Democracy and Listening

One of 2021’s major commitments is to provide a strong voice for the people of Christchurch in decision making. Consultation costs money and in order to get value for our rates dollar it is important Council gets it right.

The most obvious problems during the 2004-2007 term – where the Council headed off in the opposite direction to community views – have been:

  • the demolition of Edgeware Pool,
  • roads through City Mall, and
  • the $100m+ Council palace.

But these examples are symbolic of a wider and more fundamental problem. A 2021 Council will fundamentally change the way Council engages with the people of Christchurch. Our consultation will be pro-active, genuine, open, and transparent.

Decision making and listening
The problems
The past term of Council has been characterised by a growing sense that the community has not been listened to and that “consultation” has actually been about ticking boxes to approve pre-determined positions, rather than about genuine engagement:

  • Consultation happens too late in the process.
  • Submissions are asked for on proforma questionnaires.
  • In summaries for councillors, submissions are given equal weight whether from one person or from many.
  • Councillors rarely get to read original submissions.

The 2021 solutions
This is not just a case of some people not liking some decisions. There will always be a variety of perspectives on any one issue – this is healthy in a democracy. The Council’s role is to ensure that the process is fair, that people have the information they need, and are given an opportunity to be heard. There should be a reasonable belief that council actions can change as a result of consultation. We will:

  • Hold regular clinics in Council Service Centres. Many people comment that it far easier to see their local MP than their local Councillor. Councillors need the space and the opportunity to meet with their consituents.
  • Return to standing committees which are under the leadership of a chairperson and are open to the public.
  • Actually follow the Council’s “Decision Making Guidelines”.
  • Consult with key stakeholders early in the process before decisions are made.
  • Reaffirm Councillors’ representation role.

Accessibility and Accountability
The problems
Currently the proceedings of the council are accessible through the published minutes of the Council. This record does not show how individual Councillors voted except in the rare cases where a division is called for, or if one specifically requests that their vote in particular be recorded either as an abstension or as opposed.

The minutes are the sole record of our elected council’s decision making. This is in contrast to Parliament, where a record of the entire debate is recorded, in text, audio, and video. Central to a healthy democracy is an easily accessed voting record to ensure that elected representatives are democratically accountable.

The 2021 solutions
We will:

  • Publish the voting record of councillors and community board members online (both by person and by issue) in an easily accessible format.
  • Record the proceedings of council (initially in an audio format) and make these freely available for the media and the public via the council’s website.
  • Publish all research and consultation findings on the Council’s website to demonstrate how consultation has influenced decision making and service delivery.

The role of community boards
The problems
Many long-serving community board members believe that their role has been sidelined in the last term. Community Boards often face long delays in getting information from Council, they lack staff support to implement decisions, and are regularly excluded from Council decision-making.

The 2021 solutions

  • We are committed to the place of community boards in the governance of the city and will seek to enhance their role
  • We will properly resource community boards and delegate local decision making to them.
  • We will develop more locally-focused mechanisms for consulting and engaging local people

The problems
The current Council has allowed several crucial relationships to break down, such as those with ECan, Maori, young people, and the community and voluntary sector. A variety of voices are currently excluded from Council decision making because of these broken relationships. Increasingly, only a narrow group of stakeholders are heard.

There is also potential for greatly improved communication and co-operation with local MPs and Cabinet Ministers, who have the ability to advocate for Christchurch at a national level.

The 2021 solutions

  • We will hold regular formal meetings with all city MPs, with a sub-committee for government MPs & ministers.
  • We will hold at least 3 formal joint meetings per year with ECan.
  • We wil hold city-wide forums or meetings with other key sections of our community – youth, Maori, Pacific Island, business, multi-ethnic, senior citizens, residents’ associations, the community and voluntary sector.
  • We will consult in partnership with other organisations to avoid “consultation fatigue” on the same issues. Partnerships are increasingly important in the delivery of seamless services across government and private sectors. It therefore makes sense that consultation should also be carried out in partnership with other key stakeholders.

Governance & Management
We will hold a training session in public service governance and management for both staff and Councillors immediately after the election.

Effective use of resources

  • We will ensure greater coordination between Council units, to reduce duplication, reduce over consultation of certain groups and identify those groups that are not being reached, as well as to use resources more effectively.
  • We will develop “e-participation” initiatives.