The June/July BayBuzz Digest reports at length on the early stage of this year’s Hastings mayoral race. Two candidates are declared: Lawrence Yule and Simon Nixon. Three others are weighing their options — Wayne Bradshaw, Murray Douglas and Des Ratima.
It’s a lengthy article — Who Wants Hastings’ Top Job? — based on extensive interviewing of the main characters, which you can read in its entirety here.
Here’s an excerpt, which focuses on the issue of spending.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here, for example, are some excerpts from Lawrence Yule’s first mayoral campaign brochure in 2001:
“A council must not risk ratepayers’ money on high risk projects. It must limit rate increases to that which is sustainable by the wider community.”
“I will … maintain strict financial management of Splash Planet … and sell the Hastings Holiday Park and use the capital to repay civic debt.”
“I would like to see Hastings promoted as a retirement capital … The development of retirement villages is big business. Council should aim to meet the special needs of the retired community.”
These original promises illustrate the core “problem” that Yule’s erstwhile opponents see in his performance over three terms – an over-willingness to spend, especially on what some call “monuments”, and an insufficient determination to protect the pocketbooks of average ratepayers.
His opponents will note big spending on projects like the sports park and Opera House, the un-ending substantial losses from enterprises like Splash Planet, and the irony that HDC recently rejected precisely the sort of retirement village that the Mayor seemed to be promoting nine years ago.
Referring to criticism of big projects like the Opera House and sports park, Mayor Yule says: “I see these as an essential part of our infrastructure … if someone didn’t take the lead, they wouldn’t get done.” He continued: “I have no big project for the next term” other than seeing through the sports park development. Hastings’ one big remaining need, as he sees it, is a high quality hotel in the city centre, but that’s something for private developers to do.
For some of the Mayor’s opponents, the pocketbook issue appears to be the only issue.
Simon Nixon delights in reeling off examples of Council waste, inefficiency, over-use of consultants, blossoming debt, large amounts spent on initiatives that never got off the ground (Ocean Beach, Northern Arterial Road). He talks about the need for a defining issue, and his, as he puts it, is “Money, wasting money! We’re building up an accumulation of things that lose money.”
Wayne Bradshaw – with more information and more accurate understanding of the numbers than Nixon – has chipped away for three years at exactly the same issues. “A proposal to spend $20,000 or $30,000 will come up and councillors will vote to spend it like water.” Noting that our growth is expected to come from traditionally low income parts of the population, he added: “Much more spending discipline is our #1 need.”
And Murray Douglas, having reviewed every annual plan and LTCCP in detail for the Chamber, adds to the Greek chorus decrying fuzzy financial assumptions, missed opportunities for efficiencies and shared services amongst councils, and poor planning.
When it comes to critiquing the fiscal performance and direction of the Mayor and his Council, these three individuals are singing from the same songbook. One would be hard-pressed to find any significant points of differentiation.
If pocketbook concerns prove to be uppermost in voters’ minds in October, any of these three would be positioned to capture the ratepayer “protest vote.” Of course Lawrence would be happiest if they all ran, as they would merely divide the protest vote and cancel one another out.
Chinese Water Torture
Some campaigns are driven and decided by a single game-changing issue or event … a grievous personal gaffe or impropriety, exposed corruption, a spectacular policy back-fire. And if any of these occurred during the reign of Lawrence Yule, one would expect his opponents to bore in and exploit that failure.
But listening to Yule’s potential opponents, this does not appear to be likely. None of the Mayor’s adversaries claims to have a “silver bullet” that would carry the day.
Instead, in one way or another, each points to an accumulation of mistaken policies or missed opportunities as they view his record. Their conversations turn back again and again to claims of political opportunism (“he follows the wind”), inability to fix lingering “problems” (like Splash Planet), missed opportunities (like shared services), or a perceived penchant for projects favoured by the community’s elite.
Listening to them, the “Chinese water torture” image comes to mind – it’s the steady drip, drip, drip on the forehead that drives you crazy.
What Wayne discovered was a “lot of ignored issues around the Council table, such as footpaths, halls, swimming pools … an accumulation of issues that needed to be addressed in a practical way.”
Counters Lawrence: “People will judge my nine years and say, ‘Yep, he’s done this, this, this, and we don’t like that, but overall he’s done a pretty good job’, versus someone else who will say they’ll do it this way, and that’ll be the judgment that people make. I don’t know how that’s going to go, and I don’t take that support for granted. I’ll stand by my record.”
But from Wayne’s perspective, Mayor Yule’s greatest political vulnerability is “length of service. Sometimes it comes down to people just want a change. The longer you’re there, the more you might think you’re mayor as a matter of right, rather than privilege.” Wayne favors a two-term limit for mayor.
[End of excerpt. Other sections discuss the candidates’ backgrounds, leadership potential and vision for the District. You can read the entire article here.]