Mist slowly clearing - councillor

Last updated 08:58 02/08/2012
Peter Beck
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ
PETER BECK: "How we as councillors and council increase the respect and trust of the city is of course in our own hands."

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Councillor Peter Beck reflects on his first six months with the Christchurch City Council.

I have been a councillor for six months. Time for me to give electors an update on how I'm going.

If you'd asked me a month ago if I was enjoying being a city councillor, my response would have been to say enjoying would be stretching it a bit.

Slowly the mist is clearing and I'm beginning to feel more on board with the opportunities and the challenges facing the Christchurch City Council.

The council is a complex organisation and there is so much to get my head around to both understand and then make a contribution. It is a body which is bound up by legislation and bureaucratic processes.

My first introduction to the Resource Management Act was to leave me thoroughly stunned as to its complexity. There seems to be a rule for every eventuality. It's like being part of a very large and complex bureaucratic treadmill in which hundreds of people are employed to make sure we follow the correct processes as defined by statute and the Local Government Act.

To my mind the healthiest organisations are more organisms than organisations. Organisms evolve. Parts are growing, some are shrinking as the circumstances and the needs change. They are adaptive to change.

That's really hard for a council, any council, with its myriads of legal requirements and processes. To a greater or lesser extent organisations become self-serving and for us in the city council the danger in this is that we may get sucked into a culture where we become servants of the system rather than servants of the public.

In order for it to work in this new post-quake world, I think we need to review our priorities regularly, to make our processes more responsive and flexible lest we are tangled in a bureaucratic jungle. To do this in the challenging times we are living through is like rebuilding a plane while flying through a force 10 storm! But that is what we are doing.

It is how we communicate and engage with the citizens of our city, our many and various village communities, that is key to our success or failure. Public perceptions, largely shaped by the media, become reality for most people and dictate how we judge and react to what we perceive.

But these perceptions are not always the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

How we as councillors and council increase the respect and trust of the city is of course in our own hands. Clear, open, transparent communication, sharing of the facts, being upfront and honest about what is or is not going on, acknowledging mistakes and sharing successes is vital if we are to have a robust and trustful relationship with the city.

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More than this though is a proven commitment to engage and listen to the communities which we represent. The future needs to be community driven with leaders consistently with eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts with skill to listen to the people of our city. There are many voices, and they are often discordant, reflecting the many different views of the population.

Our task is to listen to these voices, to assess the different views and then to make the decisions we think are most in line with the spirit and hopes of our city.

That is civic leadership. Often we will get it right. Sometimes we will get it wrong.

But how we engage with the citizens of our city is crucial to a successful outcome.

To my mind it's also crucial that we strive to work as a team, and to build trust between ourselves as councillors and with council staff.

I joined the council just as the crown observer was working with us to develop that framework of behaviour for both council and staff which is the foundation of productive teamwork. We are now in the process of striving to make that work.

This brings me to Felicity Price's communication audit. I can honestly say that it was the issues that she raises in this frank and honest report that prompted me to stand for the city council.

I am delighted that these issues are now publicly out there and I am working with my colleagues and the wider council staff to get positive resolutions so that the perception that the city has of us is as a hard working, community engaging authority which is respected for its commitment to do the right thing and to acknowledge when we get it wrong.

The council is doing a great deal of fantastic work keeping our city going and we don't get the good news stories out there. At the same time we have to show openness and transparency and a willingness to engage with our citizens so they can understand what and why we are making the decisions we are making. This is very big stuff and it is hard and it calls for a collaborative open culture.

I am impressed by the passion that council staff and councillors have to get things moving for the good of all our citizens, to build a city based on the aspirations and the values which so many shared in the Share an Idea project.

While having an eye on the future we must also keep firmly focused on the present and the predicament many of our citizens are in as they struggle with insurance, EQC and the rest.

I was elected to be a strong voice for the east. The aquatic suburbs of our city have, as we all know, been savagely damaged, and people are frustrated and anxious for the future.

Looking at the research that staff have done, I can tell you that there is no area of the city where there is more of a sense of community and a willingness and enthusiasm to work together for the good of the whole than Burwood Pegasus. But there are many who are barely hanging on as they face the complexities and the lack of control they have over their own destiny and future.

A lot of this is outside the councillors' control, but we can advocate and help organise people to make sure their voice is heard whether it be by the minister, Cera, EQC, insurers and ourselves.

For instance, I've had the opportunity to work with older folk to arrange a forum tomorrow at Parklands Baptist Church centre in Queenspark Drive, from 10am to 1pm, for them to meet with some of the movers and shakers of the insurance industry.

The older generation will add their voice and pressure to get things sorted, not just for themselves but for all who are feeling so let down. John Patterson's article yesterday in The Press speaks for us all.

While we do our best to work with other agencies and the community to get people through these present really hard times, we also need to raise our hearts and minds to the future city that we can build for our children and their children.

The blueprint for the central city is certainly bold and inspirational. But a sustainable and prosperous city will be judged by the way in which we deal with those who are most vulnerable and marginalised in our community.

It is the spirit of compassion and care and courage which has been so apparent in our Canterbury spirit that must also drive our recovery.

This must go hand in hand with the economic drivers lest we lose the very spirit which has so shaped us and which has been so apparent since September 4, 2010. We want to build a city with soul.

In the east, which I represent with my colleague Glenn Livingstone, many are being grasped by the opportunities that are there out of this tragedy.

The vision for the aquatic side of our city, the coastlands and the wetlands, is growing more inspirational day by day.

The Otakaro Avon Park with all its amenities, rowing lake, hot water pools, and fabulous aquatic centre, the ecological heartland of the wetlands, the beach and the surf . . . these and so much more will be the generator of our reviving communities, economy and future.

In the meantime, people are getting on and just doing it . . . developing transitional projects to maintain their community heart and to encourage the down-hearted.

I feel, as a priest of getting on for 40 years, that as a local councillor I have come full circle, working with people at the grass roots, seeing what I can do to help them through these hard times, to advocate and to help build a renewed sense of hope and confidence in our future.

- The Press

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