Council Consultation – A Clayton’s Choice?
- Opinion Piece by HRRA
How do you ensure you win an argument, while making the other person believe that they actually won? Simple – provide them with two options to argue over that may appear different, but both are in fact ones that you are happy to accept. Provide a Clayton’s choice – two (or more) options, but no genuine choice. This is what the HRRA sees in the current consultancy document which has been provided by the Hamilton City Council on their 2020 ‘Back on Track’, budget proposal.
You may have seen the online ads asking you to make a submission on this ‘plan’. So do you want a 3.8% rate increase, or would you prefer that in these uncertain times the council has a rates freeze? Read the document this is not presented as an option for debate – page three states the council proposes the 3.8% increase goes ahead. So if you think that in a recession you are in a better position to spend your money than council, this is not an option for discussion - 3.8% property taxes are coming…
That was page three, what is next? Do you want to vote on tinkering around the edges on a number of projects, or do you think the council should seriously revisit their spending, provide proper cost benefit analyses on all major projects, indeed all major line items, and make tough decisions to stay within a budget? Oh wait, you are directed only to respond to their selected projects.
So what do you conclude? The council is required to ‘consult’ but unfortunately there appears to be absolutely no requirement for it to actually listen. Last year the HRRA controversially decided not to submit on the revised ten-year plan. We did not do this lightly. We knew it would be criticised, but we also knew that any credible submission we made would take a lot of time and effort, and for what? Previous experience had shown us that contrary submissions are largely ignored.
Of course, you might say what is the basis for that assumption? Don’t submit, don’t complain right? Perhaps we do not care about these issues? Maybe the hundreds of volunteer hours our members put in to try to improve accountability, transparency, integrity and democracy in council decisions are not genuine? Actually, we did this to send a message that these submission processes have become just that – submission; complete and absolute.
We are not alone in this view. In the last quality of life project survey in 2018, just 26% of Hamiltonians had confidence in council decision making. Moreover, Hamiltonians had the poorest level of response from all of the eight cities surveyed for: Rubbish on the Streets, Alcohol and Drugs, the Presence of Unsafe People - and was second only to Wellington for Begging issues (1).
When it comes to previous submission processes an analysis of the results does not make great reading either. Almost 2/3’s of written submissions opposed the new theatre. 71% opposed the Universal Annual General Charge (UAGC). Nearly all of those that made written submissions opposed rates rises. It is not surprising that just 30% of the Hamiltonian’s surveyed think the public has some influence on council decision making - a significant drop since 2016, and the lowest % for all of the cities surveyed (1).
Strong vibrant communities require people in those communities to stand up, speak out, and be listened to. It is hardly surprising that Hamiltonian’s appear disillusioned and survey results indicate such poor confidence in council decisions. Why speak out if you are just ignored? Why take part in consultation processes that don’t appear designed to truly want to hear your views? We have not even talked about previous consulting documents in relation to question design. Leading, double barrelled, loaded questions, questions beyond the respondent’s ability to answer. Consulting documents of the past have been a lesson in how not to write a good questionnaire if you want accurate responses.
However, we do have a new council; at least partially. Many were elected based upon the promise they would listen more to the community. Let us hope that they actually begin to do so soon, as to date our experience has been the opposite. Let us hope that they reform their consultancy processes and consider the community’s view. We live in hope.
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