The Mayor of Christchurch, Lianne Dalziel, told residents that their under-insured city is a
billion dollars short of what it needs. Eventually, in 2015, the Christchurch City Council (CCC) resolved to sell assets worth $750,000,000. This does not seem a popular decision, though it’s hard to know, as public discussion has been avoided and the numbers haven’t been explained. From the start of her term, in 2013, the incoming Mayor had warned of money trouble and when she commissioned advice, it seemed a sensible thing to do.
She was also helped by the embedded managerial culture that binds local councils. In keeping with the prevailing political mood, which mandates hypocrisy, the Councillors at CCC are said to exist in a “governance” role. They’re supposed to be a board of governors, rubber stamping the decisions of staffers. In a managerial culture the last thing that’s needed is for politicians to represent the views of those who voted for them. Local government seeks to take the politics out of politics by making the Councillors depend on reports from senior (ambitious) bureaucrats, without which nothing can be done.
In Christchurch the pretence had reached absurdity. As is customary when a new Council gathers, the Mayor talked of unity, contrary views being routinely dismissed as evidence of a “dysfunctional culture”. So, official opinion expressed astonishment when six Councillors, elected as The People’s Choice (obviously Labour) proposed moderate and conventional alternatives to the debt hysteria. The other seven councillors had labelled themselves as the inevitable “independents”, as though they were not connected to other groupings like - let’s leap here - National. To take just one current example of the farcical depths of the double standard - in Auckland there is open and (rightly) unremarkable talk that Rightwing Councillors have been planning strategy with John Key himself.
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This article, written by Jeremy Agar, was first published in December 2015 Foreign Control Watchdog.