Last week I sat at the end of the Christchurch City Council table and made a submission on the Long-Term Plan. When I presented there was a full attendance of Councillors. It was toward the end of the process, and they were impressively attentive. I had sat through this exercise 15 times and it can be very draining. It can also be very enlightening.
I was initially annoyed when informed that individuals were granted three minutes, and groups five. This appeared to be a really truncated exercise. Then I reflected that last year the Mayor and Councillors had engaged a small group of five of us to take a hard look at the CCC finances. It was the third time I had been involved in this exercise. We were called the External Advisory Group (EAG). We had considerable time to consider the finances but had had no impact on the LTP either.
Here is the first portion of the EAG’s report to Councillors which explains what our task was:
The External Advisory Group (EAG) was formed by the Christchurch City Council (CCC) to provide independent, objective and evidence-based advice, drawing on our personal expertise to assist the Mayor and Councillors in the development of the CCC Long Term Plan 2021 (LTP).
For months we deliberated over CCC finances. The then new CEO, Dawn Baxendale, assigned an excellent CCC team to support us. The group undertaking the EAG were very carefully chosen from a wide range of disciplines and experiences.
We met fortnightly for months and each member of the EAG was assigned a portfolio which aligned with the CCC structure. The CEO and the Chair and the Deputy Chair of the Finance Committee were in attendance at almost all of our deliberations. Our meetings were open to any elected Councillor to attend as an observer.
The EAG reported twice with progress reports to the full Council. As per our Terms of Reference we submitted our final report on the 8th of October 2020. The CEO, who as I have stated above had been at all of our meeting’s bar one, was requested to supply a response to a report which was extremely hard hitting about sections of the CCC by 30 November.
When I appeared before the elected reps this week, I pointed out that the CEO had still not submitted this response 6 months late.
The Council has one employee it appoints. The CEO. It worries me that the last CEO failed to respond to the previous EAG, and this one has done precisely the same.
This has made me reflect on the responsibility of executives to be accountable to the requests of their elected bosses. Too often elected reps get distracted with massive reports which should probably be decided by executive leadership teams. They then too often get buried in trivia which they shouldn’t be involved in. Important documents such as was produced by the External Advisory Group, which was a decision made by the elected Council and not the executive, get side-lined.
It is important that our City reps aspire to a high level of governance. The executive must also raise its game. I’m undecided about the new corporate restructure which has been implemented, or those who have been installed in office. But that’s what our elected reps have to work with.
My challenge to the elected reps is for them to drive the EAG report. We made 30 separate recommendations. Some of these were minor and some were significant. In some places we recommended complete restructuring of services.
It is essential that the executive be expected to report to the elected reps’ line by line on the EAG recommendations. None of them were a surprise for the CEO as she sat in on all the deliberations and had a chance to comment to us on the way through. On some of the recommendations the CEO appeared to feel more strongly about some of the actions than the EAG members did themselves.
The EAG cost the ratepayers of Christchurch $95K. Unless all of the carefully thought through recommendations are considered by the body which appointed us, the Mayor and Councillors, then this has been a waste of time, again.
In this week’s notes we are considering the unnecessary water reforms. We also have more information on just what happened to the CDHB and the dangerous centralisation which broke apart an institution which just wasn’t liked by the Ministry of Health. We look at the Prison service and print an email from one of the Tuesday Club team who spent time in prison.
We have also written about how the elected reps seem to be undisciplined toward CCHL governance and that the executive and Boards of CCHL companies need to be more imaginative and less risk averse in their practice.
We also print a wonderful email David Shepherd has written about the loss of fertile soils around our Cities.