Two councillors have voiced their discontent about the new governance structure of Whakatāne District Council, one about the time it has taken to organise and another about his lack of a chairmanship of a committee.
At the first ordinary meeting of the council on Thursday, the mayor, Dr Victor Luca, revealed the committees, subcommittees and delegations to those committees.
Nandor Tanczos expressed his “frustration and disappointment” at how long the process had taken – two months after the election in October.
“Frankly, it’s been a bit of a shambles,” he said.
Councillor Andrew Iles, who has been a councillor for five terms and deputy mayor for the past three years, expressed to Local Democracy Reporting after the meeting that he was unhappy not to have been made a chairman of a committee.
Iles has been made deputy chairman of the infrastructure and planning committee.
“I feel like I’ve been shafted,” he said.
Luca said he had taken the opportunity offered by the new triennium to initiate some change for what he considered to be good reasons.
“In this fast-changing world we are facing some existential threats from climate change and environmental ecosystem degradation, loss of biodiversity and so forth. These are all things that are caused by us humans. There is also a clear need to transform our energy, manufacturing and agricultural systems so that our greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to zero as fast as possible.
“The council has already made some progress in addressing these issues but there is still much to do. I have created a specific environment, energy and resilience committee which we hope to eventually involve one of the councillors from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
“We’re also experiencing serious infrastructure and funding challenges going forward and the committee structure has been set up with this in mind. Changes have an additional focus on environment, finance and health and community resilience.”
He accepts the changes have taken a lot of additional time.
“I feel that we have used an open and robust process and I sincerely hope the delay in setting up the governance structure will result in further improvements in the way we operate and the quality of the decisions we make.”
Among other changes, Luca said he had restructured the committee structure from a procedural model to one that is topic based.
“The names of the committees, at a glance, tell the community what the committees are about, what they are set up to deal with, what their functions are.
Tanczos said he felt the changes were unnecessary.
“Mayor Luca, you cancelled our first council meeting last month, because you did not have a committee structure to put in place. Actually, you did. We already had a well-developed and effective committee structure from last term. Councillors had regularly commented on how well it was working. Almost all councillors this term told you, when asked, that you should keep it.”
He said Luca had never explained adequately what was wrong with the old structure.
“So, for the last month, staff time has been tied up trying to figure out how to make your idea work, while councillors twiddled our thumbs because there were no committees. At a time when we face huge amounts of work, grappling with the biggest local government reforms in a generation, massive inflation and cost hikes, significant capital works to get through, and a rapidly growing population that needs somewhere to live.”
Tanczos said due to the summer break, committees would now not meet until February.
“So, we’ll be four months into the term before we can even get started. And for what? I can see nothing in this proposal that looks like it might improve the performance or focus of our standing committees. It’s kind of the same as what we had anyway, just a bit more clunky.”
Councillor Julie Jukes questioned the remuneration package indicated for councillors, asking whether the additional amounts allocated for chairperson and deputy chairperson positions represented the correct share of the financial pool allocated by the Remuneration Authority, given that councillors had not received remuneration for these positions for the previous two months.
“We’ve all been on a significantly lower rate of pay because we haven’t had a committee structure,” Jukes said. “I just wondered if there was more in the pool.”
A report stated councillors would receive a further $2125 for a deputy chair position on top of their $44,000 base rate and a further $11,300 for a chairperson position, however, these are not paid until they are officially appointed to these positions, leaving two months’ worth of the allocated remuneration left undistributed.
Staff agreed to look into the issue.