Led by Mayor Yule, Team HDC went to two meetings yesterday.
One was a ritualised farce. The other was a classic in grassroots politics.
Meeting #1 was a “public briefing” by HDC on the progress of the sports park. Questions had to be submitted five days in advance in writing. Two people, both opposed to the park, did so. The Mayor read prepared responses to these questions; he might just as well have simply mailed us his answers. Little was added in limited follow-up questioning. Fourteen other opponents attended the meeting, two of whom managed to prevail upon the Mayor and ask questions (no way he could have said ‘No’ to June Graham!), receiving cursory replies. At least their presence established that more than five people, the Mayor’s favourite number, oppose the sports park!
Each of these so-called “briefings” is choreographed. There’s no real give and take. The Mayor seems determined not to be embarrassed by spontaneous questions for which he might not have a rehearsed answer. And we opponents politely submit to the charade, together with Councillor Anne Wilson, in whose honour they are held.
Meeting #2 was sponsored by the Clive Community Group. The main focus was HDC’s plan to close the Blackbridge refuse transfer station, and the Mayor and his team were on hand to explain and defend their proposal.
HDC staff made their case. A representative of the citizens gave a rebuttal. And then the fireworks began. No scripting here! If any of the hundred plus citizens at this meeting had been told to submit their questions in writing in advance, HDC would have been told exactly where to stuff them.
At this session, the locals were vocal and unrestrained. Plenty of “rubbish” jabs were tossed out. The Mayor and his team fought back. The Mayor floated a trial balloon that failed, at least in the moment, to placate the mob. They passionately want their dump. As hard as it is for the HDC to fathom, they made clear they want their dump more than Splash Planet or the Opera House.
Two Councillors who represent the ward — Rod Heaps and Robert Burnside — weighed in (that’s a pun for those who were there!). Heaps spoke the crowd’s language. Burnside spoke — well — Burnside’s language … somehow managing to link himself to Rodney Hide and blame it all on the previous Labour Government. For the first time in the evening, the crowd was left speechless.
This was a town meeting at its best. Full out give and take. A healthy exchange of facts and emotions.
I sincerely hope the Mayor reflects on the two meetings. In the first, he managed to offend in style and substance. In the second, in substance only. And that matters in politics and good governance.
Credit goes to a number of other Councillors — Bowers, Watkins, Twigg and Wilson — who attended the Clive meeting, risking getting their tyres slashed, and got a firsthand taste of how locals see the issue. And shame on Councillors Bradshaw and Kimber, non-attendees, who don’t seem to realise or care that many of their Havelock North constituents are loyal users of the Blackbridge facility.