I went to a Hastings District Council meeting last week, which began at 1pm.
I was interested in watching Councillors come full circle on the matter of relocating (or not) the Waimarama community hall. By now you probably know the steps in this process …
1. Go to Waimarama, host a community meeting with incomplete information, get a mandate from the multitude based on specious grounds to move the hall to a particular new location. Call that democracy.
2. Come back to Council chambers to deliberate, and decide instead to look at an additional location for the move.
3. Come back to Council chambers a second time and vote 11-1 not to move the hall after all, because new information provides a compelling case for sticking with the present location.
4. However, get self-conscious midway through the debate, and agree to a fuzzy caveat that another community meeting be held in Waimarama. Whether this is a meeting to announce and sell the decision, or to consult on the decision as though it were not an adopted decision, is unclear. I’m asking for a copy of the resolution.
But I’m digressing from my real point.
The first item on the Council’s agenda that day concerned a proposal to add a wee bit of cafe space on Heretaunga Street without a net loss of a single parking space on that block. The staff had found a way to promote latte’s (taking away a space) while adding one space on the other side of the street. Despite this elegant solution to an impasse that surely would have stymied economic development in the Bay, Hastings Councillors took just shy of one hour to accept the staff proposal (with two dissenting votes)!
Then they addressed agenda item #2 — to move the hall or not. That decision (or was it a decision?) took another hour.
By now it was 3pm … time for weary heads to take a tea break.
The third item on the agenda involved the fate of one plane tree on Fitzroy Avenue. I didn’t have the mental stamina to endure another hour of Council debate on such a vexing matter.
1 parking space + 1 community hall + 1 plane tree = 3 hours. With a full complement of senior staff on hand for the duration to guide Councillors on their voyage into the policy-making abyss.
I’m told that later in the meeting, Councillors did find time to accept the raises given them by the Compensation Commission.
Clearly, no member of the Commission has ever attended an actual Council meeting!
I don’t mean, however, to give the impression that the Hastings Council is unique in its behavior.
Each of our local councils has its quirks. The Napier Council meetings rarely last more than 15 minutes. There, even a debate over a single tree would be refreshing. Meetings over 15 minutes are reserved for bashing the Hastings Council and, even better, Mayor Yule. At the Regional Council, the same amount of time can be spent arguing over points of order as is spent discussing an issue like fracking or water allocation.
But at least when the Regional Council does get wound up, it’s deciding matters like $500 million dam projects. The stakes are high enough to warrant the meeting!
All of which leads me to flirt with a different concept — not amalgamation, but extermination.
Perhaps we should just eliminate the Hastings and Napier Councils (and does anyone possibly imagine the CHB and Wairoa Councils are any different?). Wipe them off the map, and take our chances that a newly empowered Regional Council might attract candidates commensurate with the responsibility.
It’s a gamble, I know. But there’s nowhere to go but up.