Faced with a 4-4 vote tie (Councillor Kirton absent), Chairman Fenton Wilson used his casting vote to put online webcasting and archiving of Regional Council meetings into next year’s proposed Long Term Plan, at the recent meeting of HBRC’s Corporate & Strategic Committee.
Supporting the webcasting proposal (urged upon the HBRC by BayBuzz in our Annual Plan submission earlier this year) were Councillors Wilson, McGregor, Scott and Remmerswaal. Thank you Councillors.
Opposing were Councillors von Dadelszen, Rose, Dick and Gilbertson.
The debate was a classic … illustrating beyond doubt precisely why Council meetings should be available for all to see at their convenience on the web.
Councillors von Dadelszen, Rose and Dick basically regard the public as a nuisance. Or is it just their antipathy to the initiator of the proposal?
Von Dadelszen, frustrated by a computer glitch that slowed up the Council’s process on the day, allowed as how fixing the glitch was money better spent than making Council decision-making more available to the public. We have a public relations team after all, she said, they can get the message out. Like that’s worked to date, hasn’t it! But having just spent $200k on additional communications staffers, maybe things will improve.
A favourite refrain of Councillor von Dadelszen is that the HBRC is ‘misunderstood’ — the unwashed just don’t appreciate the fine work of the HBRC. Yet she opposes exposing Council decision-making to convenient public view, where mere ratepayers might be edified. This from a Councillor whom I have yet to see — in five years of covering public issues in Hawke’s Bay — ever front up to a public meeting where she might actually need to explain or defend Council policy.
Then there’s Councillor Rose, uttering pure nonsense about this funding competing with money to repair dams in Elsthorpe. If Councillor Rose is so concerned about money (the proposed webcasting system would cost about $20–25k to set up and $31-38k per year to operate), why doesn’t he oppose the upcoming expenditure of $30k on a needless Water Symposium ($20k to design & print the document and $10k for the meeting) … which will simply announce an already-decided water strategy to 150 guests. HBRC could just mail everyone typed copies for maybe $3 each, or $450. The money HBRC spends on communications staff (see above), fancy reports and public consultations no one attends dwarfs any investment in webcasting and archiving, which people will actually use.
Which brings me to Councillor Dick, who described providing a convenient electronic means of viewing Council deliberations online in a digital age as “stupid”. He implied that anyone with nothing better to do than watch a Council meeting was somehow perverted … in his view, these are wacky folks who need to get a life. Rather a remarkable statement from a Councillor who regularly attends and contributes to Council meetings that he apparently considers would be a waste of the public’s attention. Insisting that no one would would watch sessions online, Dick ignored the data from my submission, and available to staff, which confirms that councils who already webcast find that hundreds of citizens per session avail themselves of the online opportunity to witness their councillors in action.
Perhaps I should note here that I was the only member of the public present at the time of this debate.
Finally, there’s Councillor Gilbertson. He professed to be for webcasting (or at least a cheap trial). He had the audacity to represent that he was defending the spirit of the original submitter (me) by insisting that Council should have the courage to either support or oppose webcasting right then … on the spot. And since Councillors were only voting to include the item for public consideration in next year’s Long Term Plan, he was opposed. So the guy votes NO, which almost — save Fenton Wilson — killed the idea. What whacky logic. I actually don’t know whether Gilbertson supports the concept or whether this was simply a backhanded way to help block it. Don’t do this submitter such favours, Councillor Gilbertson!
Now, I’m sure there are some readers who think I’ve been harsh here on Councillors von Dadelszen, Rose, Dick and Gilbertson.
But consider that I was actually at the debate (a debate, mind you, simply over whether to allow you to consider the idea next year) … you were not.
And that’s the whole point about webcasting and archiving, isn’t it? If I’ve misrepresented the idiotic nature of this debate, with an online archive I’d be exposed as a fraud, wouldn’t I?
However, if, sadly, I am ‘telling it like it is’, then hundreds of online viewers would be able to confirm my report.
And that’s why Councillors von Dadelszen, Rose and Dick voted NO. The sunlight might beget sunburn.
Meanwhile, who knows what’s going on in Gilbertson’s head?! But at least, having watched online, you’d be able to develop your own theory.
P.S. The proposal needs to withstand another firestorm when HBRC re-considers it meeting as a Council (versus committee thereof). But presumably Councillor Kirton, a supporter of the proposition, will be on hand to vote his support. Meantime, the Hastings District, responding to the same BayBuzz submission, is proposing webcasting/archiving in its draft Long Term Plan … no muss, no fuss.
And here’s a link that will show you how Taupo and New Plymouth currently webcast.