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Conspiracies, Communication and Corruption

Last Modified: 23-6-2017 15:14

As expected, the Sheard report into allegations of corruption by Councillor Jamie Arbuckle is out, and no evidence of corruption was found. I'm not writing this as a cynic or a conspiracy theorist with the idea that corruption has been cleverly swept beneath the carpet, but as a realist, and a linguist.

Corruption is a term with very strong connotations, and the dictionary definition makes an association with rottenness, putrifaction, or in the case of institutions, bribery. Jamie Arbuckle's various statements suggesting that something is rotten in the state of Marlborough District Council makes him no Hamlet, but more of an Othello, driven on by his own beliefs and the unsubstantiated gossip of various nameless community Iagos. Tragically for the whole community, Jamie genuinely appears to have believed in his own and other people's allegations of corruption, and saw himself on a crusade for justice. Unfortunately for him, it appears there's a possibility that his quixotic quest may have personal consquences. It's certainly managed to make enemies of many members of council, and now the Sheard Report has failed to reveal any evidence of misdemeanors by the Council, the heat is certainly on Cr. Arbuckle. If he does take a fall, hopefully all those people who so enthusiastically voted for him will be just as enthusiastically support him, financially if necessary, as they have egged him on, and let him take the flak for what gets whispered in various dark corners of the community. 

One thing that the Sheard report has highlighted is that in some instances the Marlborough District Council could communicate better. This whole sorry story might have been avoided if there had been better communication all around. Where there is an absence of information, people tend to invent things, and these inventions can take on lives of their own, which appears to be what has happened with regard to many of the corruption allegations. A council as a public body, needs to act pre-emptively in its communications so that there is no opportunity for rumours to start. Obviously there needs to be a balanced approach. Employing PR consultants to provide highly polished communcations that gloss over unpleasant truths isn't good enough. Most people are grown up enough to be told things like they are, and a council that communicates the honest truth in a down to earth manner is more likely to have the support of its community than one that is caught adding lots of 'spin'.

While the Sheard Report lets the Council get on with business, and makes Jamie Arbuckle look a fool, it's important that the report doesn't create other losers. Corruption is a very strong term, and implies deliberate illegal actions, however there's a lot of decision making involved in running a council, and just as a couple of bad apples can slip into a bag by accident, mistakes or unwise decisions can happen unintentionally simply due to the huge volume of information councillors need to process. Such things are not corruption in any shape or form, but people with concerns should not be afraid to offer constructive criticism, and have their concerns heard. While the Sheard Report should silence unsubstantiated gossip, hopefully it does not silence people who have legitimate concerns in other areas, but perhaps don't know how to articulate themselves properly.

There will always be a need for council staff and elected councillors to continually evaluate how efficiently they are using ratepayers' money for the good of the whole community, and fresh ideas should always be welcomed and explored, but in a spirit of cooperation, where no one tries to claim that they have all the answers, but where people try to learn from each other. While the Sheard Report should put to rest any allegations of corruption, hopefully it does not allow the Marlborough District Council to become complacent about looking to getting best value for ratepayers' money. Last election there was a dramatic changing of the guard around the council table, and possibly one of the reasons for this was that some councillors had become too complacent, or failed to communicate clearly enough with their community the reasons they took certain decisions. Councillors are public servants, who are at times called on to make difficult decisions for the people they represent. In order to maintain the confidence of the public, they need to clearly engage the public, and remember that ultimately, they are responsible to the public for every decision they make.

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