OPINION: Before we elect anyone to do anything, we should stop to ask one question: Is Hamilton fast becoming the whack-job political centre of local council lunacy?
Have we lost our collective minds?
I first started suspecting something was in the water (no, not fluoride) when Hamilton City councillors came close to changing the city's name to Waikato City.
It was lunatic fringe PR that was seen as an innovative way to generate greater city recognition, commercial investment and development in the Waikato.
It was a whack-job idea that was scuttled and car stickers were soon seen everywhere: Hamilton and Proud. But the question then is the same question now: What the hell were they thinking?
So move on a few years from the Waikato City debacle. Hamilton City councillors then decide to build stadiums to generate greater city recognition, commercial investment and development in the Waikato and goes through various designs, none of which are sustainable, only to finally build one that isn't sustainable - unless ratepayers fund the shortfall.
Meanwhile, the Claudelands events centre, the new indoor stadium,built on the same flawed vision, can't generate the kind of business to be independent and ratepayers will never be free of the required subsidy to keep the doors open. Between both venues, the current debt is running at $90m and ratepayers are propping both the stadium and Claudelands up. What the hell were they thinking?
So then the councillors decide (in secret) to go after the V8s, despite having seen Auckland do the math and figure it was not sustainable.
Hamilton City Council then finds Auckland was right all along, it's not sustainable, and blames everyone except itself for not doing the sums and asking hard questions of, well, itself.
Specialists in reputation management among council members find that whatever the reputation of Hamilton was before councillors endorsed the event, it certainly isn't that afterwards. What the hell were they thinking?
And then partway through, Hamilton City councillors break with convention and set a bizarre political precedent by appointing the mayor as chief executive, ending his term in office prematurely and shortchanging voters who had elected him to the mayoral chains. What the hell were they thinking?
And so now we find Hamilton City's next mayor could be a convicted fraudster. Yes, it was 16 years ago and I'm all for redemption and climbing back from the ashes of personal or professional disaster, but do it in your own time and with your own money - not mine. It goes to character and it goes to voter trust. And where Hamilton City Council's secretive past (disguised in "commercially sensitive" rhetoric) is concerned, full disclosure from candidates is required. Voters should be sure they are making informed choices and they don't have to ask themselves later: What the hell was I thinking?
So here is my election hit-list. I wouldn't elect:
1) Anyone - and I mean anyone - using the word "entrepreneurial" in his or her campaign flyers. Why? Because true entrepreneurs risk and fail. Often. And when they fail, they go down big. They keep going down until they hit on something that finally works. Which I really don't mind, as long as it's done with their money and it doesn't leave passengers stranded in Brisbane. But when you are standing for public office . . . I don't want anyone taking risks with my money. It's not yours to risk - it's our money.
1b) Anyone - and I mean anyone - who uses the word "innovative" in a campaign flyer. Why? Because the last thing Hamilton needs are people who think they are constructed of Apple DNA. The use of "innovative" is a flow-down modern industry buzzword derived from the late Steve Jobs of Apple. Jobs' success was global, but he was a corporate psychopath and the last thing anyone needs is someone with a view that entrepreneurship and Steve Jobs personality traits make for sound governance and local body political leadership. Wrong on both counts. Steve Jobs wannabes are a dime a dozen and they're deluded and dangerous.
2) People from advertising agencies, PR firms or anyone involved in some form of marketing, reputation management, business development or tourism. I've had enough and if you haven't, then let me get you to repeat the mantra "V8" three times, say David Beckham Exhibition Games out loud and look towards Otago's debt-ridden rugby stadium while you're thinking of the millions lost. Keep the spin doctors away from council politics. Nationally, we have been poorly served by their presence and no one will miss their input into council affairs. Waikato City, anyone?
3) Anyone endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, whose collective endorsement of the V8s showed that body's real-world business acumen.
4) Anyone who thinks Hamilton City should become a Super Council. Larger councils don't ensure greater effectiveness. We need smaller councils with town clerks, not chief executives. The sense of entitlement to our money is what drives councils to larger ideals and, sadly, the same people who believe in this view of escalated electoral officialdom live in River Road instead of the suburbs of Frankton, Nawton and Dinsdale, where true financial management is a daily task.
I would vote for someone, anyone, who says he or she understands the public mandate is to reduce the size, spend and ratepayer burden of Hamilton City Council. Councils are a luxury we can't afford and so much of the work is unnecessary or incompetent (consents process and leaky homes, anyone?) that voters would be wise to ask: Do we actually need you? The indifference and apathy towards council initiatives answer that question emphatically.
I would vote for someone who understands that communities create culture and spirit, and councils don't. But councils can eliminate roadblocks to local spirit and investment and facilitate the ownership and development of local events, culture and business. And this is the council's primary role. Don't initiate - facilitate.
I would vote for someone who understands the electoral local body pendulum has to move towards fiscal reality and not political indulgence, risk and subsidy at our collective expense.
I would vote for anyone who will sack HR managers and CEOs who, through inaction or indifference, have created toxic council working environments.
I would vote for anyone who recognises the value of Hamilton's tertiary sector and will work to further enhance Hamilton as an education and research centre. I would vote for anyone who will advocate for legislative change that puts the power back in the hands of the people and not the hands of those who run city hall.
So unless there is something in the water that will save Hamilton from making yet another dubious electoral decision, the future is in your hands. As Hamilton's electoral Game of Thrones comes to its bloody conclusion, the rest of us are waiting to see how this cunning local political drama unfolds.
Choose wisely. Remember the past - but think to the future. It is time to change the way council business is done. It is time to vote.
- © Fairfax NZ News