It is not enough to elect better representatives to Council. While they may demonstrate values we admire, they will inevitably be ineffective at changing what happens in the community unless we shift where power lies.
Right now, Council elects an executive Mayor who delegates the responsibility for all big decisions and policies to a small number of powerful politicians on the Mayoral Committee and executive level officials in the administration. This is a problem.
Firstly because it demonstrates a culture of top-down decision making with limited or no input from the people who are governed apart from limited opportunities where the public can comment. As so few people can rarely comprehend the experience of so many citizens it inevitably leads to a disconnect between what those in power wish to pursue and what people actually need.
Secondly, the actual decision makers often meet behind closed doors and are obscure and hard to pin down. Indeed even the Mayor and MayCo struggle to influence the vast bureaucracy.
Thirdly, the system provides avenues for those with money, power and connections to influence the decision makers to make govern in their interests instead of in the interest of the majority. This is especially chronic when they are donors to political parties – requests can be hard to decline.
The Council should delegate decision making powers to the appropriate level of council for the decision. These should always be informed by public deliberation, consensus decisions, or voting where necessary.
For example, long-term policy direction, litigation and statutory decisions could be decided by the Mayor and Mayoral Committee. Citywide policy and sectoral issues such as transport or water should be decided by committees. Regional decisions, such as the use of state land or the allocation of safety equipment should be decided by Sub Councils. Local decisions, such as the management of parks or the placement of speed bumps should be decided by Councilors together with the ward committee.
The administration should be responsible for providing competent and expert advice; the co-ordination and implementation of decisions that are taken at all levels; tendering and performance tracking; and the daily administration of services. Social auditing and oversight is the work of community and councillors.
Deeper use of State resources – Recoleta, Santiago, Chile
In Chile, cities are divided into small highly-unequal municipalities, with some having as few as 1000 residents and others as many as 800,000 residents. The municipality of Recoleta is one of thirty-seven that make up Greater Santiago, and has traditionally been largely informal, working-class, and multicultural. In 2012, Recoleta elected Communist Daniel Jadue as Mayor on a campaign to respond to the needs of the citizens. Jadue has pioneered a number of initiatives, including an Open Schools programme that kept schools open from 4pm to 10pm and over the weekend as a space for young people to escape crime, alcohol, and drug abuse by participating in age-appropriate after-school activities. The whole community suddenly had access to the fields, gyms, and classrooms for all sorts of projects.
Normal block what happens?