Opinion by the late Jolyon Firth

Jolyon Firth was a  Deputy Mayor of Auckland in the 1980s. His obituary in 2008 described him as affable yet out spoken who once publicly called the then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon as gutless and the Muldoon government as incompetent. A reader sent CORANZ the opinion piece below by Jolyon Firth. As many decisions regarding the environment and rivers are made by local councils, Jolyon Firth’s opinion piece is reproduced below. Since he wrote it – obviously before 2008 – the dominance of bureaucrats in local councils has increased.  How applicable is it to today?

There is a moment immediately after the council elections every three years when local government bureaucrats don’t want people to realise what is going on.

This when Officers in each Council try to get a quick rubber stamping of Standing Orders and the Manual of Delegated Authority by unsuspecting Councillors who are largely unaware of the contents or the implications of what they are endorsing.

The real effect of this delegation is an unspoken message from the officers which says: because from now on it is all our prerogative.

Self Neutering

When they delegate their powers to Officers, the Councillors abdicate the authority they have been elected to exercise, but which is nevertheless essential to their responsibility and accountability. By approving the delegation, they neuter themselves and all whom they elected to represent.

In one fell swoop, their personal integrity and freedom of thought and action are subsumed into the bureaucratic morass. They become nothing more than obedient servants of the System and the bureaucrats who manipulate it.

They are told by the bureaucrats that their job is to set policies and that the rest of Council activities belong to the Officer.
The policies themselves are almost always written by Officers and are then put up as reports for approval of the Councillors.

Those reports invariably include a set of Officers conclusions and motion

“ That the recommendations contained in the report of the Officers be adopted.” Rubber stamping again occurs.

Once policy is adopted, its implementation by the bureaucrats in then able to be treated by them for as being outside the sphere of influence of the Councillors; no matter how badly it is being implemented or whether its acts adversely on the lives of the citizens. Reporting to Council committees by Officers of their actions under delegated authorities is keep to and absolute minimum.

Bureaucrats Reign

All of this can be described as is ‘ Bureaucracy Rampant ’ The bureaucrats reign supreme. Over the years they have designed, refined and protected

‘’ The System’‘ to ensure that their supremacy continues and grows, as does the size of their incomes.

In addition to continuous and often subtle encroachment by the bureaucrats various acts of Parliament over the years have added to the powers of the System.

The elected Councillors are often the bystanders; watching helplessly what is being done in their name, and then being made to face the public and take the roll of stand-up apologists whenever bureaucratic foul ups occur.

There was a time when the law was designed to provide a guard against political interference by Councillors.
Now the whole balance has changed.

Unelected Bureaucrats

Intervention into the rights of individuals and disdainfully treating elected representatives as necessary nuisances have become the mind set and order-of the day for the unelected bureaucrats who consider they are answerable only to themselves and to their System.

This is all allowed to happen because at this time every three years. The elected representatives in the name of delegation allow themselves to be made victims of the bureaucratic castration process.
The other victims are the electors who are blissfully unaware of the nature of the abdication that has taken place.

Pliant politicians, obeying the bidding of their bureaucrats become mere servants,
If they are the servants, what then is the status of the electors who are the ultimate clients of the System?


When the newly elected Councils vote at this time to hand over their powers to the System, the Mayors and Councillors will instantly make themselves little more than puppets who are dangled on the of the bureaucratic string by the bureaucratic puppet-masters who will for the next three years will be able to continue to treat them as servile rubber stamps.

Is that what the elector voted for?

There is an immediate answer to the problem. It can happen right away. Those elect Mayors and Councillors who have the fortitude and the integrity to take command must take charge of what they were elected to do.

Their very first task is to reject any immediate and permanent endorsement of the Standing Orders and the Manual.
Anything they approve must be on a interim bases only; and have a “sunset clause” period such as three months, after which the approval will expire. During this time the councillors will be able to study and clearly understand what they will thereafter finally agree to delegate.

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  1. Charles Henry says:

    “When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing – When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors – When you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you – When you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice – You may know that your society is doomed.”

    ― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged 1957

  2. Dave Rhodes says:

    Summed up for all you Star Trek proponents

  3. Rosecevans says:

    Having had 9 wasted years in local government I can vouch for the accuracy of Mr Firth’s comment.
    I am not sure though that standing orders can be totally blamed.
    Courage is needed by electeds because any one trying for change is pretty soon isolated and ostracised.
    Those councillors who stick together and do direct their CEO are few and far between, if you have one – support them.
    The corporate world we live in, where even regulation is outsourced ,and if not directed by staff using tools like the RMA.This means elected representatives have to be super human to achieve.
    Too often the confidence to make the changes is lost because of internal councillors egos and disagreements. Many really good people are overwhelmed and lost.
    Divide and conquer.
    My solution is for councillors to keep the staff at arms length and support their own democratic decisions. It is the CEO’s job description to implement these decisions albeit within the law.
    This is called Governance

  4. Greg Kemp says:

    Oxford University researchers have discovered the densest element yet known to science.
    The new element, Governmentium (symbol=Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.
    These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called pillocks.
    Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.
    A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second, to take from 4 days to 4 years to complete.
    Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2 to 6 years.
    It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganisation in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.
    In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganisation will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.
    This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration.
    This hypothetical quantity is referred to as a critical morass.
    When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium (symbol=Ad), an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium, since it has half as many pillocks but twice as many morons.

  5. Alex Cubro says:

    It is the age of bureaucrats. They rule the roost. Councillors elected are answerable to voters but they are treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed manure (Bull-shite)

  6. Nicholas Lorenz says:

    It’s not only regional and district councils, government departments are conniving bureaucracies. One of the worst bureaucracies is the Department of Conservation. It is largely incompetent. If DOC bureaucrats got out of their centrally heated offices and into the countryside they might – if observant (doubtful) – notice native bird species like migratory cuckoo and kingfishers in decline. Insects are declining, eels declining in rivers – the whole ecosystem is teetering.
    DOC should be advocating for clean rivers, being sucked to low flows by corporate dairying but instead it haphazardly top dresses public lands with an eco-toxin.
    DOC is a failure and yet its bureaucrats manipulate ministers otherwise.
    MPI is absolutely hopeless in fisheries management, manipulating inept ministers and serving political donors like the corporate fisheries companies like Talleys.

  7. "Voter and Ratepayer" says:

    Agree with Rosecevans. Councillors must stand up to bureaucrats and not be cowered by them. Councillors are directly responsible to the public. Staff are not. Yet bureaucratic managers reign. Councillors must realise their duty is to the people not the paid servants.

  8. Carcass says:

    The Councillor’s became hamstrung and puppets on a string when they voted to pass the Code Of Conduct – Standing Orders- and Delegated Authority. Once that was done the staff are in full control and only do what they want to do. Any mistakes by staff and large losses of large amounts of money the Councillor’s suffer the condemnation from rate payers even they had no say in the matters. One has to remember there is a lot of mayors and Councillor’s elected who are short on ability around.

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