Some of you will already have seen my “Talking Point” in Wednesday’s HB Today re Fenton Wilson’s charge of conflict of interest and pre-determination on the dam.

The title placed by HB Today is “I’m sticking with skeptic’s role”. I thought my submitted title was catchier … “I’m not a mushroom”.

The bottom line: I will not be deterred from participating in HBRC deliberations on the dam.

In any event, the text is pasted below (and a scanned version is here).

Comments from all corners are welcome.

I’m not a mushroom

HBRC chairman Fenton Wilson was wrong about councillors wearing ties. He is equally wrong in urging me to withdraw from debate over his proposed Ruataniwha dam, alleging ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘pre-determination’.

I have staunchly raised questions about the wisdom behind the dam. Fenton’s response is to try to silence me.

Ironically, this is the Fenton who declared his support for the dam during campaign season, as did several other current councillors, and has worked incessantly to promote it.

The same Fenton who, along with councillors Alan Dick and Christine Scott, sat until December as directors of HBRIC, the holding company whose sole mission is to sell the dam.

The same Fenton who voted against my motion at the December HBRC meeting, which attempted to put councillors and the HBRC (as distinct from HBRIC) officially on record as being neutral on the dam until and unless needed analyses were available and public consultation had occurred. Fenton & Co couldn’t bring themselves to join me and councillors Barker, Beaven and Graham in declaring their neutrality.

And now, confirming my worst fears, with Fenton’s approval HBRC’s advocacy has intensified. Materials just released for public consultation on the dam include no mention of the risks and disadvantages the public should understand and consider.

My approach has been clear since day one. Faced with a hugely expensive ($300 million to build, $300 million more to use) and environmentally risky proposition, someone should persistently ask the toughest possible questions. I have embraced that skeptic role. I wasn’t elected to be a mere cheerleader for a project of this consequence.

Or as Councillor Graham puts it, “We weren’t elected to be mushrooms, kept in the dark.”

Well before voters put me on the Council, I sat on the dam stakeholders group and asked questions. For that, CHB Peter Butler tried to get me kicked off the group, with its chairman, now-councillor Debbie Hewitt, standing by passively. I refused to withdraw then and I won’t withdraw now.

Subsequently, I helped establish Transparent Hawke’s Bay (THB). Its apparently controversial (to Fenton) mission is to “focus exclusively on open processes, reliable information, and public involvement in councils’ decision-making affecting the people of Hawke’s Bay.”

One of THB’s first acts was a request to delay ‘call-in’ of the dam proposal and Tukituki plan change by the Environment Minister. THB (and others like Ngati Kahungunu) argued the proposal was insufficiently examined at that point, especially in its financial and economic aspects, to set in motion a Board of Inquiry (BOI) process. THB’s request was rejected. Consequently, last July THB urged the Board not to award consents because the requisite analyses were not yet available or vetted. Indeed, we still don’t have our ‘independent’ assessment from Deloitte.

In January, I verbally presented to the BOI on behalf of the group. THB did not oppose the dam, but instead urged the BOI to take our concerns about ratepayer risk and benefits into account before making its decision.

Fenton Wilson seeks to question my integrity and make an issue out of my involvement in THB (and A Better Hawke’s Bay, for that matter), as if I were intending to deceive the people of Hawke’s Bay. In fact, my official candidate’s profile, delivered to some 37,000 voters, explicitly noted that I “co-founded community groups like A Better Hawke’s Bay and Transparent Hawke’s Bay.”

I’ve reviewed the guidance available from the Auditor-General regarding non-monetary conflicts of interest and impartiality. The precedents cited do not require councillors to be intellectual eunuchs or blank slates. They recognize that councillors will bring points of view and past associations to the council table. All that is expected is that councillors act with an open mind.

My mind is open. What I have done is ask questions and challenge assumptions, in hopes that my fellow councillors might open theirs as well. To suggest that councillors Wilson, Hewitt, Dick and Scott do not bring a point of view to the table on issues like the dam, amalgamation and rescuing railroads is ludicrous, as any review of the public record will confirm.

I will not be deterred from participating in HBRC deliberations on the dam. I will persist in doing exactly what I was elected to do … ask questions and demand that they be answered. And eventually I’ll weigh all views and evidence and cast my vote.

In deference to Fenton’s strange conception of ‘transparency’, I have resigned as a member of Transparent Hawke’s Bay. Reluctantly, because I fervently believe in its mission and I see no conflict. I resign only because I want no confusion in his mind or anyone else’s between the views I express on the dam as a councillor and any views THB might express on the matter going forward.

I’m not going away, Fenton. And I’m not a mushroom.

Tom Belford

Join the Conversation


  1. Stick to your guns there Tom, you have this families full support. I live in Wairoa and can’t vote for you but I’m thrilled that at last HB Regional Council has an intelligent person on their committee who is able to clearly consider all the facts and their implications before making any decision on any matter of concern. Every time Fenton Wilson opens his mouth he displays to the world just how much of a fool he actually is. Keep up the good work.

  2. From hands on experience this is how the process works, in a situation like the HBRC.
    Usually a person gets an idea like this Dam, and this person has running mates within the Elected outfit, they have “Elevensies” meetings outside the precinct in one of their homes, they make sure they have the numbers to get this idea through, it basically doesn’t matter what the objectors do or say, they never ever have the numbers to make a difference, they are simply piddling into the Wind, and this is exactly what is happening with this Dam!!
    It is going to be built weather anyone likes it or not, it won’t have to have user support, it will never have to return a profit, it will just simply be built no matter what, it will be one huge liability to the Home Owners/Ratepayers, and we will all go to our graves paying for it over the next 100+ years the losses will be huge.
    They are struggling right now with getting tight fisted selfish Farmers to subscribe to it, as in the past they want everything for nothing!! they are going to always have a huge problem getting investment partners, as there will never be any returns, that is why the Farmer’s won’t subscribe, because the costs of the Water will go through the roof and who on Earth wants to be stitched up for 30 years, PLUS all of the guessed Estimates are purely designed to support the passing of the proposed Dam nothing less!!
    But!!! this Dam will still be built!! and this Chairperson Wilson will pull every trick in the book to do so, at the moment we are witnessing a Red Herring with a Councilor to divert attention to detail, soon the headline will be HBRCI to go it alone on this Dam, has anyone ever seen the pitiful amount of information available, to make decisions to vote on, it is just plain shocking!! it just shows us the Homeowners, what terrible sorts of Councilors that we have making decisions on our behalf, this whole thing is a disaster in the making, tell us all!! what is the incredible Hurricane rush to get this thing through???? why cannot all of the required information be gathered discussed and sorted out long before any votes be taken on this Dam, weather to build it or not, I find this whole scenario ABSOLUTLEY ASTONISHING!!!!!
    At no matter what cost or what the obstacles this Dan is going to go ahead, as they have the yes people to do so.

  3. Good for you Tom, saying it how it is. Fenton and all those that have sat on the HBRIC have conflicts of interest which were there from the outset. Andrew Newman is also hugely conflicted. He should stand down from any HBRC involvement as he is so glued to the promoter’s seat, there is no way he can have an impartial regulator role.

  4. Good on you Tom. You are operating in a very difficult environment. Fenton and co. are hardly neutral in their stance.

  5. This has been a somewhat comical process from the outset. Thankfully there are objectors to this scheme who have kept the concerned ratepayers in the loop. Thanks Tom and the THB team for keeping the spotlight on the real issues surrounding this folly. There has been a large amount of taxpayer dollars already poured into this sink hole, and all before the first clod turned. Fenton, Newman and the nodding donkey brigade have set the goal posts (cough) lets see them keep the ball infield.

  6. Stick with it Tom .. the dam issue needs independent voices to put NZ’s environment first, before any short-term, ill-thought out economic forecasts. Central Hawkes Bay has been degraded countryside for years and this scheme could be a continuation of this attitude.

  7. Hold your ground Tom. We need prudent decision making from the obvious four compliant rubber stampers on HBRC otherwise the main dam advocate will have the casting vote. Also, I pay rates in CHB and do not want Mayor Butler to squander any part on a flawed project which will contribute damage to HB’s gravel beaches. Bill Dalton, the future mayor of the unitary council, will not be happy if Peter Butler, on the eve of his retirement, adds $4M to the regions debt. Napier City has accepted a $90M contingent liability to build extensive rock revetment works to protect property and infrastructure. With HDC declared debt, HBRC pending debt and NCC real debt, the future looks grim. Per capita basis, we could take first place from Auckland and Christchurch.

  8. Tom, supporting your bid for election was one of the best investments I have ever made.
    This pet project of Wilson’s and his sycophants is, yet another reason for the amalgamation of our five disparate councils.
    When candidates see that they can truly represent the region, and not a little Dalton or Butler fiefdom then the level of candidate will be greatly improved.
    Like the majority, I cannot wait for that day to come.

  9. Well done, Tom. What a bizarre scenario, worthy of “Alice in Wonderland”! After the twisted politics of the Reg. Council’s establishment of a Company to establish the dam and the inherent “conflicts of interest” in that process, Fenton then accuses the “freethinker” of a “conflict!!!!
    The essence of it is that you should not join the R. Council if you actually have any ideas of your own. Arrangements are in hand for a mental castration procedure for any future candidates!
    The fact that You, Tom ,and the other “renegades” were voted on BECAUSE you were questioning things seems to have bypassed Fenton and his cohort. I suppose he just doesn’t understand Democracy!………
    Ken Keys

  10. Time for a calm, reasoned stance people. I do not think anyone would disagree that it would be great if CHB farmers could have a reliable water source in dry summers. The problems with that are: 1. who pays for it? and 2. how does it affect the local environment (particularly the Tukituki river)?
    The EPA Board if Inquiry did a good job in deciding the restrictions needed to protect the life-giving qualities of the river and the local environment. Regrettably Fenton Wilson made it quite clear that he regarded the BoI findings as far too restrictive, but he is still bound by the HBRC decision to proceed with funding only if four “preconditions” are met. I seriously doubt that they will be met by Sept 30 2014, so brace yourself for more goalpost shifting.

  11. Go, Tom! I wish you all the best for sticking your ground, and trust that you will do so strongly. It’s appalling how Fenton Wilson is behaving. You represent the views of very many people in the Bay in your position on the dam – thank you for voicing our concerns so well.

  12. Tom, I voted you in to question the validity and impact of the dam on me as a ratepayer. You are doing just that, don’t be intimidated by buffoon Wilson, he is looking like a myopic bully at this point.

    Fenton Wilson needs to start playing by his own rules and declare his ‘pro-dam’ status as a Federated Farmer. Andrew Newman should have absolutely no voice for the HBRC at dam meetings as he is clearly in it for his own gain. The rush is to rubber stamp this before the change in government – it needs to be stalled.

    The HBRIC need to be staying within their budget with no more approval for overspending. Cut the salaries if need be, I don’t want my rates compensating any more blow outs in spending!

  13. Tom, to you and the other Regional councillors who support reasoned decision making, thanks.

  14. There is that farmer down south,transforming his farm from loss making, to highly profitable, planted alfa alfa, roots go down a long, long way, now making lots of money, goes round the country spreading the word.
    Of late there have been a number of reports, regarding melting in both the poles, and that cyclones will extend further away from the tropics, Iam not an out and out green, but if you take some time to read a few of the reports, that 100 years that people are generally thinking about, could well come around a lot sooner.
    In the past we have had cyclones that have caused quite a lot of damage,and with the predictions that are now being made, cyclones will be on the increase.
    Erosion is a fact of life and needs some serious thought on policy, as what was known a year ago, is almost old news, as things seem to be rapidly changing – a dam – I really do not know, but a bit further down the list, may be prudent, if it was to be built at no cost to the rate payer, ah, but there is that line, We will all benifit.
    Why not be like the farmer from down south? be a bit, or a lot different in the approach.
    Australia had its time with commodities, if the dam is to be built with returns subject to milk powder – Oh Dear, same old.

  15. Wow – go for it Tom. What I have just read is exactly what I expected of you Tom. I view this along the lines that you are the voice at the table I wished I could have.

  16. Geoff,
    The best report you can read on this Global Warming bulldust is the Ocean Beach report, I’ve been reading it for around 45 years and it still tells me the same facts, the tide comes in, the tide goes out, sometimes the wind blows it in a we bit further than normal, but it soon returns to normal, I will betcha in another 45 years it will furnish the same facts!!
    The only way anything will ever change, is if the Sun changes in some dramatic manner, jeepers it might even go out??!!
    We as of right now, have record high’s of Ice Quantity in the Arctic, north and South, it’s like the tides it comes and goes.

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