Christchurch’s next Mayor?

April 2nd, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Mike Yardley writes:

He’s the bolter, the bloodhound, the big-hitter. And he is fast stapling his presence on to the city’s consciousness.

Cr Raf Manji, the most impressive newcomer to council, wasn’t elected to office with a pasteurised set of opinions from party central or enslaved to a rigid ideology.

He is an independently minded raging pragmatist, spearheading the drive for better performance and fiscal restraint. The hear-no-evil, see-no-evil culture of conceited mediocrity is what sunk the previous council regime. Its prime adversary was the fearless first-term tiger, Cr Tim Carter.

Manji appears to have picked up the baton from Carter, bringing the same financial rigour and razor-sharp scrutiny to the table.

Take the past fortnight, for example. Manji has publicly grilled council staff for failing to adopt any measures against feckless freedom campers.

The council has had the power to regulate freedom camping for two years. Two years, amigos! Manji has blasted their “dithering” as “just ridiculous”.

I’ve heard several people say very good things about Cr Manji. As Yardley says he’s an independent focused on improving performance and holding the management to account. Dalziel is doing fine so far, but if things don’t improve over the next two years, I won’t be surprised to see Manji standing for Mayor.

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Dalziel on right track

February 12th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Councillors were told this week that the rating base had declined by 2.3 per cent and the council faces a larger-than-forecast operating deficit. The decisions to be made will undeniably be difficult and are likely to be unpopular.

There is one option that Mayor Lianne Dalziel appears to have ruled out.

“It’s not a question of adding to the rates; it’s a question of re-allocating within budgets,” she said.

That is the right approach. Rates are already set to rise by 6.5 per cent this year and probably by similar amounts in years to come. Just adding more to property owners’ rates burden would be evading the problem not facing it.

It’s good to see Lianne Dalziel rule out further rates increases. The Council needs to adjust its expenditure to match its income – not take more money off struggling ratepayers.

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Will Christchurch City Council join the stupidity?

February 5th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Presss reports:

The Christchurch City Council is under pressure to find extra money to ensure all its employees get paid at least $18.40 an hour but its finance chairman is warning it cannot afford it.

“We are going through a process of cutting costs, not adding to them,” Cr Raf Manji said yesterday as councillors met to consider a report on the implications of introducing a Living Wage.

By law, workers must be paid a minimum of $13.75 an hour, but $18.40 is what the Living Wage movement believes a family of two adults and two children, where one adult works fulltime and the other works part-time, needs to meet basic living costs.

That is the key point. It is a calculation for one specific family type. That type of family is only around 10% of families earning under $18.40 an hour. Claiming that a 16 year old boy living at home must be paid $18.40 an hour because that is the income needed to support a family with two kids is ridiculous.

A report prepared for the council’s chief executive and employment matters committee, which met publicly for the first time yesterday, estimated the cost of increasing their hourly rate to $18.40 an hour at $1.1 million, excluding KiwiSaver, overtime and penal pay.

It also warned that introducing a Living Wage was likely to have a knock-on effect for other staff as the council would need to maintain relativities in remuneration.

That could add another $1 million to the council’s wage bill.

So proponents want ratepayers to pay an extra $2 million a year. Are ratepayers in Christchurch not already struggling enough?

Also the Councils seem to ignore the very serious flaws in the calculation by Rev Waldegrave, which include:

  1. Only 12% of low income households are two adults and two dependents, which the Waldegrave calculation is based on
  2. They assume you need 10 hours of childcare a week, even if the children are aged over 14
  3. They calculation of level of “basic necessities” is not based on any empirical measurement of the lowest cost of necessities, but merely a proportion of the average expenditure in deciles 1 to 5 (this one is key – it is a calculation based on the Browns should be spending as much as the Jones, and is not a calculation on how much income the Browns need)
  4. The calculation doesn’t account for some sources of household income such as trade-ins, sales, teenagers income (yet does include their costs) and school donation tax refunds
  5. The calculation double counts some expenditure such as childcare costs
  6. The calculation includes as a basic necessity costs such as Sky TV, pets, international travel and video games
  7. The calculation includes insurance for dwellings and mortgages, despite assuming they are renting

Any politician that advocates the living wage calculation as a serious way to do policy should not be trusted with finances.

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The Press on Mayoral accessibility

January 18th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

With the announcement this week of the appointment of a press secretary for Mayor Lianne Dalziel, along with a number of other appointments, the make-up of the mayor’s office is now complete. The mayor had earlier announced the appointment of a chief of staff to run the office. The mayor will have nine people working directly for her, more than twice the four that the former mayor, Bob Parker, had.

It would be interesting to compare the size of the various Mayoral offices to the sizes of their Councils.

In addition to a chief of staff and a press secretary, the mayor now has a senior adviser, a community adviser, a visits and ceremonials co-ordinator, two information officers and two executive assistants (one of them shared with the chief of staff). It must be hoped this staff will be committed to ensuring robust performance from the mayor’s office. It must also be hoped they will be committed to the greatest possible transparency and openness about the mayor’s work.

The mayor’s community adviser is Nicola Shirlaw, who was Dalziel’s campaign manager for the council election. That political connection is of no great significance by itself but the mayor must take care not to allow her office to become highly politicised or excessively inward-looking.

Of course it will be politicised. The job of the Mayor’s office is to get the Mayor re-elected. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. A Mayor who is doing a good job is more likely to be re-elected, so part of what the Mayoral office does is help the Mayor perform well. But they also of course promote the Mayor and try and get favourable coverage.

The office must also not become a barrier between the mayor and the media and public. Parker was commendably available to the media – replying with remarkable diligence and promptness to emails, texts and phone calls, even at the height of his political travails when there was little benefit to him from doing so. Dalziel is proving to be less accessible.

I didn’t know that about Parker. Good on him.

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Christchurch planners v developers

November 11th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Friction between property developers and local body planners is to be expected.

Developers want to be able to get on with their separate projects, doing what they need with the minimum of bureaucratic oversight.

Planners are concerned not just with the outcome of any individual project but also with its impact on the bigger picture of what is going on in the city.

Planners also want to see that rules, which have been adopted through appropriate processes for good reasons, are properly applied.

The two groups’ aims are not necessarily in conflict – developers want to get stuff done, planners (ideally) want to let it be done (provided the rules are followed). 

The statement that planners want to let things be done is highly contestable!

After the debacle earlier this year of the Christchurch City Council building consents process, which led to the council losing its status as an accredited consenting authority, it is alarming to hear home builders complaining that red tape and “design palaver” in the council planning process are holding up the construction of apartments and units.

The council has rejected the complaints, saying any delays come from developers failing to come to grips with new, tougher design rules.

But when a developer of the prominence of Mike Greer – owner of the region’s biggest house building company and who presumably runs a sophisticated operation capable of understanding any regulatory requirements – says the council’s bureaucracy is making it nearly impossible to build affordable housing, the complaint must be taken seriously.

As Christchurch has a serious housing shortage, you would think they would be doing what they can to make it easy to build more housing.

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Who is funding Dalziel?

September 27th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Lianne Dalziel’s main mayoral rival has demanded she reveal who is helping fund her campaign as accusations of party politics fly between the pair.

The issue of whether political parties are helping fund the campaigns of Dalziel and Paul Lonsdale flared briefly at Monday’s Press mayoral debate but intensified yesterday when Lonsdale was forced to defend rumours key National Party figures were helping him.

During the debate, Lonsdale admitted National’s Canterbury regional chairman Roger Bridge had given money to his campaign but Dalziel said she did not know who was funding her bid.

Lonsdale yesterday dismissed talk he was a National Party candidate and ramped up the pressure on Dalziel, demanding she should reveal some of her major donors as he had done.

Dalziel denied she had received any funding from the Labour Party or any unions.

She said her campaign was still fundraising but once the election was over, she would, as legally required, declare her major donors.

Dalziel said she preferred not to know who was helping pay for her campaign until after the election.

“That’s also because I don’t want any connection between who may have made a donation and the direction I might take as mayor.”

I watched the video of the debate where Dalziel said she did not know who was funding her campaign. With respect she sounded like John Banks denying knowledge of who funded his mayoral campaign.

The suggestions she does not known because she doesn’t want it impacting her decisions as Mayor is hard to believe because she will have to file a declaration soon after the election.

My conclusion is Dalziel doesn’t know because she wants to be able to avoid answering the question of who is funding her campaign.

Lonsdale has revealed his two major donors (he is in fact mainly funding the campaign himself he said). Dalziel’s refusal to do the same makes you wonder why. She could find out in five minutes. Why does she not want the public to know? As a sign of good faith she should disclose now any donations that would have to be disclosed after the election.

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Sam Johnson on Christchurch elections

September 26th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Sam Johnson has blogged his picks for Christchurch City Council:

  • Christchurch City Mayor: Lianne Daziel 
  • Shirley-Papanui: Ali Jones
  • Fendalton-Waimairi: Raf Manji (I would like three votes here as Jamie + Claudia are both good. It is important to me to have someone like Raf on CCC though, so he is my first vote). 
  • Burwood-Pegasus: Glenn Livingstone, Robyn Nuthall 
  • Riccarton-Wigram: Vicki Buck, Peter Laloli
  • Hagley-Ferrymead:Paul Lonsdale, Yani Johanson (updated)
  • Spreydon-Heathcote: Erin Jackson, Tim Scandrett
  • Banks Peninsula: Paula Smith

Now I don’t agree with Sam on all his choices. I think Paul Lonsdale would make a very good Mayor, who has already done a lot for the city. I’d also endorse John Stringer for Shirley-Papanui.

But Sam has spent three years on a community board and through his SVA work knows many of the candidates, so I think his picks will be of interest to many. He also names people worth supporting for local boards.

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Marryatt gone

September 14th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt has resigned, with a $270,000 payout.

The council accepted his resignation today, effective from November 30.

But he will not return to work in the meantime and will remain on full pay until then.

The payout will grate with many, myself included. But the reality of our employment laws is that sacking someone for just cause is extremely difficult and can lead to years of court action. One ex RNZ manager is into year 10 of her lawsuit!

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The fixer

September 10th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

The man charged with fixing the Christchurch City Council’s consenting crisis could be kept on to sort out other issues after impressing the city’s two leading mayoral contenders.

Crown manager Doug Martin was appointed by the Government in July to restore the council’s building consent accreditation, which was stripped after repeated threats to withdraw it were not responded to by council management.

He is paid $2000 a day, with his travel and accommodation costs extra. He is contracted until the end of the year but Lianne Dalziel and Paul Lonsdale are keen for him to stay longer.

His swiftly delivered and concise action plan has received plaudits from within the council but has also not gone unnoticed by the mayoral front-runners, who both see merit in using him to tackle other problems facing what will be a new-look council after next month’s local body elections.

Dalziel said she was “very impressed” with Martin’s thoroughness, expertise and skill in delivering a simple, yet effective action plan.

“That ticked a lot of boxes for me when I saw that,” she said.

If Martin could get to the heart of a serious problem that effectively, she saw potential for him to help the new council look at other issues she suspects it will face.

Doug is a former boss of mine. He is one of the most competent people I have ever known. His company (Martin Jenkins) has an excellent reputation at being able to analyse how a company or organisation is working, and how to improve it.

Lonsdale said Martin’s next project should be a full review of the council’s entire management structure, which he (Lonsdale) described as “bureaucratical constipation”.

That would be a very good idea.

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A 1% reduction

July 29th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

A policy limiting bars’ opening hours would reduce the amount of alcohol Christchurch people drink by as little as 1 per cent, according to a city council report.

The draft Local Alcohol Policy would also cost the region more to implement than it would save in alcohol-related healthcare and police services. It could also deter bars and licensed premises from rebuilding in the central city.

Those are among the findings of a report commissioned by the Christchurch City Council that compares the costs and benefits of the draft policy.

The district-wide policy proposes a one-way door rule from 1am in the central city and a blanket 1am closing for suburban licensed premises in a bid to help curb the city’s alcohol-related issues.

The hearing of submissions on the policy begins today and is expected to last four days.

The report concluded the economic costs of the policy would outweigh the economic benefits.

In other words, the policy will achieve almost nothing, but impose costs on businesses and remove choice for residents.

It is good the Council agreed to do an economic analysis of their proposed policy. Hopefully they will listen to their own report, and not give into the wowsers.

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The Press gives Tim Carter top marks

July 29th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

A first-term councillor has emerged as the top performer in The Press pre-election assessment of Christchurch City councillors.

Cr Tim Carter has been awarded an A- grade for his tenacity in questioning the council’s business-as-usual approach and for pushing for greater transparency and accountability.

Despite only being elected to the council in 2010 Carter has made a big impact, but he looks set to depart local body politics in October as he has indicated he is unlikely to seek re-election for personal reasons.
 
The three next highest performing councillors, as ranked by The Press after hundreds of hours of observation, were councillors Sue Wells, Claudia Reid and Peter Beck, all of whom earned a B+.

The article has a useful feature where you can see how various Councillors have voted on different issues. Would love the Dom Post to do that for the WCC.

Their overall ratings are:

  • Tim Carter A-
  • Peter Beck B+
  • Claudia Reid B+
  • Sue Wells B+
  • Ngaire Button B
  • Aaron Keown B
  • Jamie Gough B
  • Glenn Livingstone B
  • Yani Johanson B
  • Barry Corbett B-
  • Jimmy Chen C+
  • Sally Buck C
  • Helen Broughton C
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Why did Bob go?

July 6th, 2013 at 3:10 pm by David Farrar

John Stringer blogs on 10 reasons why he thinks Bob Parker went:

  1. CEO not a poli.
  2. Marryatt and Consents
  3. Endless negativity and character assassination
  4. The Press
  5. Polls
  6. Wife and “well-being”
  7. Reputation and legacy
  8. Communication
  9. Transferred frustration
  10. Media prostitutes.

I don’t agree with all of them, but I do think the endless negativity was very real, and partly explains what Marryatt stuffed up also. He definitely made many mistakes, but I suspect the fact that some Councillors spent so much of their time attacking and undermining the Mayor and CEO, is why he was reluctant to let them know when problems arose, such a the consenting.

Now that is not to defend his decision. He should have informed the Council. But some Councillors are to blame also for creating a culture of negativity and attack, so the CEO did not feel he can be upfront with them. If he tells them of problems, they’ll just use it to attack him.

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Marryatt on leave, crown manager appointed

July 3rd, 2013 at 1:58 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Christchurch City Council Chief Executive Tony Marryatt is taking leave.

The council has issued a statement announcing Marryatt was taking leave “pending further discussions with the council”.

General manager city environment Jane Parfitt will be acting chief executive.

I’ve not been a long-term Marryatt hater, like some people. I thought the issue around his salary was a beat up. However he has on a number of occassions demonstrated judgement not up to the job – in my view.

The decision to give an extra day’s leave per month to all staff, without even informing Councillors, was one example.

The consenting failure has to be his responsibility – both the lack of capacity, the inability to improve enough, and the downplaying of the seriousness of it.

This afternoon’s planned meeting with four Government ministers has been cancelled.

Instead, councillors have been called to a special meeting of council at 12.45pm tomorrow when a resolution will be put to invite the local government minister Chris Tremain to install a Crown manager to oversee the council’s consents department.

Following the meeting, councillors will meet with the minister who will discuss the terms of reference for the Crown manager.

Mayor Bob Parker said it was “crucial that the community and the Government have complete confidence in the robustness of the consents process”.

This is a smart move by the Council – a crown manager, just for the consenting function. This should mean that the Council can be assisted to get its processes and resources sorted out, so they can regain the ability to authorise consents.

As a sign of how bad it may be, the Insurance Council says:

Christchurch buildings constructed using faulty council consents may have to be demolished, the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) says.

International Accreditation New Zealand (Ianz) this week said it would revoke the council’s consents accreditation on July 8, prompting a council and Government scramble to ensure consents can continue to be issued in the rebuilding city. 

The council had granted consents that Ianz found ”did not meet the requirements of the Building Code”.

ICNZ insurance manager John Lucas said today that the Ianz revelations were ”quite startling”.

Recently consented buildings should be audited on a case-by-case basis by an independent authority, he said.

”If insurers have started work on developing a new property, rebuilding a house or repairing a house, and then partway through that construction period there’s a delay because they find out later the building consent was issued incorrectly, then that’s going to stop that project,” Lucas said.

”It may cost the parties a lot of money because the project may have to be demolished and rebuilt, or there may be some very expensive remediation costs involved.”

Non-compliant foundations were the most likely to be an issue, he said.

Now who is it that has been calling for the Govt to be more hands off in Christchurch?

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Christchurch consents

July 3rd, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Martin van Beynen at The Press reports:

The Christchurch City Council has granted building consents that potentially put people and property at risk, International Accreditation New Zealand (Ianz) says.

Ianz on Monday announced it was revoking the council’s accreditation of its consents function on July 8, prompting a council and Government scramble to ensure consents can continue to be issued in the rebuilding city.

The council had granted consents that Ianz found ‘‘did not meet the requirements of the Building Code’’, prompting one earthquake widower to label the debacle ‘‘very worrying’’.

Council officials will meet Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Local Government Minister Chris Tremain in Christchurch today. The most likely outcome is the appointment of a commissioner to run the council’s consents department until accreditation can be regained.

While attempts have been made to downplay the seriousness of the revocation, Ianz chief executive Llew Richards told The Press yesterday ‘‘we have serious concerns’’.

He referred to sections of the latest Ianz report saying the authority had identified council building consents that breached the Building Code and/or Act.

‘‘These have the potential to cause damage to the property, other adjoining property or injury to people,’’ the report says.

Hardly the equivalent of a parking ticket, as claimed by the Mayor.

He was staggered the problem went back as far as 2007, he said, but admitted in Parliament he did not know about the September Ianz report until June 7.

“At that point I decided that this situation was intolerable and we have been taking action since that time and we will have further discussions with the city council tomorrow, because this situation cannot continue.”

Those who had argued the Government should stay out of local authority functions should now be reconsidering, he said.

Indeed.

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Yardley calls for accountability

July 2nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Mike Yardley writes in The Press:

The news ricocheted across the city yesterday morning, like a thunderclap.

Despite all the soothing tones of reassurance, despite all the varnished rhetoric that the big bad wolf of revocation would be kept from the council door, International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) has walked the talk and blown the house down.

The Christchurch City Council has incurred the unique and ignominious distinction of becoming the nation’s first consenting authority to be stripped of its accreditation.

On the day that the IANZ letter, outlining their intention to revoke, was brought to the public’s attention by the Earthquake Recovery Minister, the Christchurch mayor’s first reflex was to absolve the council of any blame or responsibility.

He slammed Gerry Brownlee for launching a ”media missile”, and he accused the Government of ”undermining public confidence in the council”. 

And that is something I doubt he will recover from. Up until the Govt made it public, the Council itself wasn’t aware they were on the verge of losing accreditation. And Parker attacked the Government for their transparency.

In the wake of such embellished bravado, the political fallout for Bob Parker is thunderous. Just three months out from election day, it’s a hell of a black eye. But beyond the political ramifications, this is a withering hammerblow to our sense of trust in the council. 

Would you trust them to be straight with you?

Late last week, the council’s senior management were trumpeting all of the progress they’d made to ward off and neutralise the compliance concerns IANZ had flagged.

But as the council brass back-slapped themselves into believing that all was well in the state of Denmark, ministers Gerry Brownlee and Maurice Williamson were busily deploying contingency plans, just in case the council was duly defrocked. 

Now that the nightmare scenario has become a reality, we should learn more about those plans tomorrow. But a show of accountability would also help clear the head. 

So, now that the good ship Christchurch has hit the rocks, stripped of its accreditation for one its most critical functions, who will resign?

I think the Chief Executive has to go. Consenting is a core function of Council, and losing accreditation is a management failure. This was not a surprise – IANZ had been warning for over a year.

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Christchurch City Council loses consent accreditation

July 1st, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

The Christchurch City Council has been stripped of its accreditation to issue building consents.

In a huge blow to the organisation International Accreditation New Zealand (Ianz) has followed through on its threat to revoke the council’s accreditation.

Christchurch City Council will be stripped of its right to issue consents from Monday.

Council’s general manager regulation and democracy services Peter Mitchell said in the last 14 days the council issued 632 consents with a combined value of $160 million.

Of the original backlog of 500 consents, 25 remained and these were expected to be cleared today.

He said the council could still lawfully receive, process and grant building consents and would continue with other aspects of the building consent process, including inspections and processing code compliance certificates.

Mitchell said he was confident the city council would regain its accreditation.

He explained the Ianz letter indicated that while the agency was satisfied progress was being made, it did not yet have confidence the council was operating in full compliance with its standards.

It had raised a number of issues that it had not raised in the May 30 letter which it now wanted more information on. …

Ianz chief executive Dr Llew Richards said stripping a council of its consenting powers was a “hugely unprecedented” move.

He said the organisation told the Christchurch City Council of its decision about 9am today.  “They have not been able to satisfy us,” Richards said.

He was unable to comment specifically on the problems but outlined the process for when issues arose.

”A core responsibility of a BCAs (Building Consent Authorities) is to ensure a sound audit process is in place and to provide Ianz with records of such technical reviews. Without such evidence, Ianz could not continue accreditation,” Richards said.

”A lot of publicity is given to the statutory deadline for issuing consents. Ianz uses this information as only one of the indicators of adequate resourcing.

“An improvement in the rate of consents issued still requires an assurance they comply with the Code and Act requirements.”

Note that IANZ is independent of the Government.

I’d say this delivers the mayoral election to Lianne Dalziel. Who wants to vote for incumbency, when the status quo is that you fail at your core functions?

Not that this is the fault of Bob Parker. The CEO Tony Maryatt needs to be held responsible for this outcome. Parker hasn’t helped though by denying there is a problem, and comparing the letter from IANZ to a parking ticket.

A spokesman for Brownlee said the council’s consenting crisis was scheduled to be discussed by Cabinet today. The Minister would make a comment after that.

City council planning committee chairwoman Cr Sue Wells said staff were gutted by the decision.

A consenting authority had never been stripped off its accreditation before so the council was now in uncharted waters, she said.

“We’re going to take a deep breath and sort this out,” she said.

Last November Ianz identified 17 areas of concern with the council’s processes and in May gave it formal notice of its intention to remove its consenting ability.

It is worth remembering that Lianne has spent three years claiming that the major problem in Christchurch was that the Government took away too much power from the Council. Considering the CCC has proven incompetent at even a core function such as consenting, imagine how much chaos there would have been if Labour had been in charge, and had CERA powers mainly resting with the Council?

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Why not Mayor?

June 27th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reported:

Vicki Buck is attempting a political comeback after 15 years.

The former three-term Christchurch mayor yesterday confirmed she would seek election as a Riccarton-Wigram ward councillor in October’s local body elections.

Speculation has mounted since Buck was this month spotted with mayoral hopeful Lianne Dalziel and former mayor Garry Moore, her successor in 1998, who hinted at a return too, but has since ruled himself out.

“I wasn’t confident I was going to [run], otherwise I would have just said,” Buck said.

“I vowed when I stepped down as mayor never to interfere in the council, and I haven’t. I never imagined I would go back into something like this because there are so many other things I love doing and get excited about.”

Sounding out others to potentially run was the catalyst to make a call on her own candidacy, Buck said.

She first ran for council in 1975, aged 19.

She has opted to try to depose either Helen Broughton or Jimmy Chen in Riccarton-Wigram, where she has lived for more than 15 years, rather than targeting a vacant seat.

I thought Vicki was a pretty good Mayor. So why doesn’t she stand for that job again? I think people would appreciate someone with a proven track record.

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So what is Lianne’s debt solution?

June 25th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Christchurch mayoral candidate Lianne Dalziel has slammed the level of debt the city council will be taking on as “fiscally irresponsible”.

Great to hear a Labour MP blast fiscal irresponsibility and raise the alarm on debt. I can only presume Lianne will not be voting Labour at the next election then, as their policies are for more spending and more debt.

In her speech Dalziel said it was “fiscally irresponsible” to take the council’s debt levels to 2% short of the maximum allowable ratio “giving us no room to manoeuvre should any calculations fall short of budget”.

I agree.

3 News reports:

But Ms Dalziel, the current Christchurch East MP, did not offer a solution to the planned uptake. Instead, she says she’s not making any promises around level of debt.

“I’m just offering absolute fiscal responsibility in terms of insuring that we’re not placing our council into so much debt that we don’t have we anywhere to move just in case something goes wrong,” she says.

Ms Dalziel says she’s opposed to asset sales as a solution – but is not ruling them out completely.

“I’m opposed to strategic assets being sold, [but] I’m not having a conversation at the moment about what strategic means,” she says.

It is pointless to criticise unless you have a credible alternative.

Debt is a function of spending. You borrow money to fund either an operational deficit or capital expenditure.

There are basically just two ways to reduce debt – spend less, or increase revenue.

If Lianne is saying the Council is spending too much money (which is very possible) she should identify what spending she would chop.

If she is saying the Council needs to increase its revenue, then she should spell out which assets she would sell, or how much more she would increase rates by.

“My final decision to run was only made two weeks ago so I haven’t got a detailed policy platform, but I will have one when I launch [the campaign] formally,” she says.

“I’ve got a couple of months to basically work with a variety of people across the city to put together that policy platform.”

Fair enough not to have it yet, but having blasted the Council for their debt she will in time need to be specific about what spending she would cut to reduce debt – or alternatively which assets she would sell and/or how much rates would increase.

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An $11 million mistake

June 22nd, 2013 at 8:50 am by David Farrar

Martin van Beynen at The Press reports:

Get ready to pick up the tab for an $11 million insurance mistake by Christchurch City Council.

The error arose when council staff failed to insure the new $21m composting plant in Bromley when it opened in 2009.

An investigation by The Press into council’s insurance shortcomings has confirmed ratepayers will pick up the tab for the plant’s repair as no government subsidy is available.

The problem comes to light as a raft of insurance difficulties with council assets emerge, including questions over crucial valuations.

General manager corporate services Paul Anderson said the mistake was a “straightforward clerical error in my team so I’m responsible for that”.

The plant was insured while it was built but it was omitted from a schedule of completed assets.

“My team didn’t pick it up; our brokers didn’t pick it up,” Anderson said.

Asked whether disciplinary action was taken against the staff members responsible, he said the “insurance team” was now “not the same as it was at the time”.

So no one will be held accountable. Hey its only $11 million.

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Who is The Press scaring off?

June 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press Deputy Editor writes:

Lianne Dalziel is good for Bob Parker, and vice versa. It seems an odd argument, but each needs the other to validate whatever comes of the Christchurch mayoral election.

The point was made eloquently by city councillor Peter Beck when he announced in March that he would soon retire, and expressed a wish that the coming contest should be a “two-horse race”.

“My hope is that there is one, and only one, seriously credible alternative [to Mayor Parker] so that the city has a clear choice,” Beck said then. “That is good for democracy. It is good for both candidates. Whoever is elected will then hopefully carry a real mandate of the people.”

With respect, Cr Beck said that because he didn’t want Parker winning against a split vote. Nothing to do with mandate.

Voters should not pay too much attention to the party politics in this election.

Good God. Just ignore the fact she has spent two years demanding the Minister resign.

Both Parker and Dalziel have considerable strengths. The real danger here is that a credible third candidate will declare and deny ratepayers the chance to make a proper decision between the two. It would not help the city if a mayor was elected at this important time who did not command a clear majority of votes cast.

Such a credible third candidate would be perfectly entitled to stand, but should carefully consider his or her motives for doing so before declaring.

This is the bizarre part. I’m not sure I can recall a NZ newspaper before imploring people not to stand for office, let alone almost threatening them that they will be seen as having bad motives if they do stand.

How incredibly arrogant to declare that Parker and Dalziel must be the only choices and that a credible third candidate is a “danger” who will hinder a “proper” decision. I’d suggest many people in Christchurch would love to have a credible third candidate as they are so thoroughly depressed by the prospects of either Parker or Dalziel.

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Consenting competition?

June 18th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Government has stepped in to help the city council with its consenting problems, sending in a team of technical experts to speed up the flow of consent approvals.

But a wholesale takeover is looming next week if the council cannot convince authorities it should not have its consenting accreditation revoked.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson yesterday authorised a five-strong team from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to join the Christchurch City Council’s consenting department and to make changes to its processes as required.

How bad is the problem?

The council is receiving about 40 new building consents each day, but has a backlog of about 1700 historical consents that it needs to clear.

Sixteen consenting officers, four managers and nine administration staff worked over the weekend to begin clearing the backlog and staff are now being rostered on six days a week, but additional resources may still be needed if the council is to address IANZ’s concerns by the June 28 deadline.

But what interested me is the role of other Councils

Since news of the council’s consenting crisis surfaced last week it has received offers of help from around the country:
Invercargill City Council has offered to assist with processing consents and has undertaken to approach other councils in the region to see if they can also help.

Selwyn District Council has offered to share its expertise.

The Auckland Council has created a Christchurch rebuild team where staff will work extra hours processing consents.

Professional Building Consultants in Auckland, which is contracted to help the council, will increase its capacity to process consents.

This could be a model for the future.

Each Council sets the rules around consents for their area, but that doesn’t mean that that same Council has to be the body that assesses applications against rules. As we see above, many Councils have staff experienced in assessing and approving consents.

Short of the threat of losing accreditation, there are little incentives for Councils to issue consents on time and for a reasonable price. They are a monopoly service.

But what  if Councils could compete with each other? What if say there were half a dozen Councils that provided consenting services on a nation-wide or even regional basis?

Think if those needing consents could (for example) choose to go to the Hamilton City Council rather than their local Council, because the Hamilton City Council can do the consent in 12 days instead of 30 days? Or they could choose the Tauranga City Council to get a consent, as they charge $400 instead of $750?

We don’t provide incentives for most Councils to consent on time – just a stick. I’d love to see some competition emerge to get those incentives right.

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Surprise – not!

June 18th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Labour MP Lianne Dalziel is set to enter the Christchurch mayoral race, Fairfax Media understands.

The Christchurch East MP has long been rumoured as the favourite to challenge incumbent Bob Parker for the mayoral chains, following her high-profile role as Labour’s earthquake recovery spokeswoman, and criticism of the current council.

Her declaration is expected later this week.

Dalziel has the backing of her party for a mayoral bid, despite dropping out of the top 20-ranked Labour MPs in a party reshuffle in February.

If she stands and wins, she will likely have to resign her Christchurch East seat, triggering a by-election.

Worst kept secret ever.

In March she was “99 per cent” sure she would not stand, but a month later it was revealed she had attempted to recruit Student Volunteer Army founder Sam Johnson as a potential running mate.

I don’t know why more MPs can’t be as honest as Maurice Williamson was and just say upfront that they are considering standing, rather than deny it one month and be trying to lien up running mates the next.

Last month she was still coy on a bid, but talked about the importance of an alternative council leadership that cut across political party lines.

She said at the time that she would consider standing if she got the “right” team behind her, but admitted it was likely to include candidates from the Left-leaning People’s Choice movement.

Their aim, is to get a Labour majority on Council.

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Christchurch consenting

June 13th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Nicole Mathewson at The Press reports:

Christchurch city councillors will head into a crisis meeting next week after learning the council is on the brink of losing the power to grant consents.

Yesterday, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee revealed the council was sent a letter from International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) on May 30, which said it had until June 28 to improve its processes or it would be stripped of its accreditation as a building consent authority.

The letter is here. You would have thought that Councillors would immediately be informed of such a serious development.

It is of huge concern that the Council can not even meet its legal requirements for consenting, which is why it has provisionally been told it will lose this power.

Again this makes me wonder about the monumental lack of judgement it shows in some politicians who have spent three years saying that the Council should have more power, and the Government less power in the rebuild. Such slogans sound good, but the consequences could be severe. If the Council is unable to even meet its core remaining responsibilities, how do we think things would have gone if they were in charge of the overall rebuild?

Councillors were unaware of the letter.

Amazing.

Brownlee told The Press last night that it was “utterly appalling” councillors had not been told about IANZ’s warning before he published the letter yesterday.

“It shows there’s a culture problem in the council or at least this part of the council. This is very serious and no-one should attempt to downplay it.

“What annoys me a bit here is I’ve been asking about this for some time … but I’m continually told everything’s well, everything’s fine.”

Problems had been identified with the council’s building consent authority during a routine assessment by IANZ in October 2009, and in November last year an audit identified 17 failings in the way the council performed its building control functions.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had become involved with the council several times since February 2010 to offer support and advice.

“It seems as soon as they walk out, everything falls back into the old ways. At the moment we’re not in a good space,” Brownlee said.

Consenting work would fall to other councils if Christchurch did lose its accreditation, he said.

This would not necessarily be a bad thing.

Any consenting would still be done in accordance with the plans, policies and rules set down by the Christchurch City Council. It would just be the staff of another Council who would issue consents in accordance with those rules.

I actually think there is considerable merit in allowing Councils to compete with each other in offering consenting services in a region. The body that sets down the rules doesn’t need to be the body that does the consenting.

UPDATE: Good to see the Council taking it so seriously:

Mr Parker says the Government needs to cut the under-resourced council some slack. It has taken on extra staff, and currently has 120 people processing applications.

“There’s something of a huge overreaction going on here – it’s a bit like, as far as I can see, we’ve been given a parking ticket for an event that’s taking place in two weeks’ time that we weren’t going to anyway, and if we were, we’d take the bus.

Parker thinks a provisional loss of accreditation to issue consents is like a parking ticket?

You know if I lived in Christchurch, I think I might actually vote for Lianne.

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Bazley lashes Christchurch City Council

June 8th, 2013 at 10:32 am by David Farrar

Rachel Young at Stuff reports:

Environment Canterbury boss Dame Margaret Bazley has launched a blistering attack on the Christchurch City Council, slamming “staff who tell lies and… a totally incompetent organisation”.

The stinging rebuke prompted a handwritten apology from Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker for the “unacceptable delays” on public transport upgrades.

The city council-ECan relationship has been strained of late, but the criticism is an unprecedented attack from one of New Zealand’s most respected public servants.

It is almost unprecedented. So what lead to it?

Documents obtained by The Press under the Official Information Act show the tension between the two councils over the delivery of transport infrastructure, particularly the city council’s delay in building a bus “superstop” at Northlands mall.

ECan chief executive Bill Bayfield wrote to his city council counterpart Tony Marryatt on December 10 last year saying it was “extremely disappointing” the superstop was not ready for a December 3 deadline.

The city council’s “inadequate provision of infrastructure” was undoing his staff’s work, Bayfield said.

A council staff member replied, accepting responsibility for the Northlands problems, saying: “Rather than offer excuses, I can confirm that the new infrastructure will be in place in Northlands by the end of February 2013.”

When this deadline was also missed, Dame Margaret weighed into the debate: “I have monitored the performance of the Christchurch City Council on the provision of these facilities… and have built up a picture of staff who tell lies, and of a totally incompetent organisation,” she wrote to Parker on April 16.

“Our staff have at all times worked collaboratively with your officers and have been given assurances that everything was in order, and progress was on track, when this was obviously not true.”

It was a “sad reflection on our supposed partnership” that even building a bus stop on time seemed beyond the city council, she said, and asked Parker to intervene.

There is a pattern here. Recall also the abysmal failure on the Council in regards to fixing its own housing stock.

What should scare people is that one particular party has spent several years claiming that the major problem in Christchurch is that the Council doesn’t have authority, and they should be in charge of more stuff, and CERA less stuff.

Can you imagine how bad things would be, if they had their way.

To be fair to the Council, they just simply are not resourced to cope with a crisis of this magnitude. But the fact they seem to be struggling with even basic stuff such as infrastructure for a bus stop is damning.

Parker told The Press a staff member in charge of the superstop project had led them to believe everything was on track. However, when the employee left the council, their replacement discovered the problems.

Yep, but there should be systems to check.

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Mayors united

June 6th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Two former Christchurch mayors are mulling a return to local politics.

Former mayors Vicki Buck and Garry Moore are both considering running for the city council at the October local elections.

Buck has been meeting regularly with possible mayoral candidate Lianne Dalziel.

Moore said it was likely Labour MP Dalziel would run for the mayoralty and he criticised the current councillors.

“I would say the probability would be reasonably high. It is up to her to announce that when she finally goes through the starting line.

“The Government has to hand over [the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] to the local council in two and a bit years. If I were the Government, there is no way I would hand it over to the current council. It needs horsepower.

“We need to think hard about supporting excellent people on the council, not the sort of dull people that many of them are right now.”

Dalziel said she could not comment on whether she had offered Buck or Moore roles in her possible campaign.

“I haven’t formalised where I stand at the moment. People know I’m talking to a lot of people. This is the hardest decision I have ever made in my life.

Oh don’t be silly. Of course you’re standing. It’s not a hard decision. You were dumped from Labour’s shadow cabinet. You won’t be a Minister again, even if Labour wins. So of course you’re standing for Mayor. You’ve spent weeks or months putting together running mates and campaign teams. Just make the bloody announcement.

The involvement of Buck and Moore is astute. I thought Buck was a very good Mayor, and Moore wasn’t too bad either – even though I disagree with his politics. Both Buck and Moore are Labour aligned.

If one or both stand, they will be the ones who attack Parker on behalf of Dalziel, which is a smart strategy. As former Mayors they can do so with credibility, and talk about how one needs a more unified Council and the role of leadership in that. That leaves Dalziel free to run a more positive campaign, which she needs to do. She should win so long as she is not seen as overly negative.

Buck said she was considering running for councillor, but ruled out the mayoralty and the deputy role.

Under the new law, Mayors appoint the Deputy Mayor – not Council. So, candidates will be asked who their running mate is, so to speak.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said Buck would make a “great councillor”, but said she should avoid political affiliations.

“It would be a shame if she tied herself to one political group.”

Moore said he would be an independent candidate if he stood.

“I am sitting on the side utterly despairing at how pathetic the leadership is. Vicki and I have been sitting weeping into our coffees for the last couple of years.

“We have looked at all our hard work and thought: ‘My God, what’s happening?’ This is not a place for show ponies, it’s a time for carefully thought through strategic thinking.”

As I said, Moore and maybe Buck will be the attack dogs for Dalziel. It is a very clever strategy.

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