Santa's largesse bows to cash

GORDON BROWN
Last updated 07:35 10/08/2012

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OPINION: It's not often that the New Plymouth District Council gets to do good things.

That, of course, is not entirely accurate, but on Tuesday night councillors found themselves being able to play Santa Claus - if they wanted to.

We are all familiar with the image of a lovable, cuddly Santa, complete with a white beard, ruddy complexion and plenty of ho, ho, hos.

We are also familiar with the image of Mayor Harry Duynhoven and, it has to be said, there are certain similarities. Although he is not anywhere near the size of Santa, the Honourable Harry does have a prominent white beard and an occasionally ruddy complexion.

Whether he is lovable and cuddly probably depends on your own relationship with the mayor, but he is prone to some loud bellows of laughter which border on being ho, ho, hos.

The gift was a desirable parcel of land consisting of the council's old Watson St depot and the former Waiwaka Bowls Club land.

Situated at the city entrance to Te Henui cemetery, it is a tranquil piece of land and with a valuation of $770,000 would have been a great gift. Two groups had put their hands up for the early Christmas present.

One was the YMCA, which needed new premises for its childcare centre. If the council gave the organisation this piece of land, it would erect a purpose-built centre there to cater for the hard-working solo mothers and others who wanted to leave their children in the YMCA's not-for-profit tender care.

It put up a compelling case, with a few deputations, a parade of mums and babies and lots of warm fuzzies about making New Plymouth a better place, which tugged at the heart strings of councillors.

But the girls had competition from a group of boys, who also wanted the gift for their pet project - a Menz Shed.

They, too, put their case in deputations to the council and on Tuesday night Barry Marsh was there for his third and final attempt to persuade the elected ones that the piece of land was perfect for a Menz Shed.

Marsh pointed out there are 8000 of these sheds around Australia and plenty more around the world, and men of mature years should be the ones to benefit from the council's largesse.

While councillors have been wrestling for nearly a year with the vexed question of who should get the ultimate gift, a third group recently emerged.

Rather than tug at councillors' heart strings, they tugged at the purse strings. Not only did they not want the land as a gift from Santa, they were also prepared to pay well over the odds for it and put in an offer of $1.15 million. They even went one step further and offered to provide a purpose-built childcare centre for the YMCA and their little ones to lease or buy.

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At that point, the race for the gift was over. Santa was gone and in his place were the number crunchers. The sack of goodies was gone, replaced by a business case, and let's face it, what could be more fitting for land beside a cemetery than a funeral chapel?

Casey Martin, of Eagars Funeral Services, and her business associates got the nod, leaving everyone, except for the boys from Menz Shed group, happy.

They weren't forgotten, though. Although the men were not so far interested in alternative sites, council officers were urged to find an alternative site for them.

That item dominated the meeting, which lasted a mere 80 minutes. While that debate was carried out in good spirits, there were the usual skirmishes at the start of the meeting, with Cr Horse still refusing to use his microphone when speaking.

The mayor tried for the 811th time to get him to use it.

"Cr McLeod, I notice you have put your microphone on the floor. People are still complaining they can't hear you when they are watching it online. Please use it."

Cr Horse remained unimpressed, deflecting the request with a reference to the low numbers of people watching. "For three people, Your Worship?"

The early exchanges came with Cr Horse refusing to accept the report on the Local Government New Zealand conference in Queenstown.

The mayor, deputy mayor Alex Matheson and Craig McFarlane attended, with the latter two providing a written report for the meeting.

In his report, Cr McFarlane was clearly most impressed with the conference.

"The one memorable thing was how highly the New Plymouth District Council, its chief executive and officers are considered by the rest of the country. We are, indeed, the envy of many."

Cr Horse objected, because the cost of sending the three was not included in the report. He said council spending had to be transparent.

"Is the money being spent wisely? What are the outcomes? What are the costings? There's none of that in this report. That's what our people want to know."

The mayor asked chief executive Barbara McKerrow whether there had been any requests from the public wanting to know the cost of the trip.

There had not, she replied.

As the saying goes, never look a gift horse in the mouth.

- Taranaki Daily News

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