Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.


Moving forward together

Thursday 14 September 2017

Working as a team

It shouldn't come as a surprise that people take a keen interest in how their council performs. Local authorities provide a range of vital services every day that we simply cannot live without. Not surprisingly, they are complex organisations and ensuring they run smoothly is a complicated balancing act.

On the one hand, you have the elected members or politicians - the Mayor, councillors and community board members. We are accountable to you, the residents and ratepayers. It is our job to manage the relationship between you and the council, bring your views to the table and consider them in our decision-making. In any district, there are many different points of view, competing needs and numerous priorities, so governance is not simple or easy.

Elected members are also responsible for setting the Council's strategic direction. We determine the programme of work the organisation will deliver and how it will fund this work. Council management and staff are tasked with delivering this work programme while ensuring that the Council operates within approved budgets and fulfils its statutory obligations.

Staff also have specialist knowledge and technical skills without which elected members couldn't govern effectively. A Council project that exemplifies this convergence is the Long Term Plan which outlines what the Council plans to do over a 10-year period.

Elected members determine the Council's strategic priorities and develop options for communities to provide feedback on. Staff guide us through the process, doing the number crunching and ensuring the plan meets Audit New Zealand requirements.

Elected members alone can't produce a Long Term Plan, but nor can staff without political direction. Getting these two wings of the Council to work together effectively is a complex and nuanced exercise, but I think we are getting the balance right.

Of course, there will be times when elected members need to raise issues on behalf of residents and ratepayers who feel they haven't received a fair deal or good service from staff. We have every right to do this. However, we should not be tasking staff on operational matters, so we have implemented a system to ensure that we raise these issues with the Chief Executive in the first instance.

I am a big supporter and user of this system which is already delivering outcomes that represent good local government practice. Councils are also more successful if their elected members are a cohesive group. There are probably few local authorities in the world where this happens consistently. There will always be differences of opinion and misunderstandings caused by different personalities with different agendas.

That is to be expected in any large organisation or situations where people from diverse backgrounds are tasked with working together to achieve common goals. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't stop trying to work as a team. It is the oath we take when we are sworn in as councillors and it is the only way we will move forward as a Council and a district.



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