Tom Belford, BayBuzz Editor: A Lesson in Lousy Governance

With its 8-5 “mandate,” the Kelt sports park moves forward a few halting steps. “Halting” because the fragile house park of cards can still tumble. What Lawrence Yule boasts of as smart politics is in fact a textbook case of lousy governance.

In his determination to erect a personal monument for this term, Mayor Yule has cut lots of corners.

He has spent millions to demolish Nelson park and commence construction of its replacement facility (now assumed to include a 2500-seat grandstand) without having in hand either: 1) the required resource consent; 2) the multi-million purchase payment required from mall developer Charter Hall (who’s looking rather shaky financially these days); or 3) the $5 million in externally-raised funds that are required to complete “Phase 1” of the park.

He has defended a public consultation process that, despite its lofty goals, materially included only one element of the community — organized sports codes (and even amongst those, consultation was spotty). By proceeding in this fashion, he has dismissed related, but competing, needs and other possible strategies.

In this process, he has ignored credible evidence that a very significant portion of the electorate — 80% according to our perfectly legitimate random survey — opposes the initiative. Let that sink in … 80% of voters in Hastings and Havelock North oppose the sports park! Yet the Mayor and seven Councillors choose simply to ignore that sentiment.

And he has poked a finger in the eye of Napier and Regional Councillors, handing them an edict as to what sports facilities should be built, when and where, in the region.

Realising that support for the park is virtually non-existent in the other Councils, Sam Kelt said in Friday’s debate he has a “Plan B” for replacing the $6 million that was penciled-in for Napier and HBRC. In other words, say Lawrence and Sam, we’re going to do this the way we want to do it … the hell with the rest of them. Does it make sense to concentrate soccer at Napier’s successful Park Island, with augmented facilities? Who cares! We’re building our own soccer fields at Kelt Park. So much for regionality.

And finally there’s the intense politicking in the last days before HDC’s Friday vote, culminating in the defection of Councillor Wilson from her team. That’s politics, says the Mayor. It’s what I’m paid to do.

Unfortunately, in this case, the Mayor and Kelt Capital provided information to Councillor Wilson at the eleventh hour that other Councillors have not seen (to say nothing of the public … the Ombudsman is investigating my complaint about the withholding of this information). Apparently this information had a mighty impact on Councillor Wilson! Perhaps it could have been challenged; perhaps it might have persuaded even more of her dubious colleagues to switch sides overnight. Truth is, the information playing field was anything but level, despite all the hypocritical homage paid to the open submissions process.

So while the Mayor would claim to lead us with his vision, what he has actually done is hustle us. This time he might have hustled too many of us … regrettably on an issue with huge fiscal and strategic implications as well as opportunity costs for the region, not just some two-bit grant to Kelt Carnival.

It’s unfortunate that Councillor Wilson got seduced by his hustle.

She worked hard on this issue, and in recent weeks and days had moved away from supporting the park concept, instead favoring a community-based approach. In addition, she was sharply critical of the disenfranchisement of the wider community from the planning of the initiative. Her opposition to Phases 2 & 3 of the Kelt Park, and even to the continued involvement of Kelt Capital in any capacity beyond fundraising, was communicated to me and, I presume, to others. In short, she wanted to go back to square one.

However, at the eleventh hour she saw some information that made her change her mind again, exercising, as she said in her own defence, her prerogative as a woman. Not a terribly helpful explanation for those women who strive to be taken seriously for their stands on merit and principle. And she elected not to share that information, nor to insist that her fellow Councillors be given equal access.

But what’s done is done.

Having made herself the one-vote mandate provider (i.e., a 7-6 vote was a conceded no-winner) for the Kelt Park, Councillor Wilson has now a special role to play. She thinks she has won “protections” that the sports park will proceed “as advertised” … especially with regard to there being no financial shell games that violate the requirement for full funding in the bank for each phase of the project and no additional ratepayer burden. She must now be the ruthless enforcer of those protections.

She might as well start with Phase 1. Anne, we’ll be waiting for you personally to give us the “greenlight” when the $5 million in external funding required to complete Phase 1 is actually in the bank … not just on Sam’s “indicative” list. While you’re at it, tell us when the Charter Hall cheque arrives too.

Finally, a word or two regarding the dismay of Mayor Yule and his deputy Councillor Bowers that the role and beneficence of Sam Kelt have been questioned in this affair. The very thought “sickens” Mayor Yule. Councillor Bowers, self-styled arbiter of the region’s norms, lectures: “That’s not the way we do things in Hawke’s Bay.”

Whether they were targeting BayBuzz or not, I’ll respond, for I am proudly guilty of the charge of questioning Sam’s role.

The most gracious word I can say, in hopes of not upsetting too many Hawke’s Bay sensibilities, is COWPIES!

Lawrence Yule put Sam Kelt in the driver’s seat on the sports park and gave him the keys. Everyone else is in the back seat, merely along for the ride. Councillor Lester put it another way. He said he liked to bet on winners, and Sam Kelt was a winner.

Now, our elected leaders might argue they are entitled to make this $60 million bet on Sam on our behalf. Personally, I’d quarrel with that delegation of responsibility.

But the crucial point is a different one.

By accepting the role he has been awarded as champion and financial miracle-worker for this huge budgetary and social investment — one that will preempt any other approaches for years — Sam Kelt has made himself a public figure to be held fully accountable for the discharge of his public charter.

In the matter of the sports park, he is no longer a private merchant banker. He is the surrogate for a Council that admits it wouldn’t have clue how to get a project like this off the ground by itself. He is our $300,000 a year prize employee, as Councillor Bowers sees him.

As such, his motives, methods, and capabilities are all subject to the same public probing and ultimate accountability as any other public servant.

I don’t have the slightest qualms — and offer no apologies — for demanding that Sam Kelt be held under the microscope as he proceeds with the public mission our elected leaders have bestowed upon him … and he has happily accepted.

No private man, and especially one accustomed to having others stay out of his way, can enjoy being put to a different, public standard of transparency and accountability. It’s a big pain in the arse. Which is why many business leaders fail in public service. But, when one becomes a public servant, it comes with the job. I suspect Sam understands that full well. Unlike his acolytes, he hasn’t complained to me.

So Lawrence and Cynthia, be as sickened and dismayed as you like, but Sam Kelt will be held accountable, just like you.

Maybe this level of transparency and accountability is new to Hawke’s Bay. That’s my impression. But guess what, you might as well get used to it, for it’s being demanded by old-timers and new arrivals alike.

Tom

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you BayBuzz for your vast amount time, effort and energy you have expended and continue to do so, sitting through hour after hour of tedious meetings across Hawkes Bay, be it Hastings District Council, Napier City Council, or Hawkes Bay Regional Council. Then spending countless more hours sifting through reports then regularly reporting back to the fortunate people of Hawkes Bay. Fortunate, because before the arrival of BayBuzz, no other media outlet in Hawkes Bay reported with any level of depth or any degree of investigative reporting.

    I felt 'sickened' (yes Laurence Yule it wasn't just you feeling 'sickened') sitting through last friday's HDC meeting regarding the future demise of the Regional Sports Park and listening to yet another summary of how 'sickened' you felt regarding the manner in which the opposition has been tackling the RSP. Well Laurence, where there's smoke there's fire and because you continue to disregard good advice and thorough, well researched reporting, the public of Hawkes are continuing to receive bad governance. This is not why you were voted in. Why do you continue to disregard the voice of the people? Sounding familiar, do you think we are all half stupid? Try looking at it from our point of view, who's looking stupid? If there's one thing HDC should have learned from Ocean Beach, it is that the goals of a private business or corporate enterprise are very difficult to reconcile with the responsibilities of council and the aspirations of the public. Regarding the RSP, there has been a complete lack of public consultation and the direction the RSP has taken is one of the HDC colluding with a local businessman. It's disappointing to see Council has given disproportionate weight to the vested interests, ie. the submissions of the sporting codes.

    And as for Councillor Cynthia Bowers, chief whip, you may well be appalled by the recent reporting of Sam Kelt. Get bigger Cynthia, the RSP is an enormous issue. You stand in the public arena as a councillor representing the people. Of course there's going to be another side. As previously mentioned, where there's smoke there's fire. Oh and don't take it personally Cynthia, but I was disgusted with your description of the reporting, that “we don't behave like that in Hawkes Bay”. Hey if Council was aware of, and collectively responded to the public of HDC then you might find the road to progress would be much less bumpy.

    We are also witnessing your familiar behaviour of the past , although this time without the cunning. Remember your Ocean Beach vote of “no development” that went straight into the hands of the developer.

    Naive? Hard to digest such behavior with a seasoned councillor like yourself. Strategic, is more likely. Nice and cozy alongside your worship, our mayor.

    So now back to how I began, with thanking BayBuzz with its powerful presence in Hawkes Bay. Your reporting is thorough and intelligent. Your efforts to make councillors accountable is laudable eg . your extensive interviewing of aspiring councillors standing for election.

  2. Yule & Bowers abused their privelage in Council session by criticising members of the public who have voiced their concerns over the involvement of Sam Kelt in the RSP.

    It's curious that as the most strident defenders of democracy when the DHB was sacked, they should be the first to squeel when ratepayers exercise their right to free speach.

    If Sam Kelt has been maligned you can be sure he would have responded. Unlike Lawrence and Cynthia I assume Sam recognises his shortcomings and has a sense of humour.

    Tom's 'Many faces' peice cleverly articulated the problems of a private business and a local authority merging functions.

    Access to information. transparency, and process per the Act are the casualties.

    There is no dispute that Lawrence and Sam are the main movers and shakers in the RSP. From the outset they have combined the formidable resources of HDC and Kelt Capital to achieve the outcome.

    That this process is contrary to the provisions of the Local Government Act is why persistant voices of opposition will continue.

    As Lawrence pointed out the partnership with Sam Kelt is a new way of doing big projects. A new model. And this is why so much scrutiny is being exercised. Rather than criticise Tom and others for wanting to examine the model and its participants, HDC should welcome and embrace ratepayer participation in the debate.

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