Have you been enjoying all the coverage council incumbents and nominees have been getting this month? What they claim to have done, or want to do?

I'd suggest you enjoy it while it lasts. Because for some it will be the most you hear from them for the next three years.

We seldom publicly hear from our councillors in Napier - edicts are typically issued by the mayor or chief executive. You can easily, and readily do, forget they exist, until election times like now.

Maybe it has something to do with a Massey University study Hawke's Bay Today reported on a couple years ago that appeared to indicate Napier's elected councillors were effectively gagged by the council's Code of Conduct.

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In the article Mayor Dalton challenged these findings, saying "I actually encourage all my councillors to speak out about issues".

Ironically no councillors had their say in the article.

Napier City Council's "Elected Members Code of Conduct" ("EMCC") does indeed appear to strip our elected members of some rights including the ability to publicly criticise other councillors or council staff and limits who can say what to whom. Thus the "We're all one big, happy family" visage of recent years that receives wide community scepticism.

Or, more horrifyingly, imagine if they all did in fact willingly agree with and vote to support fiascos like the Deco Buses and MTG construction!

The latest "gagging" incarnation of Napier's EMCC has been around since 2004 where it was introduced to silence squabbling councillors who regularly battled over issues in local media.

Mayor Dalton said since then "there has been absolutely no need for the code of conduct to even be looked at."

This EMCC is "reviewed and confirmed at each triennium by local councils" - you would expect it coincides with three-yearly local body elections.

So wouldn't you think at least some councillors would have queried or tried to change or abolish this "gagging" clause over the past 12 years / four elections?

This council term coming to an end saw the biggest number of new councillors for over a decade and the biggest chance of changes but, alas, nothing.

Silence remains.

So why hasn't the "gagging" EMCC been changed or challenged since 2004?

In the lead up to this year's nominations I came across something else that could appear to severely limit councillors' abilities:

The 2016 Napier City Council Candidate Handbook printed the declaration Napier's councillors have to agree to before taking office - that they will "Perform in the best interests of Napier City Council".
Not for the public or ratepayers of Napier, but Napier City Council - the local authority!

Very odd.

I investigated further and found Schedule Seven, Section 14 of the 2002 Local Government Act, which had the boiler plate for such declarations.

Napier's declaration does indeed appear different. Whilst the Local Government Act's declaration states councillors will "Perform in the best interests of [Region or District]" VIA their "[local Authority]", Napier's rather clearly seems to imply councillors' main loyalty is to, well, the council!

"Autorit├Ąt ├╝ber alle"?

So who is in control here?

Along with "unanimously supported" Deco Bus and MTG horror stories, NCC now looks intent on building a velodrome, with their avid cyclist CEO leading the peloton.

I didn't vote for the CEO. No member of the public can.

Recent coverage shows the majority of Napier ratepayers don't want a velodrome, they would prefer public swimming pools, as our city of over 60,000 currently has only one.

Here we have a problem.

If it is in fact unelected staff, rather than councillors, leading the charge or in control of major council ventures and they go pear-shaped at the ratepayers' expense, like the aforementioned buses and museum, or unfolding Napier Skating Club travesties, we can't vote out the council staff responsible for such high-jinks.

However, we can (but for some unknown, highly irrational reasons didn't) vote out the councillors who (apparently) supported them.

This sounds very much like one of the many downsides of privatising council owned assets that NCC is rallying against in recent Local Government NZ reforms.

So when the election results are announced in October which Napier City councillors will truly stand up for those who supported and elected them, rather than senior council management and finally challenge and change this "gagging" EMCC and the misguided allegiance of the Councillor Declaration?

Or will Napier ratepayers suffer through another three years of silence and undemocratic decision making?

Vox Populi!

Napier voters deserve better!

# Andrew Frame is Napier-based blogger. http://www.napierinframe.co.nz.
Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz