Last week, A Better Hawke’s Bay formally submitted its reorganisation proposal to the Local Government Commission.
This action set in motion a process that in a matter of months will officially present to Hawke’s Bay a fundamental choice about its future governance — status quo and muddling along versus unified leadership behind a more compelling vision for the Bay.
At this point, it’s hard to predict exactly when that choice will land in our laps. Therefore, it might be safest to assume that our local body elections in October will be ‘business as usual’, in that candidates will be standing once again for the seats that now exist in our region’s five councils. And there are plenty of them — 49 councillors and four mayors.
Those unsatisfied with local government ‘business as usual’ are already discussing new candidates who will stand — possibly as a ticket — as advocates of reorganization. Their focus is on the Regional Council and the Napier Council, where current councillors’ opposition to reorganization is most centered.
But that’s not the only political dynamic gathering force.
At the same time, there’s increasing disenchantment with the region’s handing of environmental issues — most notably (but not limited to) the unaddressed environmental impacts of a $600 million dam in Central Hawke’s Bay, fracking, and more broadly, the impacts of major oil and gas development in the region. Many believe the Regional Council, where these issues come to roost, has been wrong-headed, if not duplicitous, in its handling to date of these issues.
And surrounding all of those resource issues is the perhaps even mightier emotive concern over precisely who is going to wind up owning and exploiting the Bay’s — i.e., the public’s — precious natural assets. There’s an issue for 2013!
And so, just as with amalgamation, advocates of a clean and safe environmental future for Hawke’s Bay are also surfacing candidates, with their focus being the Regional Council.
Bring these two forces together, both wanting — above all else — change of direction, and one might suggest 2013 does not look like an especially propitious election year for incumbents … especially those on the Regional Council.
For Hawke’s Bay incumbents, the clock is already ticking. A ‘business as usual’ local election in 2013 will be anything but business as usual.
P.S. And for Hastings candidates — both for the District Council and the Hastings constituency of the Regional Council — add to this stew the cayenne pepper of fluoride — whose presence in Hastings’ drinking water will be put to referendum in October on that district’s ballot.
Very strong convictions propel the opponents of fluoride, who, more so than fluoride advocates, will be intensely motivated to vote in 2013. My sense of the politics of those voters is that they hold no enduring affection for the councillors who have been at the controls, especially when it comes to environmental matters. One more factor working against the status quo.