OPINION: There was only one item on Tuesday's special New Plymouth District Council meeting, but it caused plenty of problems.
The item was a weighty one, mind you, being the council's submission to the Government on the proposed local government reforms. The suggested changes have gone down as well as fracking at Parihaka would. The councillors didn't like the reforms, but for different reasons.
Mayor Harry opened the meeting by firing a few salvos of his own at some of the council critics, stating categorically that chief executive Big Boss Barbs McKerrow was away on annual leave when the submission was written, and had nothing to do with it. What's more, the submission only reflected the councillors' wishes and any suggestion to the contrary was misinformed, mistaken and misguided, or something like that.
The Honourable Harry was fuming.
Then the inevitable happened. Cr John 'Horse' McLeod got to his feet to speak and in his speech managed to break the council code of conduct approximately 73 times by saying the submission did not reflect the views of the councillors but those of the senior management team.
The first time he said it, no-one reacted, so he said it again, and against a background of murmuring, Mayor Harry told Cr Horse to sit down. He ignored the request and continued, speaking louder. Mayor Harry was having none of it and shouted at him to sit down. He did, muttering the whole time at the injustice of it all.
The mayor pointed out that Cr Horse hadn't spoken on the topic at the workshop. What's more, if the draft submission had been changed he would have been the first one to be up in arms about it. But it hadn't. "So please don't infer any improper actions by the council officers!"
Cr Horse was, as ever, suitably unrepentant.
"It's not the elected body's opinion. Is council happy with all the details, the governance? Are you happy with them, councillors?" No-one answered.
The mayor forced the issue. "Are you going to make an amendment?"
"No, there's no point. I'm going to Wellington to put in my own submission."
"In that case, Councillor McLeod, thank you for the grandstanding. The last five minutes has been a complete waste of time."
Exchanges of that sort are pretty much par for the course these days. It was soon over and there was a series of fine speeches interspersed with some rambling, in which some councillors were unhappy with this and that but didn't want to propose any amendments. The inability of some experienced councillors to effectively debate an issue is still surprising.
Then there was the second variation, although some managed to encompass both. These were from councillors clearly positioning themselves for a tilt at Harry's job next year. Pauline Lockett, who recently has become more vocal, albeit in a state-of-the-district genre, made a good one. Confirmed mayoral candidate Shaun Biesiek made a muddled one, and Andrew Judd, so often the judder bar along the road that Mayor Harry travels, made the most sense. Judders condemned the proposed local government reforms as "farcical, rushed and vague".
"If, after having a workshop, we are still confused on what we are going to submit on, what is the outcome of this bill going to be?" In other words, if the combined intellect of the New Plymouth District Council couldn't make sense of it, then obviously it didn't make sense.
He had a point. The whole process has been rushed and councils - along with the rest of the public - had until yesterday to have their submissions in to stop the Government from this folly, or alternatively, tell them to get even harder.
It was agreed that Judders' criticisms should indeed be inserted at the top of the council's submission, making it quite clear they thought the Government should start again. Big Boss Barbs was entrusted with this job, with councillors to get a copy emailed to them before it was finalised. Cr Horse, who returned his council computer, will no doubt get his copy sent to him via a sturdy carrier pigeon.
Everyone was pretty happy with that and so a largely unchanged submission will be sent off, with only two dissenting voices, Crs McLeod and Sherril George. Not that the latter had much to say during debate. The only concern she raised was that she thought tangata whenua should have had a chance to have input into the council's submission. It gave an insight into the Road to Damascus journey she has travelled in a few years. Not so long ago she was miffed when a karakia was introduced at the start of council meetings. But now. . . mind you, seeing the state of the Syrian capital Damascus these days, it ain't what it used to be.
The final few thousand words went to Mayor Harry. He made a rather fine, forceful speech from the throne in which he defended his council and district to the hilt. Along the way he took a few pot shots at the media, council critics and most of all, the Government. It could have been his finest hour, but when Head Monitor Heather Dodunski gently pointed out that standing orders restricted him to 10 minutes, he stopped at 15, with a smile and an apology.
Few minded though. It was only fair he had a turn.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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