What with annual budgets and sports parks, I’ve spent a LOT of time at Council meetings lately … mostly Hastings and Regional Councils, a little bit at Napier (for reasons that will become apparent).
I have the parking tickets to prove it. Strange how meetings always seem to last just over the two-hour, or less, parking limits that surround the council buildings (although this isn’t a problem in Napier, again, for reasons that will become apparent).
In the process, I have become quite the gastronomical and anthropological expert on the morning and afternoon teas served by the various councils (except for Napier … can you see where this is headed?).
Hands down winner in the tea competition is the Regional Council. Fresh-brewed plunger coffee, tea of course, juice, fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, and a great assortment of biscuits. All you can eat. Occasionally candy and nuts.
The public and media are welcome to enjoy this repast (don’t worry ratepayers, it’s usually just 2-3 cranks like myself). Regional Councillors and senior staff smile their best and endure 15 minutes of “up front and personal” haranguing from our small band. Most of the Council folks actually seem to enjoy mingling with the “blathering idiots” as Councillor Kirton calls us.
But I’m suspicious … do they really think we can be bought off with some fresh coffee and chocolate-covered biscuits?! I haven’t figured out the protocol of whether we can take a fistful of biscuits back into the meeting (or home) … every citizen has a price!
Hastings Council tea takes a somewhat distant second place. Of course your tea will be freshly brewed. But horror of horrors … instant coffee! [And this penny-pinching from a Council that can afford to spend a fortune on a sports park … though I do see the short-cut symbolism.] Plus a limited and never-changing assortment of biscuits. And nothing else. Now, it is true that HDC has a gracious lady who pours your “coffee” or tea, with or without milk; but I’d rather have her brewing the fresh stuff and leaving the pouring to me.
Hastings Councillors and staff also mingle with the hoi polloi, but it often seems a bit strained. And if especially contentious issues are on the agenda, some Councillors are apt to retreat into their private sanctuary room (the ones who don’t retreat tend to be the kind that vote against the sports park). It’s a kind of tea room apartheid. Often we hear laughter and chanting from behind the closed door. But Mayor Yule insists the same refreshments are being served.
Then there’s Napier City Council. NO tea at all! Why? The meetings don’t last long enough! There’s not even time for the water to come to a boil. Let alone for me to get a parking ticket.
Now at first blush, this might strike you as evidence of great efficiency (meetings should stamp, not discuss) and commendable frugality (do you know what food costs these days?!).
But there’s something deeper going on. Napier Councillors don’t want to mingle. You can see it in their eyes when they enter the Council Chamber. Furtive, suspicious glances over the shoulder at the one or two citizens present, as if to say: “Who are those people? Must they be here? Don’t they know it’s a Council meeting?”
And if you think the Councillors don’t want to mingle, forget about the staff. I think of them as the College of Cardinals … eight or so gray-haired men (yes, they’re all pretty ancient-looking, and definitely all men, but I digress) neatly lined up behind their little desks. Ready to jump up at the slightest hiccup in proceedings to reassure Councillors that everything is under control in Holy Barbaraland … go back to sleep. But certainly not there to mingle.
[I’ve been tempted to just randomly let loose with an enormous CLAP one day to see what would happen. But BayBuzz’ attorney warns me our liability insurance might not cover a freak heart attack.]
So there you have it. Until next year’s full-scale LTCCP review process (the World Cup of tea), HBRC is the undisputed tea champ. Hastings must elevate its menu if it wants to be a contender. Napier doesn’t even own a coffee pot.
By the way, there’s an Environment Committee meeting coming up at HBRC on July 23. Tea should be served about 10:30. Come just for the tea if you like.