While lying low these past few weeks, I've been disappointed that, in my absence, others haven't taken to the public opinion columns in support of our community boards questioning the apparent dumbing down of the information they're getting from the Southland District Council.
At their first meeting of the year, Te Anau Community Board members made no secret of their disdain for the new format that had been foisted upon them, and subsequently other community boards around the district have also expressed a wariness, albeit not in such forceful terms.
Serving the community in such elected roles is a thankless task at the best of times. Navigating and interpreting mind-numbingly dull reports and screeds of numbers is the traditional mainstay of such civic duty. At first glance you'd think they should be welcoming any change that relieved them of such tedium. But the civic conscience that saw them put their name forward for election in the first place is exactly what is making them question the wisdom of the revised regime.
I accept that many people cannot grasp the difference between governance and management, but I have seen the reports that our community boards used to get and I have seen the new format, and I'm in the Te Anau Community Board's camp on this one. Were I a civic governor, I too would be most uncomfortable in my ability to discharge those duties with due diligence.
It's strange that local government would appear to be depriving elected representatives of detailed information at a time when, in all other facets of business, more and more is being expected of governors. Take, for example, the latest changes to health and safety legislation which holds directors of companies to far greater standard of account in the event of an accident than ever before — even if they have no direct hands-on role in the operation.
It's true that community board representatives do not have the same level of responsibility as councillors, but the council does act on their recommendations and they do have a certain degree of delegated authority with which to make decisions and spend ratepayer money. Therefore, we, as ratepayers, should be insisting they get more in-depth reporting than a coloured bar graph and a summary of council activities, otherwise what's the point?
But maybe that is precisely the point.
Later this year the Southland District Council will begin consultation on its next representation review. Every six years councils throughout the country are required to review how many councillors they have, how many wards, the number of councillors per ward, the number of community boards and how they are elected. The last review resulted in the SDC being reorganised into five wards, eight community boards and 19 community development area subcommittees (CDAs).
Who knows what's in store this year but I wouldn't be surprised if further rationalisation was proposed — which would be hard to argue against when, at the last election, only two wards were contested and some community boards again ran short of the required number of nominations prompting costly and time-consuming by-elections.
And if Auckland can successfully merge four councils into one super city governing body, why does Southland need 12 councillors, eight community boards and 19 CDAs?
But the issue isn't really about numbers, it's about public apathy towards local government and even politics in general.
And that's a rant for another day.