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The Ross Report - June 2005

The Ross Report - June 2005

Cr Jami-Lee Ross - Manukau City Councillor

Council Newsletter Goes Ahead:

For several months now the Manukau City Council has been looking at publishing a new citywide newsletter called Manukau - The Experience. This issue has received a lot of coverage recently in the local media and dozens upon dozens of letters to the editor have been published, mostly in opposition to the idea. Supporters of the newsletter say that Council needs to communicate better with the city and this is the best way to do that. Opponents say they're worried Manukau - The Experience will become a Council propaganda machine and isn't worth the estimated $500,000 cost of production.

Three weeks ago the Council held an extraordinary meeting on 2 June to discuss how it would handle the contract process for publishing the newsletter, after the Strategic Directions Committee decided in April to go ahead with the proposed concept. This extraordinary meeting turned into a complete shambles after very heated debate on the issue with one Councillor even walking out in disgust. Legal advice that was supposed to be provided to Councillors to assist in their decision-making was also withheld at the meeting.

The most interesting feature of the meeting was the revelation that prior to the meeting negotiations took place between Council and the previously intended newsletter publishers, Twig Publishing. These negotiations resulted in Twig being paid $27,495 for work done on the publication; something which several Councillors believe should never have happened.

Twig began working on the newsletter concept in October 2004, six months before any reports were presented to a Council committee for political approval. Some would argue that this work was only being done speculatively in the pursuit of further work when the newsletter eventually took off and that any work in preparation should be done at the company's own risk. Council contracts out a lot of work all year round and any company that prepares a tender or bid for such work does so at their own risk without the expectation of being reimbursed.

The fact that $27,495 of public money has been spent on this occasion raises a lot of questions concerning the process that was followed and whether the large payment was appropriate. Council has an obligation under the Local Government Act to conduct its business in an open and transparent manner, and also in accordance with sound business practices. This obligation under the Act may have been breached by the Council.

In April Sir Roger Douglas wrote to the Auditor-General to query the situation the Council had found itself in with the proposed newsletter. After learning of the $27,495 payment to Twig earlier this month, I also wrote to the Auditor-General expressing my concern over the potential misuse of public money. It is my opinion that a lot of things took place that shouldn't have and it is my responsibility as Councillor to raise those issues with the appropriate authority.

At the Extraordinary Meeting of Council of 2 June I was the only Councillor to vote against the recommendations to advance the newsletter to the next stage by calling for tenders. I voted that way knowing that an overwhelming majority of Howick residents are against any further time, effort, or ratepayer's money being wasted on the $500,000 Council newsletter. Readers of this report will be updated on any further information that may arise.

Maori Wards Debate Continues:

In April this newsletter discussed the issue of Maori representation and whether or not special Maori seats on the Manukau City Council should be established. The Local Government Act provides the possibility for this to happen, but it is becoming clear from public feedback that any sort of race based change in the Council's governance structure will be extremely unpopular. There has recently been a lot of media attention on this issue from both local and national media outlets and the Close Up programme has a video clip discussing Maori wards on their website: http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/410965/588361/

Earlier in the year the Council's Treaty of Waitangi working party requested Council Officers to consult with Maori in Manukau City about Maori Wards. Five hui were scheduled to be held with two recommendations being presented from the first two consultation meetings:

1) That Maori wards be established in Manukau City; and

2) That a Maori standing committee be established in the meantime before the 2007 Local Government Elections.

There are serious implications for Manukau City if either of the recommendations is agreed to because both give Maori more rights and privileges than any other citizen. In a city with 165 different ethnic groups it is impossible to give each group individual representation and the only way to act fairly is by treating everyone equally with the same opportunities.

Fortunately Manukau Mayor, Sir Barry Curtis does not agree with Maori wards either and has made comments to local newspapers on the subject. In an interview with the Eastern Courier he said "Creating Maori wards is not going to do anything, in my view, to promote the interests of Maoridom." He went on to note that the Manukau City Council already works closely with Maori and the Council's current representation arrangements do deliver several Councillors of Maori descent.

Three more consultation meetings are to be held in the coming weeks which will most likely make similar recommendations. Later in year a report is expected to be presented to the Council's Strategic Directions Committee which will allow Councillors to formally debate the issue of Maori representation. Significant support from Councillors is unlikely to be found for Maori wards but it is very hard to predict how some will vote on the question of a special Maori standing committee.

New City Manager Appointment Process:

Some people might recall reading that incumbent City Manager (CEO) Colin Dale has announced his retirement in March 2006 and that the Council is in the process of appointing somebody new to the position. An appointment panel has been set up consisting of the Mayor and a Councillor from every ward, tasked with the responsibility of going through the appointment process and conducting interviews. Last week the Corporate Governance Committee approved a position description so that the job can soon be advertised.

It was important for the committee to decide on a definitive position description because it will serve as the basis for making one of the most important decisions of the Council term. This has been achieved by incorporating a lot of important features necessary for the city's wellbeing.

Two required skill bases requested by Councillors are worth pointing out, the first being "commercial acumen". It should be pleasing to a lot of residents and ratepayers to know that Councillors have put a lot of emphasis on the need for a new CEO to ensure prudent financial management and to consistently investigate funding sources outside of the rates revenue. This subject was very relevant during the last election campaign.

Many Councillors have also put an emphasis on the need for a new CEO to facilitate the implementation of change within the Council and to deliver strong managerial leadership for the future. Some even used the phase "needing a good shake up" within the organisation and this has been echoed in the past by the city's residents.

Pleasingly the position description is a document that can be accepted by Councillors from both sides of city and together Sheffield consultants and HR Manager Phil Wilson should be thanked for their efforts. Interviews for the City Manager position are tentatively scheduled for early August.

Garden of Memories Progress:

Progress is slowly being made on the rebuilding of the Torere whare wananga (house of learning) in the Emilia Maud Nixon Garden of Memories. Readers may remember that in October 2004 a fire was started in the Garden of Memories which completely destroyed the Torere building. Council subsequently decided to investigate rebuilding of Torere and a project control group has been established to look at various options. The Howick Community Board has been playing a significant role in this project.

Originally Council intended to allocate funds for rebuilding at the end of June, but the Council's Community Development Committee decided that it was essential to proceed cautiously with such a sensitive issue. The Garden of Memories is an important landmark in Howick and any design plans for rebuilding need to be thoroughly examined so that the right decision is made first time round.

The Howick Community Board sat down with architects and Council Officers this week to look at the options for rebuilding Torere in the most cost effective way that can be accepted and enjoyed by residents of Howick. It is also very important to a lot of board members that any rebuilding only take place on existing footprint of the old building to protect the heritage and history of the Garden.

Concerns surrounding the previously reported cost of cultural carvings at $250,000 have also been addressed by the new decision to tender the work out along with the rest of the building. Serious concern had been raised by community board members on numerous occasions because of the potentially significant cost to ratepayers. It is pleasing to see that a more commercially sound approach is now being taken and board member Mike Smith deserves credit for his persistence.

It is unlikely that the project will be without further controversy or disapproval from some people within the community, but it is important for the Garden of Memories to be returned to its original state as best as possible. The Howick Community Board is taking every step to achieve a good result for the Howick Community and Emilia Maud Nixon's Garden.

Council News In Brief.

· Report on inquiry into controversial high-rise decision completed, see: http://www.manukau.govt.nz/agendas/eudappendix09062005.pdf

· 2005/06 Annual Plan to be adopted on 29 June Council meeting.

· Canal housing proposal in Clevedon supported by Manukau City Council

· Cockle Bay Ratepayer's Association AGM: 25 June, 2pm, Shelly Park School

· Howick community farewells dedicated staff member - Rouruina Brown

ENDS

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