Fiery words at last LGNZ meeting

COLIN WILLIAMS
Last updated 13:23 18/12/2013
Basil Morrison
BASIL MORRISON: Chairman, Local Government New Zealand.

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Hutt Valley

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The final Local Government Commission public meeting, on Thursday evening, played out in tense fashion - with the odd surreal moment and jibe about Housie thrown in.

Necessary after the "full house" signs went up at the Upper Hutt Cosmopolitan Club three weeks earlier, the meeting was nowhere near the packed house it was touted it might be. Fewer than 100 people came along to the cavernous Riverstone Recreation Hall.

However, that turnout lifted to more than 600 the total number of people to attend the three meetings - many more than other communities in the region.

Commission chair Basil Morrison began with two apologies - to Upper Hutt people for the Cossie kerfuffle and, to mayor Wayne Guppy, for the "flippant" report about the same meeting in his organisation's national newsletter.

The apology did not spare Mr Morrison from criticism later for the comment in the newsletter: "for the record, the bingo night was more popular than the LCG meeting".

Mr Morrison looked weary as the night went on and, at about three- quarter time, he vacated the microphone and persistent questions to fellow commissioner Anne Carter (the third, Grant Kirby was absent).

Earlier he had referred to a cold "coming on" and a concern for his voice. An hour or more in, it was all too much after the umpteenth explanation of the re-organisation process, what the meaning of "demonstrable support" under the Act is and, particularly, the machinations of a region-wide poll perceived by the audience as a crock.

Questions covered earlier meetings' ground - for example, the fear of taking on the debt of other councils and a lack of representation for Upper Hutt and its people under local government reorganisation.

"People want to know our voice is going to carry weight," Karl Rogers said, citing the councils' own surveys and the near 80 per cent call to stay independent.

"I hope that is going to be listened to," Mr Rogers, a council candidate at the recent election, said.

"Of course it is," Mr Morrison replied. "We are a Commission of Inquiry."

The profligate Auckland super-city was identified.

"Twenty million to uniform street signs . . . what structures [will there be] to stop things like that?" Mr Rogers asked.

Auckland was not part of the commission's scope, Mr Morrison said, observing Mr Guppy at the back of the seating.

"I'm sure you wouldn't let your current mayor get away with any delusions of grandeur," he said.

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Mary Beth Taylor, a regular council observer, said she had attended the other commission meetings but had not spoken "being privileged to listen to my fellow upper Hutt people."

The all-up 600 people was a pretty good showing, she said.

"They don't want it to feel like you are going through the motions, it makes it feel like a done deal ," she said after a taut exchange about the newsletter and other hearsay.

In answering Mr Morrison mentioned "demonstrable support".

"Bingo" came an excited cry, prompting a puzzled look from the front. The cry was from Tracey Ultra, who earlier had staged her musical protest outside Expressions and handed out "Democratic Death Bingo"' cards. With "demonstrable support" ticked, the cliche card was full.

She spoke soon after, explaining the new form of Bingo and adding "you might like to print it in your next newsletter".

'The Upper Hutt council has done your job for you. They have listened to the community," Ms Ultra said. "You could end this Commission of Inquiry, farce that it is. Stop Upper Hutt from becoming a suburb of Wellington . . . so we can all go and get on with our lives," she said.

Then, as the meeting threatened to unravel, several people spoke on the identity and uniqueness of Upper Hutt with Paul Lambert, a new councillor, noting it was the exception in the region in being a council "at large" without community boards. "That's why you do sense a good vibrant community here. And probably why we've had such a good turn out," he said.

Another warned of the dangers of the commission favouring a "one size fits all" approach. "Beware of under- estimating the depth of feeling held by Upper Hutt residents," he said to loud applause.

- Upper Hutt Leader

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