Let communities decide council priorities

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11/09/2012 12:00:00 a.m.

Chief Executive Peter Guerin's 'Council Talk' column from today's Daily Post.
 
A key element of central government’s draft legislation to reform local government doesn't have the support of this council, and has also failed to gain support from any other council in the country.
 
This is the threat to remove the four existing cornerstones of local government activity - cornerstones that have served communities well for many years now.

These are the so-called “well-beings”, ie economic, environmental, cultural and social well-being, that underpin everything we do for our community.
 
At the recent Local Government New Zealand annual conference councils voted unanimously to reject government plans to dump the four well-beings from legislation.
 
In our view their removal from the Local Government Act would potentially take away from local communities some of the power of citizens to tell councils what activities they want undertaken.
 
This year RDC is making a major commitment to programmes that assist our business community and help stimulate economic growth. Through our Long-term Plan consultation process we received a strong mandate for going down this path. But under the government's proposed changes to the Act the level of focus we would be permitted to give to activities that contribute to the economic well-being of our community becomes uncertain.
 
In Rotorua's case the four well-beings have led to the development of a set of important community outcomes, or aspirations if you like, that Rotorua people want for their communities. Top of this list is to be a safe and caring community. It means the people of Rotorua are currently driving the direction their council takes, not Wellington-based politicians.
 
The government’s proposals appear to be something of a knee-jerk reaction to a small number of issues in a handful of councils around New Zealand. But the vast majority of councils are actually in very good shape, including Rotorua District Council. Legislative changes being promoted should have been preceded by in-depth evidence-based research.
 
So while the minister of local government says councils should be able to continue doing most of the things they currently do, the question is, “why change something that’s already working well?”.
 
Recently Mayor Kevin Winters joined forces with other Bay of Plenty mayors and the regional council chairman to present a strong and unified front to the government’s select committee hearing submissions on local government reform proposals.
 
Mayor Kevin spoke forcefully against removal of the four existing well-beings from local government legislation. He pointed out the need for communities to be able to tell councils what direction they should take and the levels of emphasis to be given to programmes that support their economic, environmental, cultural and social well-being.
 
Councils are not afraid of local government reform and indeed welcome many of the proposals. We want to work closely with the government to provide good outcomes for our communities. But we also want our communities to retain the right to decide where councils’ main focus should be. That’s local democracy at work.
 
Peter Guerin
RDC Chief Executive
Page reviewed: 11 Sep 2012 12:00am