That’s how Napier Council CEO Neil Taylor characterises the process that Lawrence Yule has proposed to investigate alternative governance arrangements for Hawke’s Bay.

In a remarkably intemperate ‘report’ to his Mayor and Councillors on Wednesday, Taylor refers to Mayor Yule’s “near obsessive position on amalgamation” and talks of “a degree of stupidity in reigniting a debate” … all while bemoaning the “emotional statements and blatant untruths” that a debate over amalgamation would trigger.

It looks to me that Mr Taylor is doing all the emotional triggering! Clearly, on a team that many I’ve spoken to in Napier believe is ‘obsessively’ conjoined at the hip, Mr Taylor has taken on the role of pit bull, while Mayor Arnott softly whispers platitudes about not wanting to stir up bad feelings.

Ironically, after trashing Mayor Yule, Taylor’s report goes on to argue that ‘shared services’ pursued in a spirit of trust and cooperation between the councils is all that’s required to move the Bay forward. Yeah right!

All of this was echoed faithfully by the Napier Councillors as each rose to applaud the Chief Executive’s report. Councillor Dalton elevated the discussion by repeatedly referring to Yule as “arrogant” and terming supporters of amalgamation as “his secret squirrels”.

I’ve never seen a group of people as petrified of the idea of change as these Councillors.

Moreover, they appear utterly clueless as to the range of sentiments about local governance change that actually exist in their own domain. The fact of the matter is that Yule’s professionally-conducted poll of Napier residents indicated that 39% somewhat or strongly supported amalgamation, with another 13% neutral.

My math says that’s a majority open to discussion and debate of the issues. However, to Napier’s Councillors these people either don’t exist … or will be summarily detained and thrown off the top of Napier Hill.

So instead of Napier Councillors carrying the issues to their constituents (only Councillor Boag seems to see any value in public consultation on the matter), it will be left to the proponents of a governance inquiry to do so.

And the proponents will. There are simply too many leaders in Hawke’s Bay — and that includes in Napier — who believe strongly that the Bay needs to better organise itself to face the challenges of the future. They won’t fade away. Mayor Yule is only one of them. And from my soundings in many, many conversations with folks in Napier, I have no doubt that there are more than enough ‘secret squirrels’ nesting in that community who want to see the debate unfold.

So with the Napier Councillors declaring their irrelevance for a second time, it’s time for the debate to move beyond them and directly to the people of Napier and the rest of Hawke’s Bay.

The process available to the proponents of amalgamation is to secure via petition drive the support of 10% of the voters of each affected district for at least a tentative amalgamation proposal. That suffices to put the issue before the Local Government Commission, which, with public consultation, then guides the process of shaping an actual reorganisation plan to put before the voters in a referendum.

For the good of Hawke’s Bay, that process can’t begin soon enough!

Tom Belford

P.S. Here’s Mr Taylor’s  Amalgamation Report. Supplementary documents are here on the Napier City Council website.

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  1. Personally I believe Amalgamation is the wrong word, now. It has been tainted by much negative commentary – diverting action.

    That said, it's only a word. We can achieve a unified Hawke's Bay – the heart of that being the joint governance of the large urban populations of Napier and Hastings – and must do so to realise the potential in this great region; or settle for provincial mediocrity? We'd still have a great climate and lifestyle, with fewer new people coming in to share it.

    If unity means change – and even if it means a lot of change – in the not too distant future we would all be better off having agreed on and working toward a SINGLE vision, a unified approach. If we want a strong region, we should have those difficult conversations and make those tough decisions now, and actively move toward a stronger regional economy, playing on the relative strengths and uniqueness of each town and city.

    Let's take the emotion out, support the study of local governance and look forward with the best social, cultural, economic and environmental interests of this region at heart.

  2. I see the arguments in favour of amalgamation but they don't reference research showing positive reasons for smaller municipalities.

    Certainly the Bay should promote itself consistently, but the arguments for smaller municipalities and their benefits should be considered as well so that the decision making process responsibly addresses all options so that the best arrangement for the Bay is selected.

    I will forward two articles for reference by e-mail.

  3. Reading Neil Taylor's report I found myself nodding my head – in agreement – and thought he clearly stated the case for increased services co-operation with maintenance of Napier identity.

    Sure, he swings at Lawrence pretty hard, but he deserves it, as do Foss and Tremain. During their tenures the social indicator stats that put HB near the bottom haven't improved, and they all argue that we need amalgamation to make the changes, shifting the blame.

    The reports referred to by Taylor, 'Consolidation process and change in Local Government' and 'Shared Services in Local Government,' clearly recommend a services approach to amalgamation as opposed to disbanding and merger. The Super-Council model is not supported.

    So, rather than see Napier Councillors as 'petrified … of change,' I tend to view them as sticking to their kaupapa of protecting Napier's identity and uniqueness.

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