Fireworks Actual and Inevitable As Local Boards Meet

Posted by on Dec 18, 2010 | 1 Comment

The Devonport - Takapuna Board, as seen from space. Comet "O'Connor can be seen in the foreground on its approach to the sun

The Devonport - Takapuna Board, as seen from space. Comet "O'Connor can be seen in the foreground on its approach to the sun

Well, drama might be a bit over the top, but in any case, one of the councillors – Vivienne Keohane – upset at not being awarded the portfolios she wanted, swore at the Chair Lindsay Waugh, and was promptly ejected from the meeting.

This was at the first meeting of the newly formed Kaipatiki Board – Devonport-Takapuna’s northern neighbour since the formation of the Auckland council, and if initial indications are anything to go by, marks the beginning of a tumultuous term.

By contrast, the first meeting of the Devonport-Takapuna Board (DTB) was spectacularly uncontroversial. In fact, there was a moment during the meeting when The Speculator wondered if every Board could possibly operate as smoothly as the DTB. At that moment The Speculator’s thoughts actually turned to Kaipatiki and whether the machinery of government would be as smooth there as that being conducted under the hand of DTB Chair Chris Darby. Clearly not.

While the meeting itself was largely uneventful, there was still a lot to observe and to learn about how things will operate in the new model. And believe me, this will be important to understand, because the CCOs (council controlled organisations) are big, faceless bureaucracies whose behaviour the DTB and its attendant council officials will need to control and account for.

The system is actually pretty simple, and The Speculator’s initial impression is that the key senior posts are held by people who know what they are doing.

It is clear Chris Darby has been genetically designed to be a Chairman; smart, familiar with all the issues, process driven and prepared to refer to his officials when appropriate, but with enough of a sense of fair play to bend the rules a little when necessary.

Darby’s key official is Christine Watson; her official title is Relationship Manager for the DTB. Watson is the most senior council official present at the meetings, and sits next to Darby, guiding him through the minutiae of the new system.

Watson clearly knows her stuff and unlike the classic stereotype of a council official, has a sense of dynamism. She has a team that is spread across the CCOs,  and with a single glance from the top table they can be activated to deep dive into their respective CCOs to provide information as required.

The Board also has two council officials appointed as advisors – Richard Court and Casandra Smith – who support the Board on a day to day basis and prepare the paperwork for the Board meetings.

An immediate impression is made of a Board that is more closely supported and that works more intimately with the council than the old community boards. Moreover, the council officials are organised in a way that seems to make them more oriented to support the Boards. It is of course, still early days.

So where are the potential problems? Unquestionably buried within the CCOs; huge organisations filled with hundreds of officials managing multiple relationships with contractors and suppliers, and whose activities can be hard to account for.

During the public session of the meeting, a couple of residents spoke of disinterested contractors following the senseless instructions of invisible officials. The extent to which the Board’s advisers and Watson’s team can identify and control these officials will be key to the successful implementation of the Board’s strategies.

And so to the Board. The dynamic among the six members is obvious. If one were to use the solar system as a metaphor, one could say that Darby, Dianne Hale, Jo Bergin and Kevin Schwass all form the sun.

If one were to stretch the metaphor, one could depict Darby as the hot but stable inner core of the sun, with Dianne Hale forming the outer core or radiative zone that absorbs some of the inner core’s heat, thus preventing too much escaping. Schwass is the colourful, outer photosphere and Joe Bergin a large solar prominence, eventually to escape the sun’s gravity to crash into the Earth’s atmosphere with unknown consequences.

These four will work together extremely well; Darby and Hale the seasoned politicians, Schwass the deceptively laconic business veteran and young Jo Bergin, still at school and already sounding like a government minister.

Around the sun orbit two celestial bodies.

One of these bodies – Mike Cohen – could be likened to one of our solar system’s inner planets – Mercury perhaps. Trapped by the irresistible gravitational pull of the sun, Planet Cohen maintains a close, high speed orbit around the sun, completing an energetic orbit every few hours, during which it is able to view the sun from close range and from all angles.  Its proximity to the sun ensures it remains hot, and it will occasionally vent large plumes of its molten inner core in the direction of the sun, while appearing quite cool on its surface.

The second celestial body – Jan O’Connor – bears a remarkable metaphorical resemblance to Halley’s Comet. On a completely different elliptical plane to the rest of the solar system, Halley’s comet spends half its time with its tail blazing, charging recklessly towards the sun at enormous speed, until it is caught by the sun’s gravity and flung back out into deep space on a long orbit that takes it out almost as far as Pluto. Consequently, it spends the other half of its time charging away from the sun, leaving a tell-tale trail of fire behind it, before once again succumbing to the sun’s gravitational grasp and beginning its return journey for another heated fly-past, conducted at close proximity.

However, all three components are critical to the democratic credentials of the Board. Jan can be obstreperous.  She can be stubborn. She can get off the subject and her arguments can be badly constructed. But she occasionally asks excellent questions. Like the Shakespearian fool, she can unsettle the comfortable discourse of any prevailing discussion with an untimely intervention.

Mike Cohen is a natural polemicist. He will test every decision and drag out every discussion until he is happy nothing has remain undiscussed, unconsidered or been secreted away. There was a moment when we both reacted instantaneously to a comment that sounded like potential favouritism. Ten minutes later, Mike put down his knife, surveyed the entrails of the issue and declared himself satisfied nothing whiffed within.

While this meeting was civilised, there will unquestionably be fireworks during the next three years. However, The Speculator suspects that this Board has the potential to achieve a great deal.

Apart from a discussion on measures to be adopted at Quarry Lake to prevent further drownings, there was nothing too controversial discussed at this meeting, although Jo Bergin demonstrated a certain amount of naivety in not seeing the point of having board meetings scheduled in Devonport. However, common sense prevailed, and all communities represented by the DTB will have the opportunity to host several board meetings over the next three years.

2011 will be an interesting year.

1 comment

  1. Ruth says:

    I like the statement “disinterested contractors following the senseless instructions of invisible officials”.

    It brought to mind the stripping of flower beds in many parts of NS BEFORE the flowers have fully opened. When asked why this senseless (and expensive) destruction was taking place, the “disinterested contractors” said they were only following the senseless instructions of their invisible officials”. They do it twice a year on certain pre-planned dates, irrespective of the need.

    Watch out for these days. You can stock your garden with great plants – if you can beat the contractors from tossing them into the back of their rubbish trucks.

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