Do you remember the CERA Community Forum? It’s ok if you don’t. It was set up soon after the quakes, before rapidly fading into obscurity. In late 2012, a group of MPs – including one L Dalziel – signed an open letter which called it a farce;
The community forum put in place to allow such consultation has become a farce with Mr Brownlee or Roger Sutton having attended only a handful of times.
I had to check to see if it still exists – and yes, apparently it still does. So what does it do? Well:
The Community Forum has been established by Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to provide him with information and advice on earthquake recovery matters.
Simple. Well, Mr Brownlee didn’t attend a single meeting of the community forum last year. His proxy, Amy Adams did attend, but only for 8 of the 18 meetings. Roger Sutton only attended two meetings all year. How do I know this? Well, it’s all available in the meeting notices, which are available here.
Summaries of the proceedings of Community Forum meetings are available below. These meeting notes are prepared to assist the wider community to understand the issues the Forum has discussed. The meeting notes have been released under the Official Information Act 1982. Where information has been withheld under that Act this is clearly identified, and will be reviewed on a quarterly basis to check whether the reason for withholding is still valid.
Frequently, the names of people attending the meetings themselves are redacted from the minutes. I find it remarkable that these people – public servants from CERA, CCDU, CCC and ECan – should be given anonymity when they turn up to a meeting with what is nominally a forum made up of the people they are meant to serve. In some instances, the minutes of virtually the whole meeting have been withheld. According to the rationale which the CERA website itself gives, the purposes of the forum are to:
A – provide him (Gerry Brownlee) with information and advice on recovery matters
B – (disseminate notes from the forum to) assist the wider community to understand the issues the Forum has discussed
On point A, the Minister didn’t bother to attend a single forum in 2013; his Chief Executive Roger Sutton went twice, and his associate Minister went less than half the time. It must be quite hard to fulfill the stated objective of providing him with information when he doesn’t bother to show up. On point B, it is hard to see how the public gets any benefit from documents that are redacted to the point of uselessness.
This whole sorry mess seems to be a good example of CERA’s modus operandi; set up a body to give the impression you are being responsive and engaging (communities! interaction!) then let it wither and die through a combination of bureaucracy and negligence. It’s hardly a demonstration of good-will and genuine engagement when a body set up to represent the community communicates with the public through reluctant, redacted minutes provided under the Official Information Act.
The Community Forum is a needless farce which should be disbanded; CERA should instead focus on open and transparent communication with Community Boards, the Council, and existing community and interest groups.
So I OIA’d CERA about their retweeting John Key binge: Roger Sutton responds.
In an opinion piece in the Press this morning, Roger Sutton says that the removal of the CBD cordon fences is a “turning point” for the city.
The removal of the rebuild zone cordons from Christchurch’s central city is a real turning point in the recovery of our city.
He’s right, it definitely is progress. But I can’t be the only one who feels like we’ve have countless turning points already? I worry that we’ve had so many turning points, no-ones actually sure which direction we’re going in.
Yesterday, a group of us tried to get into Cathedral Square to lay a wreath at the stone cairn. Just a quick précis – way back in the times BE (Before Earthquake), water was a big issue in Canterbury. The biggest. Nick Smith and friends used the Creech Report as an excuse to do what they always wanted and scrap our regional council ECan. This led to a bunch of protests about the removal of democracy, under the umbrella of the Our Water, Our Vote (OWOV) group, which culminated in the building of the cairn. For this, around 3000 people gathered in Cathedral Square, and worked together to build the stone cairn. There’s a great 5 minute clip of that here.
Last week, the bill which extended the ECan “temporary commissioners” bill was made law by the National-ACT-United Future-Maori government. We aren’t happy about that, and wanted to express our disapproval. However, OWOV has always tried to do things respectfully. We arranged a group to go in to the square, and requested permission from the relevant people at CERA. This request was for 8 people from OWOV, including Eugenie Sage, Sam Mahon, Edward Snowdon, Ruth Dyson and myself. This request was approved.
It was only when someone at CERA got wind of the media coming along that they revoked the access. As the stories in the Press and at RNZ have reported, this was due to a ban on “political events”. At this point, it is worth noting that the access had been approved for a list which included the names Sage, Mahon, Dyson and Dann – but this didn’t seem to bother them. It was the media which got the powers that be worried, and led them to revoke access.
Eventually, they let one person – Edward Snowdon, who engineered the cairn with Sam Mahon – go in with the wreath. In this photo, you can see the farcical nature of the situation: Edward is about to get a vest and a hard hat so he can go in, whilst the Red Zone disaster-porn tourism bus comes out after having done a lap of the square.
Here is another shot which highlight the idiocy. On the right, you have a food truck which operates every day in the square. You can see that there are cars going in and out of the square, using it as a parking lot. The cairn is still there, just above the tradie’s head. It’s not about safety, or about “protecting” us; it was simply, as Roger said, political. That’s very dangerous ground to tread on.
Here is a story from August last year, from the last time I went into the Red Zone.
That’s me in the highlighter orange. Roger, cycling advocate, led a tour of the CBD for cycling advocates which I was involved in. At one point, we went beyond the cordon and into the square. I’m a strong supporter of cycling in Christchurch, but lobbying for it is a political activity. A cycling lobby group going into the red zone is a political event. One that Roger organised, so CERA approved. He doesn’t have the right to approve and decline political activities solely based on whether he likes them or not. As others have pointed out, political expression is entrenched in our right to freedom of expression. I doubt Roger got into this job to do the dirty work of a dictator.
p.s. if you were conspiracy minded, you might see something sinister in their desire to ban political events from the red zone, and their promise to keep the cordon up if it helps developers