We had a bit of a doozy last Tuesday at Local Board. If you ever wondered why some politicians are so mistrusted, then take a listen to the audio from last Tuesday’s Business Meeting (starting at 1.04 in the recording) and you’ll get a feel for the games and behaviour that take place behind closed doors (even when they’re, ironically, ‘open’).
This meeting was hands down, the biggest shocker of my last two years in the role, because not only did we experience some significant stretching of the truth by some, we also saw the misuse of power in the form of a casting vote by our Chair to push through a personal agenda – stopping progress and stalling the development of the Takapuna Town Centre yet again, in spite of all the advice and guidance provided by staff that what was taking place was simply wrong.
Not only did Chair Jackson and members Deans and O’Connor create their own new process, together they made use of their casting vote in order to muscle me out of my role as delegated authority on resource consents. Their clear plan was to ensure the ‘Board Views’ approved at the meeting on the new Takapuna Town Square Resource Consent application were their own and that no one else was provided an opportunity to input. In addition, when I attempt to table documents that reveal this poor process and present the full picture, they vote this down using their casting vote. Again, an abuse of the Chair's casting vote.
This little recount begins in November 2019 where it is resolved that Member Trish Deans and Toni van Tonder are the delegated authority on Resource Consents. When a prickly little consent comes through we work with staff to form our views on whether it be a notified, partially notified or non-notified consent and when it’s super challenging we canvass the full board for their views. This is our job.
July 5th 2021, the Takapuna Town Square development comes onto the radar. Let’s not forget how those same members campaigned on ‘saving the carpark’, this offers a hint to the level of prickliness the town centre consent possesses. Our Strategic Advisor emails Member Deans and I both with a recommended path forward. This is to share the consent files with the whole board, organise a meeting with the planner to answer any questions (all members can come), and then Member Deans and I can take the views of the Board, as well as our own, and write up our preferences. Our advisor states. ”While the project has been controversial or concerning for some members, the resource consent is actually pretty clear and straightforward.” Both Member Deans and I agree to this path forward. Member Deans actually replies, “Your suggested process will work well.”
To be notified or not to be notified? The town square has been in the planning process for 11 years. Council and the Board have consulted on the development so many times and Colmar Brunton also did a poll. We know that the public are in favour, the Local Board and Council have voted in favour, and the budget has been passed as part of the 10 year budget. Pushing for notification will achieve considerable delay, enormous cost, and result in diminished confidence for development partners. Construction time will be pushed out and Takapuna’s time as a construction zone will be longer than ever. No one will thank us for that. But regardless, I’m in favour of due process and am happy with what we’ve agreed to. I’m all about learning more from the planners and hearing the varied opinions around the table.
In terms of what’s actually on the table in the consent files, the development itself is genuinely straightforward. The consent is for earthworks to create the town square, the subdivision of the space into 7 lots that make up the 5 development sites and the civic spaces, the removal of a single bus canopy and the removal of the toilet block. We had approved the town centre design, so none of this was new or surprising.
As I wait for that meeting with the planners, something happens. Member Deans, alongside her two partners the Chair and Member O’Connor, decide to form their own views (that it be notified, amongst other points) and put them forward in a Notice of Motion, knowing that they’ll pass them on the casting vote of the Chair. They’re smart enough to know they can hijack the process and push forward their personal views, because with the casting vote, they don’t need Members Wood, Bennett or myself.
Little ol’ me, one half of the actual delegated authority, is not contacted about this intention or new direction, and am still waiting for the organisation of this meeting to learn more. Instead, what I do learn is that there’s been a to-ing and fro-ing between our advisory staff and these members who have been made very aware they are stepping outside of their governance role and ignoring process. In fact, they’re writing up their own process and excluding the other half of the Board. So concerned by the actions of these members, our Area Manager emails the whole Board the night before the business meeting articulating his concerns around the governance and process implications of what has been proposed.
I also learn, by way of being cc’d as a courtesy into an email from our advisor, that Members Deans & Jackson were provided advice on multiple occasions that if the Notice of Motion is passed, that it will form the Board’s views and preferences for this particular resource consent and no further meetings or opportunities to discuss it will occur. They are reminded that if they follow proper process, there will be ample time to form the Board’s views, that we are not constrained by any particular timeframe, and certainly don’t need to do anything for the Business Meeting. But do they take heed of that advice? As Member Deans says at the very start of her spiel, “I’m going to put that advice aside,” and concludes at (1.54 in the recording) “is it advice? Or is it opinion? I’m still wondering.” I can only imagine how those comments landed on staff who are employed to offer us expert advice.
So not only am I, the actual delegated authority, excluded from providing views and preferences, but so are Member Bennett and Member Wood, because they’ve not once been informed of what’s going on here and will never be given an opportunity to sit with the planners to learn more. And still the Notice of Motion makes it onto the agenda, because quite clearly, Member Deans, Member O’Connor, and Chair Jackson are hell bent on passing it through using their Chair’s casting vote. The other half of the Board are unnecessary and inconsequential.
This blatant misuse of power by Board members is justified by the Chair who states, “This was about expanding it out to have every member of the board to have input” (1.28). Let’s be real, the opposite has happened. It’s an unforgiveable use of the Chair’s casting vote. It’s a willful ignorance of proper process and massive a middle finger to our staff who have painstakingly attempted to advise them. It’s frustrating and its damaging.
You’ll hear Member Bennett articulate his feelings at 1.21 in the audio: So this just means you change the rules as you go does it?... The members here (Jackson, Deans, O’Connor) are all about process but when it comes to following process it goes all out the door… I live in Takapuna. I want Takapuna to be rejuvenated… this is just more shenanigans to stop the progress. It’s just shameful. I can’t believe this has happened.
I tried to table the documents, the advice and our email exchanges with staff on our public minutes to enable the public access to the full story. They voted that down preventing the transparency they continue to call for. This transparency mantra has its limits when it reveals a predetermined approach to decision making and a questioning of their moral code.
Que Será, Será, while my docs may not be in the minutes, there are links to them throughout this piece and below, because what more can I do than this, tell it like it is.
Elected member of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board for the 2019-2022 Election Term.