I attended a meeting of the Waimarama Development and Protection Society on Saturday afternoon. It was actually their AGM meeting, but served also as a forum for Mayor Yule to explain why the Hastings Council had recently voted 11-1 to keep Waimarama’s community hall in its present location.
Email invitations were sent to Waimarama residents the Society had email addresses for, and a couple of notices were posted at the shop there and the Fire Station.
It’s all well and good that a local citizen group requested a presentation from the Mayor (that part of democracy I applaud).
However, the invitations were hit and miss, such that my next door neighbors back along the Tukituki, who as Waimarama bach owners are ‘villains’ at the centre of the ‘to re-locate the hall or not or where’ controversy, were not invited. They didn’t know of the meeting until I passed along the email forwarded to me by a friend in the Society. Nor, consequently, were they invited to address the meeting, as the proponents of moving the hall were. They nevertheless attended the meeting and were eventually recognised to speak along with other questioners from the floor.
The gathering eventually closed with a 45-15 vote in favor of moving the hall … now!
Effectively you had a meeting packed, not surprisingly, with advocates of the move, who were there to pillory Yule and the HDC. I can sympathise with that purpose. I’ve been there!
That said, this meeting hardly qualifies as the ‘public consultation’ the Hastings Council had committed itself to at its recent vote on the matter. And that’s why I’ve dwelt on the process. This event was like going to a Federated Farmers meeting and asking farmers if they’d like more water allocated to them. Let’s see a show of hands … duh! Or going to a local Forest & Bird chapter and asking how many would like to see a stronger commitment to biodiversity … hmmm!
So the Mayor and three of his Councillors left with a fresh ‘directive’ to reverse their position a second time and get on with moving the hall.
Until Saturday, I hadn’t realised that all one had to do to get the decision they wanted out of the Hastings Council was get a roomful of like-minded people in the room, take a vote, and expect the Council to march to that order.
Perhaps the WOW folks in Haumoana who’d like Hastings Council to build some erosion-stalling groynes should take this example to heart … Call a meeting for next Saturday! Just be careful who you invite.
Do I sound un-democratic?
My Tukituki neighbors are resisting the proposal to move a 400 square metre community hall onto a recreation reserve directly in front of their bach. Before their purchase, doing due diligence, they were assured by Council staff that no development could occur, given the land classification. Now, faced with loss of view, loss of home value, and an unwanted new ‘neighbor’, they’ve signaled with an adjoining property owner that they will challenge the legality of moving the hall onto the reserve.
They have every right to do that — it’s called rule of law — despite suggestions made to them on Saturday by one speaker to not be “anal” about their amenity and value loss. After all, chided another unsympathetic speaker, “shit happens”. None of these individuals raised their hands when my neighbor asked how many in the room would volunteer to lose $100k or more off their home’s value.
As I said above, getting 60 people in a room to lobby the Mayor and Councillors on an issue is indeed part of the democratic process. But only a part, and the Mayor and Councillors were remiss not to make that crystal clear on Saturday. They went to Waimarama. They listened. They need to reflect on what they heard. But also to take into account other points of view, including what might be minority views. Weigh up all the options and arguments. And then they make a decision.
If they ‘get it wrong’ too often, they get un-elected. That’s democracy. That’s their job.
Over the time I’ve been following councils in the region, I’ve found plenty to disagree with, as BayBuzz readers know.
And so I’ve written, lobbied, made submissions, organised public forums and petition campaigns, urged people to get involved, even run for office to attempt to change outcomes.
But I confess it’s never occurred to me that all this time there was an easier way — get the right 60 people in the room on the day, take a vote, and issue a directive to the Council. Sounds efficient. But frankly, I’m not sure how many public issues in Hawke’s Bay I’d actually want to see decided that way. How about you? If that makes me un-democratic, so be it.
So how will the Waimarama hall saga end?
Mayor Yule did his best to persuade the audience that immediate measures could be taken to protect the hall and make it usable where it is, leaving the question of its best future location be addressed as part of a broader community plan for Waimarama. That plan could be developed over 18 months or so with extensive public consultation and intensive public/Council interaction (following the successful model used elsewhere in the district).
To me, that sounded like a prudent approach. Council’s commitment to a formal community planning process for Waimarama — looking at a host of development issues from water supply and sewage disposal issues, to civil defence and fire service needs, to optimal use of public spaces to meet a range of community needs — might well defuse the controversy. But most in the audience didn’t want to wait for the hall to be sited in that intelligent context; even though most seemed to nod support at the idea of a community plan.
Perhaps the Council would find more support for the community planning approach, consistently advocated by Councillor Bradshaw I should note, if it conducted a more thorough canvassing of all Waimarama ratepayers … perhaps via a brochure mailed to all explaining the options and asking for feedback. That would fulfill its consultation pledge far better … whatever the outcome.
Otherwise, if the Council does decide to move the hall now, the matter will wind up in court … for months. With the hall in limbo until one party or the other is a clear loser.
Before lawyers’ fees start mounting, maybe all parties need a day of Council-sponsored mediation to determine if there’s a win/win possibility.