It's amazing how many arguments can be fitted into a council meeting lasting less than an hour.
On Tuesday evening, New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven and councillor John "Horse" McLeod managed to clash so often it looked like a United Nations peace envoy would be sent from Syria to try to sort it out.
Mind you, there were plenty of other clashes, mainly between Cr Horse and most of his colleagues, with cost-cutting councillor Heather Dodunski at her Head Monitor best as she refused to let him get away with some of his accusations.
However, it would be unfair to paint the whole meeting as being full of skirmishes and squabbles. There was approximately seven or eight minutes near the end when everyone was nice to each other and Cr Horse was silent.
Mayor Harry has done well to generally keep his cool in the first 20 months of his term, which means the skirmishes and unrest that he has had to deal with have being going on longer than Syria's - so far.
On Tuesday, we had an escalation of the tension.
The Honourable Harry, in his most dignified-but- determined-demeanour, asked Cr Horse at the start of the meeting if he would please use the microphone.
People watching online complained they could not hear him.
Cr Horse rose to his feet and replied in his most dignified- but-belligerent-manner : "You can ask, your Worship but I respectfully decline."
The Honourable Harry tried again; this time Horse kept his own counsel, if not council, even though he'd quite like one of his own, and the mayor was met with silence.
Harry did what Harry could only do, he moved on to the agenda. There were nine items, with the first eight being little more than foreplay before the main event of the night, the adoption of the Long Term Plan (LTP). There is some urgency in this. All councils have a June 30 deadline, by which time the auditor- general's office has to sign off the plan. Accompanying the plan was a three-page report from the office, saying all was well.
If anyone thought councillors might breeze through the first eight items, they were sadly mistaken.
Cr Horse managed to find fault with more than half of them and frequently leapt to his feet.
He targeted Venture Taranaki. Its future should be conditional until the councillors' service review was completed, he said in an amendment.
All this was becoming too much for Great Uncle Bulgaria, Lynn Bublitz.
He pointed out in a point of order that Cr Horse was actually out of order, because absolutely everything was up for review during the review.
Chief executive Big Boss Barbara McKerrow made two not unreasonable observations: firstly, that it was Venture Taranaki's statement of intent, not the council's; and secondly, the budget was already agreed and was in the LTP.
Mayor Harry ruled it out of order; on to the next item, and some of the ugliest scenes seen in the debating chamber for years. There wasn't much debating, had little to do with democracy but there was a lot of yelling and tempers became frayed.
At issue was New Plymouth being a member of a national body of councils that set up a protection disaster fund. Following the Christchurch earthquakes, the fund needed building up again and it was considered prudent to acknowledge that contingent liability in the LTP.
Cr Horse wanted to know why 20 of the 70-odd councils in the country were not in the scheme.
The Head Monitor was quick to make a point of order, pointing out that the mayor couldn't answer for 20 other councils.
"Especially when I don't even know who they are," agreed Harry.
Again Cr Horse was on his feet. "I put a point of order on the point of order " he yelled, amid the din, his sergeant major's voice to the fore.
"Sit down," said Harry.
Cr Horse didn't.
"Point of order, I want to know why the other 20 councils aren't in."
"That's not a point of order, it's a debate," said Mayor Harry with some finality. Except there was none. There were more unbecoming exchanges and the item was finally passed. Then came the LTP.
Cr Horse insisted there were accounting irregularities. He detailed them and even invoked the name of the deputy chief executive, Frank Versteeg, as one "who also knew about them".
An unlikely ally, Mr Versteeg was also an unwilling one. Yes, he was aware of Horse's complaints, and he'd passed on the concerns to the auditors who'd investigated them and found them unfounded, he said.
Things got really heated, with Cr Horse taking a swipe at his colleagues over wasting money, which was why he wasn't using a microphone. The Head Monitor fired back that he was the one who'd just cost the council $43,000. That got a reaction.
Eventually the LTP went through unchanged, and peace was almost restored, with a speech from Pauline Lockett. She created an oasis of serenity with her description of this beautiful place called New Plymouth. It's a district that we should all be proud of.
Why, only recently she'd travelled to central North Island, and even so far as the opposite coast. When she told people she was from New Plymouth, they said how lucky she was. It was a lovely speech, one that sounded very much like the start of a mayoral campaign.
Finally, Harry finished with a dignified thank you speech, to all and sundry. Cr Horse turned his back.
The council had gone from Nirvana to Damascus in a journey lasting just a few minutes.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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