vote.

Put the item on hold, and give every councillor time to digest the contents, and to discuss just what the delegations actually mean with their reporting managers.

Then make the delegation provisional, and demand that it be brought back for confirmation every three months.

2 Going to Court

Adopt a standing order which says that Council will not take a ratepayer to court without the consent of full Council. Furthermore, do not allow staff to support other agencies’ court actions against your own ratepayers without the consent of full Council. Otherwise your staff will support cases brought by DoC, other Regional or District Councils, the Forest and Bird Society, and any other agent of persecution – all claiming to represent the public interest.

3. Case Law

Insist that staff provide councillors with regular updates on significant RMA Case Law. The staff of the old Rodney Council admitted to me, within a Hearing, that their policy was “not to advise Councillors of Case Law”.

No wonder.

The courts are coming to grips with the real intentions of the RMA, and case Law is stripping the planning zealots of many of their presumed powers. I can safely bet that no “Strategic Planner” has voluntarily told their councillors about the Dye (1) decision, in which the Court of Appeal pulled the rug out from under all those plans and decisions based on “hand waving” about “cumulative effects”. The Appeal Court rejected the notion that a present application should be declined by the possibility of “unknown actions, by unknowable people, in an unknowable future”. This decision is causing real panic among the zealots.

Great stuff.

4 Employ an Economist or Three

Section 32 of the RMA demands that all rules be subject to a proper cost and benefit analysis. It never happens. When I have challenged this deficiency during Hearings, the staff admit it’s too hard, and they don’t know how to do it.

The solution’s simple.

Employ a few people who do.

6 Get rid of the “Planners”

The RMA is not a planning act. It never mentions the word as a verb. The RMA rejected the planning philosophy of the old Town and Country Planning Act in favour of a focus on environmental effects. But the Planning Institute still exists. So the RMA is administered by a profession which is hostile to the central purpose of the Act.

So, send out the right signals. Change the name of the Planning Department to “Resource Management Department” and take “planning” and “planner” out of all the job titles. The frustrated planners will go somewhere else – preferably to North Korea.

A useful test of your own District Plan is to see if the “zones” contain lists of activities rather than lists of environmental standards. If it has lists of activities – farming, manufacturing, horse training, horticulture, and so on – it’s been written by planners.

Rewrite it.

7 Seek Contestable Advice

Your Council will receive reports on applications which will make you uneasy because they will seem contrary to your common sense.

If you query these recommendations you will be told "The RMA made me do it" and you will be given little choice but to nod your head.

But there is nothing to prevent you and your council seeking contestable advice.

Just set up a special policy committee, with it’s own budget, to seek contestable advice from outside council. My experience is that most "unreasonable" reports are actually unlawful – they are written by soviet style planners, rather than by sound resource managers.

8 The Many Meanings of Section 5

Ask your RMA managers what is meant by Section 5 of the RMA and in particular that part which “enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing ... ".

Let me know what they tell you.

9 Cars and Parking

Many of your staff and some of your councillors believe public transport promotes purity and virtue, and trains grant sainthood.

It’s their right, and it's a free country.

Just insist they give up their car-parks – especially the ones right outside Council's front door.

Why do so many planners hate cars? Because cars set people free, which means they can’t be planned. Drivers are at liberty to live, work, and play where they choose. That's why the leaders of the Soviet Union and Mao's China kept the cars to themselves. As Lenin said “It is true that liberty is precious – so precious that it must be rationed”.

Don’t believe all that crap about “having a choice”.

10 Don't Amalgamate

Whatever problems your district has, unless you have fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, amalgamation will only make things worse.

That goes for Auckland too.

11 Consultation (1) – check the lists

The RMA requires that Councils consult with the people and the communities of the District during the preparation of plans, or changes to plans.

Your staff will go out and consult with the “appropriate” groups.

Check the lists.

You will find groups like Forest and Bird Society, GE Free, the Environmental this-and-that, the so-and-so protection societies, the iwi against spiritual pollution, the Historic Places Trust, and the BANANAS (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) are all on the list. But for some reason the Chamber of Commerce, the Real Estate Institute, the Institute of Valuers, the Property Institute, Federated Farmers, the Land Development Association, and anyone who actually wants to get out of bed and do something, will be strangely absent.

Set it right.

12 Consultation (2) – we don’t have to consult with with anyone

Councils have to consult with people and communities, including Maori, while preparing plans. But applicants for consents don't have to consult with anyone – unless they choose to so as to avoid notification.

But that’s their choice. If there are special Maori issues involved, that is Council's problem – not the applicant’s.

Your staff may tell you otherwise.

They're wrong.

13 Talk to Statistics New Zealand

Your planning documents will suggest that your whole district is at risk of being overrun by greedy developers and covered in concrete.

The harsh reality is that most parts of New Zealand are losing population.

Unlike your planning staff, most people want to keep their schools open and shops flourishing, and to provide work for their children.

Ask Statistics New Zealand to provide you with up to date population figures and predictions.

This is especially true of Auckland. Some people seem to think that Auckland is going to double in size.

It won't.

In fifty years time there are likely to be even fewer Aucklanders than there are today – especially if we waste two billion dollars building train sets, instead of finishing the road network.

14 Compensation for Significant Natural Areas etc.

Your staff will tell you that compensation is not payable under the RMA. Tell them to read Part VIII of the Act and write out one hundred times the contents of sections 189 and 198 especially 198(5).

15 May the Force be with You

I could go on.

But if you take only a few of these steps you will put your staff in their proper place and show that you mean to be in control. After all, you were elected – they weren’t.

But if they make the people furious, they keep their jobs, while you lose yours.

Good luck.

(1) Russel Dye vs Auckland Regional Council and Rodney District Council, Court of Appeal, CA86/01, 11 September 2001

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