On Monday, the Napier City Council issued a press release headlined: A United Napier City Council Responds to the Amalgamation Debate.
It notes that Napier Councillors “met informally” to discuss a presentation on amalgamation made by Lawrence Yule, during which he revealed a poll indicating sharply diminished opposition to amalgamation amongst Napier residents.
Given that they made a “unanimous” decision in private to oppose amalgamation (hence the press release), it would seem that the Councillors’ meeting violated the open meetings law. Councillors’ panic to protect their
arses jobs obviously required drastic action. But I digress. I’m sure it was a robust, fact-filled discussion that would have edified the public.
NCC says that it is responding to a “debate” about amalgamation.
However, the debate hasn’t even begun.
Certainly not in any informed manner designed to truly engage the public. Unless Mayor Yule folds his tent and slinks away (not likely), the debate will unfold, whether the Napier Council likes it or not.
Pathetically, what the Napier Council is really responding to is fear … fear that they might lose this debate, and possibly their jobs. So best to try and call it off, or pre-empt it.
Mayor Yule’s poll of 500 Napier residents, a professionally-conducted random survey, showed 46% were opposed to a merger of the two local authorities and the regional council, while 39% were in support. Thirteen per cent were neutral.
Compare 46% opposition now, to 75% opposition to amalgamation amongst Napier voters in the 1999 referendum on the subject. Who knows what an intelligent study and debate of the issues might do? It might push opposition up; it might generate majority support for a change.
The latter is an outcome that petrifies Napier Councillors. They say a debate will “cause unnecessary distress and uncertainty.” For whom? Themselves! [And we won’t even talk about Regional Councillors, most of whom appear equally distressed.]
Oddly, Napier Councillors feel no responsibility whatsoever to the 39% of their constituents who presently favour amalgamation … to say nothing of the further 13% who are presently neutral. Those constituents – combined, a majority – have been told by their elected representatives to stuff it.
However, amalgamation is not some wild-assed idea to be simply dismissed without serious consideration. A strong case can be made for it. Obviously that case must withstand a vigorous public test. It must address and overcome deeply felt concerns about a political merger of various jurisdictions, identify substantial benefits, and illustrate how local community identities and prerogatives would be protected … even enhanced. That’s the very point of putting the issue on the table for public review.
Napier’s Mayor and Councillors might choose to sit out the debate. That would be spectacularly arrogant, and an irresponsible abrogation of their duty to represent all of their constituents.
But really, who cares whether current Napier officeholders make themselves irrelevant? Does it matter? The debate will happen with or without them. The community will take charge of the discussion if its ‘leaders’ fail to do so.