Christchurch City Council tensions

Lois Cairns at The Press reported:

Simmering tensions between some Christchurch City councillors and senior staff are hindering the city’s ability to make progress on key issues, insiders say. …

Cr Barry Corbett, who is not seeking re-election in October, said some councillors engaged in political point scoring which was destroying relationships within the council and hindering progress on key issues.

“Some councillors, when they wake up in the morning, all they think about is how they can stick it to the council, how can they embarrass Bob [Parker], and how they can make sure that National doesn’t get elected next year,” Corbett said.

If they had issues with staff, they tended to raise them in a public forum rather than approach them directly.

Naturally, that created tension because staff felt they were being “hung out to dry”.

Asked if he felt the tensions between staff and councillors hampered the council’s ability to make progress on key issues, Corbett responded: “Heck, yeah.”

This is one of the weaknesses of the Council model. It works pretty well in smaller areas where there are not party politics. But party politics has infested the larger city councils and you get Councillors who are more interested in bad publicity for others than making the Council work well.

We solve this issue at national level by having the Government separate to and accountable to Parliament. Not all MPs are Ministers. We have an Opposition who don’t actually have to work with Government staff until they are in Government themselves. Their job is to oppose and scrutinise and propose alternatives – but not to govern.

At the Council level, all Councillors are Governors. They all sit on committees that make decisions and all have an equal vote at the Council. There is no Cabinet or Ministers. So when some Councillors have an agenda of trying to screw over others, of course you get dysfunctional.

As I said, I think the Council model works well for smaller authorities. It works less well when you have party politics. So one solution there may be to recognise the reality and move Councils to more of a parliamentary model. This means more executive powers to the Mayor and Councillors picked by the Mayor to chair committees. The other Councillors can then focus on scrutinising the executive Councillors, holding them to account, approving bylaws and budgets. And at electon time they can campaign as a team for a change to their team.

I prefer the model where there is no party politics, and Councillors focus more of the wellbeing of the Council, not their political interests. But the bigger you get the more inevitable it is you get the “necessary evil” of party politics. And party politics allows voters a clear choice. But if you have party politics then you need an executive and an opposition as we have in Parliament.

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