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TDC seeks more 'community engagement'

July 8th, 2012
[by David Armstrong]

Tasman District Council is looking for more local involvement in decision making by asking the Motueka Community Board to become a "significant stakeholder within the Council-led Community Engagement project".

A proposal report has been sent to the community board to be tabled at its July meeting on Tuesday, seeking the board's agreement to take part in the project, which will be run by the council's Communications Subcommittee.

Sources close to the council believe that the new drive to recognise the benefits of community engagement is related to the arrival a few months ago of TDC's new chief executive Lindsay McKenzie, who has notable been attending many of the council meetings at various levels, including the June meeting of our community board.

The proposal report says that although the council accepts its statutory requirement to consult with its communities, it acknowledges that this minimum requirement "is not enough if we wish to engage with the Tasman communities, provide direction to our staff and recognise the benefits of community engagement".

It says the Motueka Community Board [and the Golden Bay board also] "fulfils a role as the link between the Motueka community and the Council as well as enabling governance decisions at local level".

"It is envisaged the board will be able to provide valuable insight as to how the community engagement could be enhanced and the project team will look to them as significant stakeholders within the project."

The report will likely have its sceptics, as is gives few specifics on how the extra engagement will take place and how its results may be implemented. However, following the decision by the previous CEO last year to give extra delegations to the community board, which seemed to be a defensive tactic against amalgamation and did not seem to lead to much in the way of tangible results, this new move may well provide a pathway to give the community board more responsibilities and powers.

The report acknowledges that "the recent amalgamation debate has given rise to a greater scrutiny of the Council's actions and decisions and provided a greater number of residents with reason to engage or seek a higher level of, and greater opportunity for, engagement in the decision-making process".

The project will "identify the appropriate policies and practices to support the obligations required by the changes above". Among its outputs will be "a policy on community engagement and clear guidelines to the organisations and the community as to the philosophy and tools the Council will utilise when engaging with Tasman communities".

In other words, it's time to modify the culture of council staff, formalise rules and gain a clearer understanding of how we work together and use channels of communication.


Comment by Malcolm Garrett:
[Posted 14 July 2012]

It is worth noting that our new CEO has come from Southland, where community involvement in decision-making has become standard practice for many years. I served on a community board there and was astounded to learn of the minimal authority devolved to our Motueka Board on arrival here ten years ago.

Very little changed during that time, until just recently it seems. Budgetary autonomy over local affairs is a must, and results in much better decision-making, especially when it comes to "owning" the results, even if they sometimes misfire, as they will do at times.

There is little doubt that the widespread nature of the TDC area is paralleled in the Southland District Council area, the difference being that here there are only two Community Boards, mirroring the once autonomous Golden Bay and Mouteka Borough Councils, whereas in Southland, community boards reflect communities of interest, and are far greater in number.

I was shocked to learn that the TDC once attempted to do away with CBs altogether in favour of centralised decision making. Action on such matters as the local Town hall facilities would be expedited if the CB were the ones to initiate moves on upgrading the sad facilities provided there, rather than having to make special submissions on the subject.

The local budgeting needs to be administered by the local Community Board in each case, and CBs need to be set up in such areas as Tapawera and Murchison to carry out this work. Is there a budget for administering the Hall? Why not hand the spending of that to the CB?

Comment by John Kelly:
[Posted 22 July 2012]

The TDC asking the Motueka Community Board to become a "significant stakeholder within the Council-led Community Engagement project" sure appears to be another case of make-work for the denizens of Queen Street, in particular the council's "Communications Subcommittee".

Why in heaven's name does the MCB need to be formally dubbed a "stakeholder" in community engagement - they're elected by the community to do just that! Chris Choat, the Council's Communications Advisor, while firing off an array of inclusive buzz words from the bureaucratic lexicon (engagement, expectation, culture, processes, policies, meetings, reports) freely admits that it is hard to nail down specifics of what this will mean; "it's more about developing a culture [of engagement] than just setting up processes". Basically, "Let's talk about how to talk" (See also this later story.)

The short translation seems to be that the TDC will continue to do as they like while this unnecessary exercise takes place. The Board is clearly aware of this delaying tactic as they point out that there are ongoing projects that need community-led discussion now.

The TDC simply needs to really act upon the delegations that have been endlessly discussed, not open another set of workshops and meetings (at what cost to ratepayers please?). The MCB and TDC are not strangers. It's sad that the council claims to need all this process to simply open honest, intelligent dialogue.

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