Nickie Muir: Harmonising on reform

By Nickie Muir

There are days in the North when it feels as if Wayne Brown has grabbed the megaphone off John Farnham during a cover of You're the Voice (try and understand it) and just won't let go.

He's been busy gaining support for local-government restructure. He's made a noise - he's made it clear and he's told anyone who'll listen that finally the Far North has the power to be powerful and that he can make it better.

At a public meeting in Whangarei on restructuring options, senior staff said a unified voice from the North would be advantageous in getting heard in Wellington. One wag wondered how we could do that while ensuring the voice wasn't Wayne Brown's.

Chief executive Mark Simpson explained that this "was not about changing the faces round the table". Which I thought was a shame. In the case of Brown, his leadership has been problematic: the Auditor General and his own council's lawyers have had to spell it out (twice!) that his role as a mayor does not preclude him from paying development contributions, rates or allow him shortcuts to process by using council staff for his own interests. It seems to be a local linguistic peculiarity that a "conflict of interest" is defined as "obstacles that get in the way of my own personal interests" and is, for this reason, a bad thing.

Brown has also become the Far North's international travelling salesman of local resources; an unofficial ambassador for Northland Inc. It is far from certain that he has this mandate as mayor, which makes his position tenuous.

Indeed, his motive for wanting to abolish the Northland Regional Council appears to be that it got in the way of one of his interests once. We have similar issues here at the WDC and it could be argued some of the councillors passed their amuse-by-date two terms ago. Questionable, then, if a change of structure will give better service to the public if the same old boys are back with none of the checks or balances that the regional council provides. Hone Harawira highlighted the historic problem: "The days of a small group of mostly white guys making decisions are over. [Brown] has been surprisingly positive about recognising the new paradigm." Not surprising at all. Not if you've read Brown's book, 5 minute MBA. Rule No1 is: "Always get on with the person with the money." After three major settlements "Maori will become the Far North's most resource-rich entities outside the Crown".

Brown has simply joined the dots. WDC has no formal opinion on a restructure. Officially. Except for the personal support in writing, by the WDC Mayor, deputy Phil Halse and Warwick Syers. To be fair, Mayor Morris only supported the process of the Far North initiating a review of governance. However Brown only needs to be looked at to interpret tacit approval so it's on the supporter list now.

Halse writes, among rugby analogies, of his support, as does Syers, who asks, "Where does the WDC stand?" - which suggests that he is in a position to answer that question. To do so unofficially would be pointless.

He writes of the regional council making a "pre-emptive strike" and is clear in his preference for two unitary authorities. He signs himself: Warwick. Councillor.

Bringing up the baritone: Stan Semenoff. He confirms "that WDC staff such as Paul Dell has been consulted and involved through the journey".

Nice that an ex-mayor stays so involved. So, no official opinion. But the choir is going to appear harmonious from Wellington.

They're the voice - we have to try and understand it and then add ours by the 20th of next month.

- Northern Advocate

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