Time to end community board seat-warming

Lee Vandervis believes Dunedin's community boards are a waste of space and money.

Despite liking almost everything community, I have repeatedly been forced to rethink the ideal of paid community boards (and the Otago Regional Council), because of their manifest lack of value for Dunedin citizens.

Community Bored meetings are almost invariably non-events requiring usually two Dunedin City Council staff members to transport themselves and equipment to outlying areas; organise, print and distribute agendas, take and write up and distribute meaningless minutes, and organise scores of community member salary payments and supply tens of thousands in rate-paid grants monies which the boards distribute without scrutiny.

The results of these charades are usually six community boards (totalling 36 paid members), meeting occasionally to trigger two pages of minutes (which I use to light my log-burner), recording such things as attendance (not linked to pay), apologies, and the community boards' approval of continuing to pay their chairpersons $16,000+, deputies $9000+, and members $8000+.

This takes $342,000+ every year out of the council pay pot, and results in Dunedin councillors being paid near half what councillors are paid in other similar-sized cities.

Councillors generally privately do not welcome this, but are afraid to criticise anything with the words "community" or "trust" in it.

The stadium promotion process has had particular benefit from this fear.

I believe that the little useful feedback we get from community boards would come to the council anyway from those very few motivated chairpersons who currently endure the community board structure and paper trail.

The rest are seat-warmers, some of whom collect up to $300 per hour if they don't put much time in.

Any number of Rotarians contribute much more to our communities - and for no financial return.

Like the Otago Regional Council, our community boards appear to be a job-creation-scheme courting respectability by being anonymous.

An experiment which I test often is to ask people like my children's teachers, other parents, or any other "normal citizens" if they can name any regional councillor or community board member, or if they can list any function carried out by the ORC or a community board.

My responses have confirmed that nobody knows who their representatives are (unless they have some other personal dealing with them), and that nobody knows what these regional councillors or community board members actually do.

So much for democratic representation, or the usefulness of considerable public resources.

Dunedin community boards are a unique hangover from the messy decades-old amalgamation of many borough and county councils, when plenty of paid positions were a necessary compliance bribe for members of these tiny councils.

This amalgamation has been reviewed over the years but all the payments seem to have stuck. It is now time for a real review.

Our Dunedin city councillors are routinely criticised for many things, including being paid too much. Some of these criticisms are justified for many reasons, but excessive pay is not one of them.

Dunedin councillors currently get $44,000 per annum as a "self-employed" total, out of which 30% tax is immediately removed, leaving around $30,000, out of which home office expenses, transportation and electoral promotion expenses, accounting expenses, health insurance, superannuation, and legal defence expenses must be paid.

All other councillors with similar responsibilities elsewhere in New Zealand get $60,000-$80,000+ pa before tax and other self-employed costs, still barely enough to live on if you devote the full time required to be a useful elected representative.

Government legislative requirements and bureaucratic pressures have ensured that the job of councillor will never return to a few hours a week of civic service as it was many decades ago.

DCC councillors need to have supplementary income or other jobs to be able to afford to be a councillor, which severely limits the number and range of people who can afford to be councillors.

Many potentially excellent councillor candidates in Dunedin simply cannot afford to run because the pay won't feed their families.

To get real representation, population balance and accountability, my suggestion is for just two wards, - our outlying rural communities to have a rural ward with one councillor, and six councillors representing the Dunedin/Mosgiel urban ward area.

Our regional council could shrink back to being a Clutha River catchment board.

Whatever council we end up with, why bother paying 36 community board members (or the regional council) for so little benefit?

Lee Vandervis is a Dunedin City councillor


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