It's not easy, being local

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
27 June, 2024

Sometimes, only truly committed localists can see the polished diamond hiding inside the very rough stone.

We can remind ourselves that decades of poor incentives facing councils don’t build strong organisations. Who’d want the job when so much of the job is to be yelled at by central government?

Change the incentives to change the game.

The game’s last few innings haven’t been great.

This week, a Hamilton city councillor opened a rather challenging round of Wheel of Fortune.

Radio New Zealand reported on Councillor Bydder’s submission to the Waipā Council about the placement of a bridge.

RNZ reported that Bydder’s submission asked, "What the f**k are you r******d s*****c c**ts doing?" Bydder stated, in his defence, that “it is the only way to get their attention.”

The unredacted submission left less to the imagination – using a $ and an & in place of two of the letters. But the Bowdlerised version fit for the nation’s public broadcaster left me flummoxed. What might lie between the s and the c was a complete mystery.

Had it been a real round of Wheel of Fortune, I would have been the hapless contestant staring at the letters asking to buy a “U”, while fans at home shouted obscenities at their screens, hoping to help me.

Meanwhile, Wellington Council had been on form. Minister Bishop had signed off on the Council’s liberal and enabling district plan to allow for a lot more building. Spontaneous fountains from footpaths and roadways have seemed less frequent.

And Council had decided to sell its share of the airport – great news in a city that needs to redirect capital for other work and faces substantial seismic risk. A shaky-day fund consisting of shares in an airport that will need a lot of work come the big shake isn’t a reliable shaky-day fund.

After deciding to sell its shares, the Council started tearing itself apart, relitigating the decision.
Councillors have needed the Council version of the Official Information Act to get information from officials – a situation that Local Government Minister Simeon Brown found “appalling”.

Wellington Council’s long-term plan passed just as Insights went to press, but the past week has been shambolic.

Not a world-class innings.

But there’s still hope. A central government committed to localism will want to set the pitch for better innings to come.

And at least it wasn’t a council repair crew that forgot that power pylons need nuts and bolts to remain standing.

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