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Council overrides local opinion on playgrounds

September 14th, 2011
[by David Armstrong]

Tasman District Council has declined a key opportunity to work cooperatively with the Motueka Community Board, choosing a report of its own staff over the recommendation of the board with regard to upgrading playground equipment.

Board chairman David Ogilvie, a dogged advocate of allowing community boards to have a greater say in community facilities, said although it was within council's rights to choose its own solutions over those requested by residents through their community board, it was acutely disappointing that the board's wishes were voted down.

The issue, which was decided at the council committee meeting last Thursday, was about money allocated to improvements to three of Motueka's playgrounds, including those in Memorial Park and Decks Reserve. At its August meeting the community board unanimously voted to request that council structure the funds available so that major upgrade work at Decks Reserve was the main priority, the Memorial Park equipment needing only minor work.

Over a string of emails between David and council staff, in particular Reserves manager Beryl Wilkes and Community Services manager Lloyd Kennedy, it became apparent over the past few weeks that council staff were determined that work on the Memorial Park playground was of higher priority, contrary to the community board's wishes.

At the council meeting last week, Motueka ward councillors Barry Dowler and Eileen Wilkins spoke for the community board's recommendation, but in the end the recommendation of the council staff - to treat as more urgent the upgrade of the Memorial Park playground equipment - was passed with no dissenters.

"It's democracy of course," David told Motueka Online. "But it was disappointing that it was the first of the community board making quite a strong recommendation countering the staff recommendation. And despite all the talk about collaboration and partnership, cooperation and coordination and being nice and kind to the community board, they rejected our recommendation.

Council has been touting its new-found desire to delegate more authority to community boards, given the possibility that amalgamation would enforce new community powers, but this decision throws a shadow over the genuineness of this regime. "I was also disappointed that Richard, the Mayor, who was there didn't even take part on the debate," David said.

"He could have said, here is an opportunity where we have a staff recommendation and a community board recommendation; let's go with the local community's responses. But he didn't. That's more disappointing to me than the actual response."

Under delegations proposed by the Local Government Commission for an amalgamated unitary council, the community board would probably have the power to instruct as to the priority for spending the funds available, David believed.

Beryl Wilkes said the Decks Reserve work requested will be done in the next financial year, subject to funding and public consultation, though reliance on the latter concept does seem rather weak in the light of last week's events.


Comment by Joe Bell:
[Posted 18 September 2011]

This issue highlights the general misunderstanding as to what actually constitutes 'democracy'. The principal Definition of 'Democracy' is "government of the people or their elected representatives". The definition says nothing about 'majority rule' with winners and losers.

The best decisions are those made through consensus by representatives as close to the individual as possible. In Motueka and Golden Bay, Community Boards provide this 'closeness'. In this case, on the information in the article, the Community Board recommendation should have been adopted.

As in so many instances, the Council has allowed itself to become a rubber stamp for staff recommendations. This is not 'Democracy'. The attached cartoons from Paul Wylie's 2007 presentation to the Society of Local Government Managers speak volumes. Link to presentation here.


Comment by Lloyd Kennedy, Council's Community Services Manager:
[Posted 20 September 2011]

Unfortunately this issue has not been well reported and did not provide any reasons for the decision made by the Community Services Committee resulting in the somewhat misleading headline. This has lead to some diverse opinions on what occurred at the meeting, a meeting that was constructive and displayed the good relationship shared between the Council and Community Board.

The Motueka Community Board has requested that the Decks Reserve play equipment be upgraded, subject to a plan being acceptable to the Community Board, to a maximum cost of $75,000 and also that play equipment at the Ledger Avenue Reserve be replaced, subject to a plan being acceptable to the Community Board, to a maximum cost of $20,000.

The staff report to the Community Services Committee advised that the audit of all Council playgrounds by a qualified playground auditor had prioritised what work was required. This highlighted the need to replace the Memorial Park playground as a higher priority than the Decks Reserve playground. Staff also agreed with the Board's recommendation to replace the Ledger Avenue Reserve equipment as a priority.

What staff recommended that was agreed to by the Community Services Committee was:

  1. The Ledger Avenue Reserve equipment be placed at a cost of $20,000.
  2. The Memorial Park playground be ungraded to meet the NZ Standards for playgrounds, as recommended by the independent auditor, at a cost of up to $40,000.
  3. Staff undertake community consultation on the replacement of the Decks Reserve playground with plans and costings being completed by March/April 2012. This consultation with school children is necessary to ensure they have a full say in the equipment provided. $43,000 would be available for this work and any extra funds required could be sourced from other projects or the work spread over two financial years.

As can be seen from the above, staff and the Community Services Committee have agreed to the Board's requests but have changed the order of works to provide time for the necessary public consultation on the Decks Reserve playground.

This is not "overriding local opinion" but providing the correct way forward to ensure proper public consultation and at the same time replacing equipment highlighted in the audit report as requiring urgent attention.

Comment by Malcolm Garrett:
[Posted 25 September 2011]

It is indeed a pity that Lloyd Kennedy's summary of the reasons for the decisions taken regarding playground upgrades was not made available at the time of the original article being published. It is shown in his summary that, logically, the steps recommended to the Board are largely what the MCB would have wished to eventuate.

It is a pity that the auditing process, which had obviously taken place already, had not been communicated to the MCB. That would have provided valuable information to the local Board members when making their recommendations. That points up the ongoing issue with "Tails wagging dogs"! Proper informed consent regarding processes would have removed any perceived injustice. Timing is the only issue. With goodwill on all sides, I am sure that playgrounds upgrades will proceed - eventually!

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