Power Crazed or Just Crazy? On the Christchurch Building Consent Debacle

July 4, 2013

The on-going disputes surrounding the Christchurch City council raise a number of issues in regards to the limits, duties and care of local government and by inference local government management.  Take the latest debacle to hit the council.  The local council has lost the ability to approve and grant building consents. That in itself is a major issue, however far more interesting is the immediate fallout that has happened as a result.  The Mayor seems to be mystified that such a thing has happened and at first blush appears to be blaming the CEO of the Council for not keeping him or the council informed. Or another way of looking at it is that the Mayor and the Council are admitting that they are poor managers.

The Mayor is reported as saying ”What we are discovering is that apparently significant pieces of information crucial to this organisation functioning in the way that we expect it to function do not seem to have reached the governance team. That’s an appalling situation to find yourself in as a governance body and that’s why we have taken immediate action “

This is an appalling statement, as in one fell swoop the Mayor admits that he and his council have failed to adequately manage the only employee they have.  Since 1989 in all New Zealand Councils, the CEO is the only employee the council have.  The CEO is then the employing authority for all the council officers. The people of Christchurch should be looking towards the failure of the council to effectively offer adequate governance on their behalf.  To blame an employee for the lack of management oversight by their employing agent is doing the employee a gross injustice.   This particular issue is not a sudden event.  There have been murmurings for some time processes within the City Council have been poor.  Whether the citizens of Christchurch swallow this desperate attempt to shed the blame remains to be seen.

This council has of course been operating under the tyranny of Central government for some time.  CERA and the Minister for earthquake recovery have more or less ruled as despots in Christchurch. The minister of course welcomes the suggestion that the government appoint a manager to oversee the consents process. What has happened in Christchurch is a warning for us all. Essentially it would appear that in New Zealand at least, regardless of the local desires of the voting public, central government will move, and move quickly to enforce and ensure that its own ideology will prevail. In this latest episode it is evident that the elected council and the Mayor were either distracted by politics, or simply incapable of providing leadership, direction and governance to the council.

Local politics is clearly under threat in New Zealand.  We have seen the government threaten Christchurch, and Auckland.  We have seen the government ‘suggest’ local governments’ take a particular line in their deliberations.  Perhaps if local government were left to manage local affairs then maybe they would be able to provide the necessary planning, leading, organising and control that is part of their duty to the citizens that elected them, rather than always looking over their shoulder at whether or not central government approved of their actions.

Dr Andrew Cardow


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Welcome to The Other Side of Business. This is a blog that collects and distributes the opinion and analysis of staff and students from the School of Management, College of Business, Massey University. The aim is to post once or twice a month on current issues in business... Read more