I read back on my musings about Tauranga City Council a little more than year ago with some irony. I had criticised the Council in playing its role, on its accountability and the responsibility of elected City Councillors. I was what I will now call "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" about the difference I would be able to quickly make to the City of Tauranga.
See, I had believed, like most ratepayers also believe, that the elected members made all the decisions and basically ran the city.
When I had decided to put my name up for the local body elections in 2010, I had observed:
- A lot of in-fighting within the Councillors. This was well-publicised, disruptive to activities and takes away the focus on the real issues affecting the city;
- No accountability at staff levels, a frustrating situation to the ratepayers and the same people who pay their salaries;
- Common and frequent use of expensive external consultants, presumably to avoid direct accountability;
- A very negative perception of Council services and relationships;
- An out-of-control debt; and
- Rate increases that were far too high especially in the preceding 3 years.
My first 6 months as a Councillor was difficult and extremely frustrating. I don't expect it to be any different going forward. And being the person that I am, that I am known to be, I have found the negativity hard to accept. In fact, I could not in the beginning, believe what I was seeing and hearing.
I had quickly learnt what many ratepayers, including myself, did not know. As much as we all want to, the City Councillors do not make the daily decisions and we far from run the city. Our role is only to set policies and direction. The CEO and his appointed staff make the decisions and run the city according to our set directions and within those set policies. The infuriating problem however is that sometimes the direction and policies are not (intentionally or unintentionally) interpreted by staff as we mean.
What has been incredibly hard to deal with and has frustrated me to no end is that elected members have no say nor can we interfere with those decisions or how the city is run. And as though that isn't tough enough, I am but only 1 vote out of 11 elected members when it comes to Council decisions.
In my early days in Council, I had often been forceful trying to get answers from staff. Apparently, withholding information or selective presentation of information to Councillors is acceptable. You know what? It is not acceptable to this Councillor. I am appalled that we are led to make decisions based on incomplete information.
I was once called into the Mayor's office and told I had over-stepped my "delegated authority". Truth is, I learnt that Elected Members practically had none...delegated authority, that is. Even after a year, I am still often left dumbfounded how our hands are tied and at some of the ongoings within the City Council.
My "renowned" determination, persistence and enthusiasm did not change a thing. In fact, those things about me probably got me into more trouble than otherwise. I was at several points accused of harrassment. In this organisation, gone was the praise I often get for being passionate about making a difference.
With that said, I want people to know that I haven't stopped trying. I am incredibly frustrated, sometimes even tired of it all but every day is a new day and I am not giving up.