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.

Tom Belford

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5 Comments

  1. Tom, the meeting on Saturday was not part of the democratic process, and you know it. The processes of Local Government are contained in the 2002 Act. The AGM of a community group has no authority and the vote by attendees carries no weight.

    Most people found out about the meeting through notices at the store and word of mouth. Obviously the Mayor and Councillors (Bowers, Bradshaw, Henderson) were invited, as you were, I assume in your capacity as editor of Baybuzz. The meeting was held in haste as a community reaction to the Council overturning their 14 March decision to move the hall.

    What is part of the democratic process was the Council initiated community meeting on 26 January attended by over 150 people who voted overwhelmingly to move the hall to Gilray Place.

    Saturday's meeting was an opportunity for Council to explain the reasons for changing their minds. The Mayor and Colin Hosford presented well, but they could not smooth away the same concerns that drove the original vote; the hall is unsafe in its present position. Like it or not, this is the overwhelming opinion of the community.

    I'm at a loss to understand why you portray your neighbour as a victim in being, 'eventually recognised to speak.' Wasn't Angelique the first to speak? And didn't the other objector give a long and tedious legal defence of her property rights to a polite audience.

    Distorting a meeting which has no legal democratic authority into some sort of thorn in the side of local government democracy is either mischievous or misinformed. The Saturday meeting was simply an endorsement of the January meeting which was part of the Local Government Act process.

    In a wider sense democracy is being tested by the two objectors in Gilray Place. If they hadn't objected the hall would have been moved by now. Their right to maintain their property values has stymied the community's right (26 January vote) to have the hall on a safe site owned by the Council. The hall will be 100m from their houses. Other houses on Harper Road are closer but haven't objected. They consider community benefit before self interest, which comes close to the heart of democracy does it not? (Demo=the people, kratia=power)

  2. Tom, the Council advised Waimarama property owners or ratepayers by mail that a meeting would be held on 26 January 2012 to discuss the options for the Hall’s location and to get the community’s feedback on the preferred location for the Hall. The Council had examined all the potential sites it could find in Waimarama and then presented the points for and against the 5 options it had identified at that meeting.

    The public recreation reserve off the end of Gilray Place had a number of factors that made it the Council staff’s preferred option compared to the other sites. This site was also the preferred option for the Fire Service and the Emergency Service personnel at Waimarama, as well as the Hall committee. After a substantial discussion of the alternatives the meeting voted overwhelmingly to move the Hall to the public reserve off Gilray Place.

    The meeting was chaired by Councillor Lester who initially declared the decision unanimous. He then amended the recording of the vote to be an overwhelming majority as there were one or two dissenting votes against this option. The meeting was also attended by several senior Council staff including the Chief Executive Ross McLeod, Group Manager Assets Management Dave Fraser, Parks and Properties Manager Colin Hosford and others. Ratepayers were notified of this meeting and the majority of those who attended made their view very clear that the Hall should be moved to the public reserve adjacent to Gilray Place.

    At the subsequent Council meeting on 15 March the Mayor said that the 26 January meeting had been the most substantially attended public meeting he had known of at Waimarama. On 15 March Councillors were advised of a potential legal challenge to the community’s preferred option by two home owners (one of these being your neighbour).

    At the March meeting Councillors agreed that the Hall had to be moved, but they decided to further examine 2 of the sites, these being the public recreation reserves off Gilray Place and off Mori Road, before making their final decision. Council staff was asked to report back on which of these two sites was the better option.

    At a further Council meeting on 19 April the Council received some new information from staff regarding the options. The new information was (1) a revision to the costs and (2) the potential for a legal challenge to the Gilray Place and the Mori Road sites.

    Legal challenges to building consents are common and the Council had already prepared itself for this eventuality. Council had already taken the precaution to have its position regarding the recreation reserve at Gilray Place peer reviewed by a Queens’ Councillor (a Q.C.). This legal review by a Q.C. led the Chief Executive to advise Councillors on 15 March that he was confident of the correctness and legality of the use of the public recreation reserve for the community Hall. So this potential legal challenge was not a sufficient reason to change the Council decision, except for the risk that any challenge would involve a delay in getting the Hall up and running as quickly as would otherwise be the case.

    The Mayor told Councillors on 19 April that he believed that the vote at the 26 January meeting to move the Hall to the Gilray Place reserve might have been different if this new information was known to everyone at that time. The Mayor was also concerned that such a decision by Council was being made without Council having gone back to ratepayers to explain why. The Mayor said he was happy to go to Waimarama to discuss the impact of the new information and find out what the people now thought about the options, when they knew everything that the Council now knew.

    The Waimarama Development and Protection Society was having its AGM on Saturday and the Mayor was invited to attend. Hence his attendance.

    On Saturday the Mayor made it clear that costs were not the basis to decide this issue as the differences to the options are not great enough to alter the decision. The Chief Executive and the Mayor had already said they were confident that the law allows the Hall to be on the reserve, so this in itself is not a reason to change the Council decision. The Mayor was concerned however that any legal challenge would cause a delay to the Hall being re-established, and that the community needed to understand the point that they would be without a Hall until this was sorted out.

    The potential for further delay was the main aspect the community now had to consider as the ’new information’ from what they knew at the 26 January meeting. Any delay is obviously a disadvantage, but not withstanding this, the community now having all the new information still wanted the same site for the hall as they voted for at the 26 January meeting –nothing had changed in this regard. It was made clear on Saturday that the current site is just not considered safe and sustainable and the Hall needs to be moved to a new site.

    As to your point about not providing a full mail out to all property owners, only the Council has an accurate record of the names and addresses as was used to notify the January meeting. A mail advice notice to all ratepayers of a meeting would therefore have had to come from the Council.

    You seem to have cherry picked your points on this without taking into account the full context of this decision, including the previous meeting on 26 January.

    On Saturday everyone was invited to speak from the outset, and it is not right for you to suggest this was restricted or biased to ‘proponents’ of moving the Hall. The Mayor spoke first as he was invited to address the meeting and explain the new information. The Chairperson of the Hall Committee then spoke, followed by others including your neighbour and the other property owner at Gilray Place.

    For accuracy of the situation it is proposed that the Hall be located about 100 metres from your neighbour’s house which is not quite the same as “right in front”.

    This may well end up by being decided legally, but it was also made clear at the meeting on Saturday that the community would like to engage in a more positive and cooperative way with the two home owners concerned and they were invited to join the planning process for the community’s facilities at Waimarama.

    The legitimacy of the process was the Council convened meeting on 26 January. Last Saturday was just another confirmation of this previous decision.

    And it will be a sad day for democracy when the minority get to decide.

    Paddy Maloney

  3. I don't have time at the moment to get into a historical recounting over this, but I do have two philosophical observations that I think are more important than the matter at hand.

    First, it would be an interesting discussion whether more justice gets served in the world by handfuls of individuals (or even one) sticking up for their legal rights against majorities hellbent on rolling over anyone in their path, or by the reverse … majorities pursuing the 'truth' for whom legal rights are a nuisance.

    Second, nothing in my post should be taken as an apologia for HDC. It sounds like they bungled this from the outset. But in my judgment, their first and biggest bungle was to create the impression that a decision like this would be made by — as opposed to be informed by — a group of people raising their hands at a meeting.

    I've observed many, many council meetings with citizen and interest groups where views are heard, temperatures taken, debates occur. The ones I've observed are never represented as decision-making. Nor should they be … point #1 above being only one of the reasons.

    Upset folks in Waimarama should get clear about just who it is they want to lynch.

    That aside, what's wrong with producing an intelligent community plan?

  4. It's clear where you stand on this, Tom.

    The right of two people, one being your neighbour, to maintain the value of their holiday homes, is greater than right of the Waimarama community to have a safe and functioning hall.

  5. I read with concern your article of 29th April (Democracy in Action). The lack of objectivity and many inaccuracies it contains highlights the lack of research on your part into the background of the issues concerning the fate of the Waimarama Maraetotara Memorial Hall. But hey, one should never let facts get in the way of a good story.

    I find it interesting that you and objectors themselves are the only people to vilify anyone in this process. Nobody I am aware of has questioned the democratic right of the objectors to object, and unprejudiced meetings between your so called proponents and some of the objectors have been congenial and fruitful, an indication of the ability of both parties to see both sides, surely a plus in the democratic process?

    If your neighbour was provided with false information by Council then by all means pursue and vilify them, but to foster divisiveness through media is a tad irresponsible.

    Your naivety around Council decisions making I find surprising in one apparently so well versed in democratic matters, as even the good residents of Waimarama made sure they attended not one but three meetings to guarantee they were heard and listened to (and I draw the distinction) and generated 150 signatures on a petition just to be sure. The seemingly luke warm response to Mayor Yules dangled carrot of a community plan and a quick fix for the short term made apparent the lack of trust Council has managed to engender in the community.

    You seem to berate the eloquence of some of the speakers attending. A sentiment is no less or more strong for the language it is conveyed in and if the language of Waimarama residents is somewhat colourful, so be it. Compared to the honeyed insults delivered by the objector’s lawyer in the Council meeting the candid delivery was at least honest.

    The community of Waimarama needs and wants a centre so it can be just that – a community. Call me undemocratic but I place a higher value on a vibrant, cohesive community for the many above the visual inconvience of the few.

    The Waimarama community is not exclusive. Everybody is welcome to come and play in our backyard –just leave your male bovine excreta behind.

    Andy Tait-Jamieson

    Waimarama

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