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'Special Projects' vote called into question

October 11th, 2012
[by David Armstrong]

The voting is in on how the Community Board should spend its $40,000 targeted rate and surplus, but the question now is: will the board follow the wishes of the residents or choose their own projects?

Last month 118 people responded to the advertised survey placed in the two local papers and on this website to choose up to six special projects to tackle this year - nearly three times the number who responded in a similar exercise last year.

The top six ranked projects and their estimated costings, in order, were:

  1. Contribute to a Litter Cart collection for central Motueka streets ($5,000)
  2. Construct five pram crossings for mobility scooters in central areas of Motueka ($7,500)
  3. Road-mark cycle lanes along Pah Street, Grey Street and Whakarewa Street ($5,000)
  4. Subsidise a series of murals along central High Street ($2,000)
  5. Upgrade the kitchen and supper room of the Motueka Memorial Hall ($10,000)
  6. Construct a pathway linking Talbot Street and Manoy Street ($10,000)

Just missing out, below this list, were a 'Welcome to Motueka' sign at the western entry, a drinking water fountain in High Street, and illumination of the Motueka sign at the southern entry to town; then four other projects.

The survey also provided space for people to make additional suggestions, and 32 were gathered which may be considered for entry into the list for next year.

The results were tabled at the community board's October meeting on Tuesday, with the chairman's recommendation that the top six be approved at an estimated cost of $39,500.

However, two board members said the advertisements made it clear that the board would only be "guided" by the responses, and that the board could then make changes if they wished. Cliff Satherley said that the number of people who entered their preferences was much smaller than the number of people who voted for him in the board elections, so he should represent a wider population and use the survey only as a guide, choosing instead projects which he thought people wanted.

Cr Jack Inglis said he feared some pressure groups with their own special interests may have loaded the responses so the survey could not be trusted to give a true picture.

Board members Mark Chapman and Paul Hawkes were not at the meeting, and the other two board members, Cr Barry Dowler and Cr Eileen Wilkins, indicated the ultimate decision on the choice of projects should be left to the four non-councillor members, but they were happy to express their opinion at a workshop.

Board chairman David Ogilvie warned that if the wishes of those who sent in responses were not followed, those respondents would be justifiably angry and feel their opinions were not being respected. He said the number of responses was pleasingly high compared with other local-body activities in Motueka - in fact, more than the number who made submissions to the Annual Plan.

The board agreed to hold a closed workshop to decide on the project list, and report back to the November board meeting.

Editor's note:
I do not normally "editorialise" in reports from the community board meetings, but feel in this case I must. I am one who sent in a voting form in this survey and some of my preferences did not make the top six. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the community board must have a very strong and logical reason for not accepting the six items on the list as voted.

A large number of Motueka people are apathetic to the work and decisions of the community board and town leaders, so if they don't vote in such a well-organised survey (it was printed four times at a cost of many hundreds of dollars) then they should not complain about the results.

For the people who did send in their preferences, it is an insult to then say their wishes should be treated as guidance only. Ignoring some items on the resulting list seriously risks alienating the shrinking number of people who are prepared to make the effort to make democracy work at a local level.

In my opinion, being elected to council or community board does not entitle a member to then make decisions based on their own preferences, in the process ignoring submissions which they don't like. If they believe the public actually feel differently about some items on the list, then they should have encouraged those people to vote.

And as for people with special interests affecting the voting, well that's how democracy works! That is precisely the mechanism through which things get done in a democratic society. Those who are interested vote, and then we all expect that the winning results actually happen, not over-ruled by someone in authority who thinks the people voted wrongly.

Motueka Online will watch the results of this projects workshop closely and report the results.


Comment by Mike Tooker:
[Posted 13 October 2012]

David Armstrong has set out the moral position very clearly. The Community Board should go with the results of their survey. As to the "vested interests" suggestion, could it not be asked whether those members opposed are acting in a like manner?

Comment by Harald Laarakker:
[Posted 14 October 2012]

Clearly I can see something alarming happening within the "community"! We are NOT a community. We have people and we have a board with an agenda. Do I understand correctly that council members are also community board members? This issue is an example of when conflict of interest becomes clear. We are lucky to see this on this occasion.

How can the community board over rule the choice of their people? Naturally the board asked for guidance from the people! That gives them the right to do what they want after seeking your guidance. Now we should say "Thank you"! What NOW?

Yes, the board will have a closed meeting (workshop). Why closed? We would love to be present! We don't want the minutes. That makes it too easy to leave things out. We know how that goes!

I would also like to request to see all 118 voting forms! This is a right by the way! Who else feels unheard and unfelt in this town? Time for change!!!

Comment by Ian Ramsden:
[Posted 14 October 2012]

Why is the Community Board only being "guided" on how to spend the money? A referendum was put to the people of Motueka on how best to spend the money on projects that will affect the people living here. The people voted, but it seems that the Community Board (along with, it seems, influence from the council) has its own agenda on how to best spend the money.

Why indeed is the meeting closed? The referendum on how to best spend the money was public, so should the meeting be.

Comment by James Edwards:
[Posted 25 October 2012]

While it is true that in the community board's advertising for the Special Votes on how to spend its funds explicitly stated that the Board's decision would be "guided" by the votes, I am very disappointed that they will be failing to follow through with the promise of truly engaging residents in the democratic process.

It is not often in our modern society where power is increasing consolidated in fewer hands and further removed from the people, it only becomes more rare that citizens are able to be involved in making decisions that affect their communities.

To put the community board decisions to a vote and then saying that members of the board will only be guided by the votes is both condescending to those who made the effort to vote and makes a mockery of the democratic process. This will only lead to the disengagement of citizens and greater political apathy amoungst the public, who due to the disempowering nature of modern politics are already apathetic to the extent large sections of society don't even vote or know who their elected representatives are.

Perhaps that is the intent of some people in positions of power. A disengaged public is a public who is less likely to interference in the political process and the agenda of those in power.

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