What a challenge: Wiggles, ballet and Burt

What an events extravaganza we had at the weekend in Invercargill. The Wiggles, The Royal NZ Ballet and the Burt Munro Challenge may all have vastly different followings but we can be assured there was something for everyone.

If there was still nothing on the menu that appeals, you could always jump on line and check out spiritofmawson.com and follow the adventures of a group of Aussies, Brits and Kiwis who are heading for the Sub Antarctic Islands followed by a trip to the Antarctic. It's an attempt to make science look exciting.

Of all the events, the most notable of course is "The Challenge". It is estimated that more than 20,000 people were  attracted to Invercargill as a result of Burt's heroic feats and I would like to publicly welcome all those who made the effort to travel huge distances through rain, wind and thunderstorms to attend this iconic event. I'd also like to thank the army of volunteers who work so hard to ensure everything runs smoothly. They are certainly able to conduct their affairs with a lot less public niggling than the city council.

The latest allegation being hurled at us is that we conduct too many public excluded meetings and it's true. I'd rather have every single debate out in the open, but we just can't do it. If we are considering buying a block of land the price will double if the seller hears that council is interested in purchasing it. So, we use subterfuge. We send an anonymous person to negotiate on our behalf. I know it's secretive, and no-one enjoys working in the shadows. However, I can assure you we are not a corrupt council. We are not having secret meetings because we wish to line our own pockets. It's only because we want to get the best possible deal on behalf of the ratepayers.

Take the most recent example - the possible takeover of Rugby Park. We may have held a few private discussions with trust representatives on the future management and ownership of Rugby Park, but as yet there has been no agreement on anything. Nonetheless, I decided the public should be informed that research and analysis was underway and that in my opinion it was likely that council would end up playing a pivotal role. When you consider that absolutely nothing has been decided on and none of the parties involved have even discussed the matter on a formal basis, I believe we have been incredibly transparent. It's not as though we are in a unique situation. Virtually every "rugby park" in New Zealand is facing similar issues. Another project that has come out of nowhere with no mention in our Annual Plan and no public submissions has been the commemoration of World War I. In basic terms, the Government decided we should get involved and already Venture Southland have published a report on the project. War is of course a highly secretive undertaking and it verged on treason if you spoke out publicly on any issue relating to military affairs. Only now, 100 years later, are stories beginning to emerge. One of the most interesting reports I have received so far has been about the work of a Bluff poet, Cecil Harry Winter. He is credited by many for writing the words of the marching song Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Inky Pinky Parlez-Vous.

I'm sure there are numerous heroic, creative, humorous and tragic stories that have yet to emerge from the Great War.

We certainly need a few inspiring anecdotes to lift our spirits.

With all the disturbing revelations of Marxist/Leninist/ Maoist slaves in Britain, President Berlusconi and his underage prostitutes in Italy and the mayor of Toronto making Mayor Len Brown look purer than the driven snow, it's difficult for the human spirit to soar like an eagle.

The other disturbing news that never seems to end are the storms, firestorms and earthquakes erupting all over the world.

Hardest hit so far is the devastation in the Philippines. With so many Filipinos living and working in Southland, especially in the dairy sector, I feel we should make an extra effort to support them in their hour of need.

No-one can prove or disprove whether or not these storms are caused by carbon emissions or Earth's 10 million year cycles.

All we know for certain is that people are suffering and they desperately need our help.

Tim Shadbolt is Invercargill City Mayor.

The Southland Times