Hapu drops bombshell at otherwise slick meeting

Last updated 12:16 04/05/2012

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OPINION: Maybe it was the presence of the youth subcommittee members, but whatever the reason, the argy-bargy of recent New Plymouth District Council meetings was notably absent on Tuesday night.

Not that all the junior councillors-in-waiting seemed to grasp the importance of the occasion at the monitoring committee meeting.

Some wore T-shirts, shorts and jandals and maybe it was coincidental, but the best-dressed members, those either in formal school uniforms or the one or two who wore a shirt and tie, actually stayed to the end of the meeting, while several of the more casually attired left before the end.

On this occasion, the end wasn't too late either, at least as far as the public-included part was concerned. Councillors had to wait for a briefing on secrets about money stuff and, despite an attempt by Shaun Biesiek to have the media be allowed to stay, it was met with little enthusiasm, so we were on our way at the respectable time of 6.22pm.

That means chairman Craig McFarlane ran things at positively breakneck speed, especially considering there were four deputations appearing.

A subconscious sign of admiration for the feat came his way when Mr Biesiek, who has already declared his candidacy for the mayoralty next year, called Mr McFarlane "Your Worship".

Naturally, there was much laughter and no small amount of appreciation from the Big Mac, as the monitoring committee chairman is sometimes known.

A couple of items concentrated the councillors' minds, with plenty of deputations to act as an extra incentive, and a couple of other issues which some councillors try to score points on, but as usual the outcome was a predictable blank.

The Honourable Harry, meanwhile, was away in Wellington, where we were informed by Mr McFarlane that he was getting his Queen's Service Order from the governor-general.

Nobody seemed that impressed, and although there was a smattering of "Well deserved" and "Congratulations", they were barely audible and no formal motion of congratulations was tabled.

To suggest the meeting was quicker and more amiable because of Harry's absence would be a Rewa Rewa too far. Councillors generally only gang up on him when he chairs the full council meetings, and tend to ignore him when he sits around the table as a mere member.

The meeting started off well, with a deputation that was beautifully brief. The chaps from the New Plymouth Classic Motorcycle Club decided they wouldn't buy the council building in Huatoki Domain because, after doing some analysis, they had worked out it could cost them every dollar they had.

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So it was a case of thanks for the offer, but no thanks, not even for the symbolic $1 price tag. Some gifts are just too expensive to accept, a bit like the Len Lye Centre, many would say.

Then came the bombshell. The next deputation was from Glen Skipper, chairman of the Ngati Tawhirikura hapu, who wanted to let councillors know how upset and hurt it was at the council's proposals to sell off surplus land, as the council sees it, at the Colson Rd landfill.

He succeeded. It was contrary to an agreement the hapu had with the council in 2007, but that seemed to count for little with this council, he said. In his own quiet manner, Skipper said that, despite the council officers' reports, the hapu did want to buy the land.

"In the report it was deemed not significant, but it must be because it's valued at $290,000," he said.

"What have we done wrong? What's different now? Why is it different?"

Councillors generally had no idea what the answer was. Everyone sitting around the table likes to be thought of as fair- minded people whose word is their bond, unless the staff subsequently advise them otherwise, of course.

Howie Tamati was quick to have the vote put off and the recommendation was sent to lie on the table pending further reports. Round one to Ngati Tawhirikura.

The other significant issue was the Let's Go Street Improvements Project at Pendarves St. Usually the residents and Central School principal Juliet Ormrod would like projects with the word "improvements" in them, and when the original plan went out for consultation, they did.

But it transpired there were 10 submissions from the public, including nine from staff at the council, who were upset that their all-day car parks were to go.

After deliberating on that for a couple of minutes, presumably in the staff canteen, the other council staff members who wrote the report quickly changed their recommendation and restored the car parks. Not that councillors had a say, of course.

They were clearly not impressed with the change and Deputy Mayor Alex Matheson got in first by moving the recommendation be changed back to the original one. This was definitely democracy in action. Councillors 10, staff 0.

One of the regular reports is Venture Taranaki's quarterly report. That was tabled and chief executive Stuart Trundle was subjected to interrogation.

The opening salvo came from John "Horse" McLeod. Two questions were asked and two admirably honest informative answers were given, which explained the true situation. Trundle 2, Horse 0.

Sherril "Sledgehammer" George lined him up next. She had three questions. Three admirably honest informative answers were given, which explained the situation. Trundle 3, Sledge 0.

There were a few other questions, but they were more of the actual question type, rather than accusations dressed up as questions, and everyone seemed satisfied.

Some councillors were actually smiling. If only Harry had have been there to share the moment, he might have traded it in for his gong.

- Taranaki Daily News

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