OPINION: Tuesday night's New Plymouth District Council meeting may have been a day after Guy Fawkes Day, but there were still plenty of fireworks.
Some of the more fiery exchanges occurred when the future of the Waitara cemetery loo was, um, left up in the air. A rarely used motion to revoke a previous resolution of the council, which requires 75 per cent of councillors to sign the motion before it is even accepted, was on the agenda.
It was clear there was strong opposition to the $147,000 cost of the new loo, especially at a time when councillors are going through a review of the level of services to try to keep rate increases down.
Led by Mayor Harry, the councillors overturned the decision and the process will now start all over again. The decision had been made on August 28 by the monitoring committee, with a clearly frustrated Mayor Harry at the time moving the cheaper option be used.
It failed for want of a seconder, leaving him to throw his arms up in the air. Ratepayers just spent an extra $69,000 so Waitara mourners could spend a penny.
Waitara councillor Sherril George was having none of it. "If it's good enough for New Plymouth, then it's good enough for Waitara to have the same standard," she thundered at that meeting.
She echoed pretty much the same comments on Tuesday night, bristling with plenty of indignation as she did. "No one even had the courtesy to let me know." Mind you, it was her motion (no pun intended) that was to be revoked, so perhaps it was understandable.
Fellow Waitara ward councillor Craig McFarlane said he was "disappointed" it was going to be reviewed, as there were 6500 residents in Waitara and only three public toilets - and none in Waitara East, where the cemetery is.
Mayor Harry was having none of it. He had one of his finest moments as the mayor chairing a council meeting with a fiery speech of his own. He dismantled the reasons behind the first decision with a pointed rebuttal of Cr George's argument.
"You say what's good enough for New Plymouth is good enough for Waitara," he told her bluntly. "Well we have 19 cemeteries in New Plymouth and not one has a public toilet . . . If we put a toilet in all of them, at $147,000, we would be spending several millions [$2.79 million to be precise]."
He also pointed out that contrary to claims, the council had no "policy" on loos. It was easily passed and it's now as if the decision never happened. Nothing like delegating authority to the monitoring committee to make a decision, only to revoke a particular decision because you don't like it.
Mind you, those pesky folk called ratepayers have been restless of late, so more than just a few might well agree with Harry on this one, especially during these financially sensitive times.
If that was the main act, there were plenty of supporting acts.
Environmentalist Kevin Moore started the meeting with a bang during his deputation when he managed to have a difference of opinion with Mayor Harry before the meeting had barely begun.
Mr Moore wanted more. He'd asked for 40 minutes to address council, but was told he could only have 10, as per standing orders. He then revealed he had a cunning plan. He was going to go to the next three council meetings as well and speak for 10 minutes at each, thereby getting his 40 minutes' worth.
Mayor Harry was unimpressed. "You may not be able to speak; it's at the discretion of the chair."
Things were a little terse from that point on. Basically Mr Moore berated the council, but the mayor and chief executive in particular, for pursuing policies which would destroy the futures of their children, and grandchildren.
Mayor Harry told him not to personalise it and stick to the point. He didn't. Mr Moore is a colourful personality and told a story about a scorpion and a frog that has been going around the internet for some years, but one he'd just come across. The point did seem a bit obscure but after 13 and a bit minutes, he did say "when I finish speaking", only to be told by Mayor Harry "you have finished speaking".
The final submission came from the Positive Ageing trust, which let the council know in no uncertain terms they were not a happy bunch of campers, retired or not. A lack of communication and a council officer's report they didn't much like seemed to be at the root of the problem that was aired during their lengthy submission, and which came as a surprise to everyone around the table.
Cr Girling-Butcher, aka Sir Lancelot, has long been a powerful, articulate advocate for the aged and he, like the mayor and pretty much everyone else around the table, was clearly feeling ambushed.
"As the councillor with this portfolio I'm rather surprised . . . It sounds like total disharmony and it's not the case."
After a few questions, everyone agreed to have a chat and make things better again, and no doubt they will.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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