OPINION: Invercargill city councillors will discuss the Rugby Park rescue package on Tuesday.
That's certainly when the Community Trust of Southland position paper is to be presented to them - and councillors will also be feeling the need to talk among themselves on the matter.
In public? We can only hope.
This would, however, entail something of a mindshift; a dawning awareness that it might not be such a rock-solid rule after all that financial discussions like this simply must be held out of the public arena.
[Especially when the finance required would come from the public.]
Those councillors who have political Geiger counters might also notice that the ratepayer-fury readings are high enough to suggest that the shadowy nature of rescue package discussions so far haven't been working out to their own particular advantage.
The question really becomes whether this plan - which includes the council taking over the stadium, with all the financial heartache that that is likely to represent - is an offer they can't refuse.
It's surely one they can't accept without consulting the public.
Perhaps the stickier question is whether consultation is going to be something more substantial than a tedious charade.
For their part, councillors are hardly at this stage looking united. From the outside looking in, there appear to be several potential camps.
In the yes camp were those who think it's a pretty good idea that the council take over Rugby Park because it will manage the whole shebang so much better. This group is likely to be quite an exclusive one, in terms of membership.
Trudging behind them, those who think a ratepayer takeover is a rotten prospect but the only feasible solution, even so. So they'd be fixing to vote for the deal out of a sense of mortified practicality.
On the other side, some councillors may privately agree that the park must be saved, and for the life of them can't see a way around a ratepayer takeover, but figure if they vote against it they will at least be seen to be on the side of the beleaguered ratepayers.
And finally, those councillors who oppose the deal because they do see an alternative and are happy to point it out and stand accountable for their reasoning, impressing on all sides as they go. These, of course, would be councillors who must be feeling keen especially keen for open debate.
As for what this shimmering alternative might be, there's a school of thought that it requires nothing more difficult than to tell the Southland Outdoor Stadium Trust, which is adamant it can't meet its obligations, and Rugby Southland, which says it can't assume them either because it would become insolvent, that one or other of them that they can. And that they must.
Let's acknowledge, though, that there is a bottom line. And that is saving Rugby Park.
The debate about what it really takes to do so would tell us much about our councillors.
And it's important that the public be represented when the decisions are truly being reached, rather than merely at some ceremonial conclusion when councillors have the opportunity to orate publicly about what they have effectively already determined privately. Because when that happens it's all too easy for any of the orators to try to re-write history.
- The Southland Times
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