On May 29 the Regional Council conducted a debate on the subject of appointing Murray Douglas to fill the council seat vacated by Eileen von Dadelszen for the remaining 100 or so days of the term.

Since the councillors were divided four-to-four on the matter, the debate was — shall I say — vigorous, with attention focused on how Chairman Fenton Wilson would use his second (or ‘casting’) vote to break the deadlock.

Chairman Wilson was dead set to appoint Douglas, and he became increasingly irritated with councillors who did not agree … especially Councillors Kirton, Remmerswall and Gilbertson. Repeatedly he shut down questions and comments from these councillors, escalating to the point where he threatened to throw Councillors Remmerswaal and Gilbertson out of the meeting.

All of this behaviour was video recorded for the HBRC’s new webcasting and digital archive system … or was it?!

If you go here on the HBRC website, you will find the last few minutes of the debate. Well, not exactly.

What happened — I was there — was that Chairman Wilson lost his cool, stood up from his chair, and bullied Councillor Remmerswall, again threatening to remove her from the meeting.

However, you won’t see that outburst quite as it happened — just the beginning, a convenient cut, and then Wilson obviously sitting back down.

How convenient that out of the entire debate, only those moments are missing!

Does this seem like a minor quibble? “Tom, you’re being rather picky!”

In full context, I think not. Charges have circulated for two years now that this Council — let’s say — ‘massages’ information. Only information and interpretations of information that support the party line make it to the surface.

Manipulating video of meetings is just one more example of the culture at work. There is absolutely no need to edit council meeting videos at all … indeed,  there’s no reason they cannot be both transmitted live and archived for ‘on demand’ viewing. It’s called modern technology.

Not content with editing video, the Council has decided — in order to save $10,000 — to backtrack on its webcasting commitment … lo and behold, a brainchild of Councillor Murray Douglas, eager to establish his pre-election cost-cutting credentials. The HBRC has voted to limit video editing webcasting to only its full Council meetings, excluding all committee sessions. In most cases, it is in the more illuminating committee sessions (which include all councillors) where issues are most thoroughly presented by staff and discussed by your elected representatives.

But Douglas and Co were desperate to save ratepayers that $10,000 over the next year … conveniently limiting the risk of looking like clowns on video during the pre-election window.

To put this amount in context, you might recall that back in April, the HBRC produced and sent to every ratepayer in Hawke’s Bay a very special edition of its newsletter, Our Place. That edition was — surprise — exclusively devoted to selling HBRC’s $600 million dam. Per information BayBuzz received via an Official Information Act request, that special edition cost $10,401 to produce and distribute.

What is clearly far more important to our Regional Councillors than baring themselves ‘cinema verite’ to the voting public is maintaining their propaganda budget, where an extra $10k for a ‘special edition’ is readily available!

Transparency is a foreign concept to this Regional Council. Perhaps a new ‘interim’ CEO, Liz Lambert, will change the culture there. But with the present cast of Councillors calling the shots, don’t hold your breath.

Tom Belford

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  1. Bullying from the Chairman and then editing out the offending footage from public scrutiny is not what Hawke’s Bay needs!

    Hang in their Liz Remmerswaal – you are one of the few persons with real integrity and common sense in there.

  2. Not a minor quibble at all Tom. Unfortunately another sign that every promise made by HBRC must be checked and double checked, every single time – how exhausting and disappointing for those of us with our own jobs to do as well.

    Wasn’t the whole point of webcasting to give working ratepayers who can’t attend the meetings an accurate record of the meeting ?

    I would appreciate knowing who directed the web recording company to remove the chairman’s outburst from the public record. I will look forward to the interim CEO’s response as I’m sure it will be a doozy.

    As far as dropping the webcasting – it seems outrageously out of touch of Murray Douglas to even suggest it considering the din from deeply concerned voters and regional leaders looking for more transparency from this council – not less.

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