All the high hopes exploded by the verbal grenades

SECOND THOUGHTS

GORDON BROWN
Last updated 08:03 22/02/2013

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OPINION: It started off so well.

Mayor Harry opened Tuesday's New Plymouth District Council meeting to approve the draft annual plan and the service review by pointing out what a success the review had been.

Councillors and staff had worked jolly hard, with no fewer than nine workshops. As a result of their thorough investigations, savings of $1.4 million would mean the rates increase could drop from 6.4 per cent to 4.6 per cent.

"This is now our opportunity to debate every activity that council is involved in and have our say. Everyone's had plenty of time for input," said the Honourable Harry, his sense of pride clearly palpable.

He clearly had high hopes, but, they turned out to be short-lived. The first speaker was Andrew Judd and he launched a blistering attack on the proposed savings, saying they didn't go nearly far enough.

"TIML is in trouble and can't be sustained. This [the report] says nothing about where we're going. We've been living on the back of TIML," thundered Judders.

With the dividends reduced, councillors had no option other than to slash budgets and big ticket items, he said.

"We need to make cuts, but you don't want to do that. I don't want to be chastised for criticising staff, but making internal savings of $603,000, with more than $300,000 of it in electricity bills - where was that last year? We get a bill every month."

Judders then turned his attention to the deferred $28m stadium development and the Len Lye Centre. "We're not even brave enough to say we can't afford a stadium. Instead we say we may no longer be able to afford housing for the elderly, although we can afford housing for art."

Strong stuff, and he was far from finished as he continued to lob verbal grenades across the debating chamber at the council's much- vaunted plan.

Admittedly much of the vaunting had been done by Mayor Harry and chief executive Barbara McKerrow, who barely a week earlier had waved a piece of paper in the best of Neville Chamberlain tradition, declaring they had secured savings in our time. Or something like that.

They had, but when you lose $7m in annual income from your PIF (Perpetual Investment Fund), to the old Razor Gang it's more like PIFFLE.

The old gang continues to be pretty intact nearly six years after it was first cobbled together, and Judders led the attack for the cause. "What part of broke are we stuck on?"

Right from the first amendment, the meeting resembled a session of Parliament.

On the "Government" benches were the ruling majority of Mayor Harry, deputy Alex Matheson, Maurice Betts (he had an apology in for Tuesday's meeting), Phil Quinney, Marie Pearce, Pauline Lockett, Lance Girling-Butcher, Lynn Bublitz and Howie Tamati.

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The opposition usually consists of the old gang: Judders, Horse McLeod, Sherril "Sledgehammer" George, Shaun Biesiek and Craig McFarlane. When it comes to keeping the spending down, they are usually joined by Head Monitor Heather Dodunski, which means they usually lose the votes by 9-6.

On Tuesday the council voted on various amendments put forward by Crs Biesiek, George, McLeod and Judd. Not surprisingly they were lost by around 9-6, barring the odd abstention.

After either the third or fourth such vote, Grey Power council watcher Keith Allum had seen enough and left. On the way past the press bench he made a withering observation. "The whole process is predetermined. It's driving me nuts!"

Some would say he had also displayed a keen insight into the state of his own mind, but I couldn't possibly comment.

But back to the serious stuff. Allum did have a point and there was a certain predictability to the outcomes. To be fair, some of the amendments were either poorly promoted or conceived and deserved a quick death. Judders was the most eloquent proponent for the opposition.

Debate was thorough, with Cr Shorn rightly pointing out that each amendment was taking about half an hour to be debated (and lost). "Not if I can help it," the mayor noted with a smile.

He couldn't, and they continued at the same pace. As a chairman, Harry is far more generous, or lax, depending on your point of view, than his predecessors.

At one stage Cr Shorn decided he would share his thoughts with those in the room. He wasn't speaking to any amendment or motion and eventually the Head Monitor reluctantly pulled a point of order on him, pointing out that he needed to move an amendment then talk.

"At the moment, you're just talking."

She was right, so he did. Naturally it was lost, 8-6. Eventually all was passed as per the recommendations on the agenda.

Len Lye door charges, or lack of, aroused the usual controversy and the easiest way to shut it down was to agree to debate it at a later date. Sir Lancelot G-B is a wily old cove and he agreed, knowing full well it's as unlikely to pass as knocking out Sonny Bill Williams in the 11th round.

Finally, Harry fired off a few barbs at the council critics who were so uninformed that schools should introduce teaching civic matters in an effort to imbue some basic understanding out there in critic land.

If it had have been put forward as an amendment it could well have been won 8-6.

- Taranaki Daily News

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