Wednesday I spent most of the day observing the HB Regional Council in action.

Not pretty.

The meeting begins with extended complaining over the length of the agenda. Then proceeds to the part where Councillors are allowed to add “General Business” items for brief discussion later in the meeting.

Except that some Councillors actually manage to get their items on the Chairman’s list, and others, like Councillor Remmerswaal, do not. It seems that Chairman Rex (= “King”) McIntyre exercises a capricious royal prerogative as to which of your and my elected representatives get this privilege and which do not.

Eventually the Council gets to an important issue … deciding how to deal with numerous appeals to the Environment Court triggered by the lame decision of HBRC’s hearings commissioners to award water takes from the Tukituki. A ruling which overrode staff opposition to more withdrawals from the already over-allocated river.

Now, it turns out, the same staff just overridden by “wiser” current and former Councillors, sitting as a hearings committee, is seeking carte blanche approval to enter mediation with the upset parties, in hopes of avoiding full-scale litigation. The catch is that the staff wants full delegated authority to close any deal without any further approval by the Council. And now, ironically, this position is backed by the Councillor, Christine Scott, who sat on the controversial hearings decision.

So, first we toss the staff position out the window; then we champion giving them full authority to make a politically-loaded, precedent-setting deal with no Council oversight. Amazing. Councillors Kirton, Rose and Remmerswaal tried to make the case for Council review, but lost. Indeed, King Rex wouldn’t even permit the relevant amendment to be offered by Councillor Rose.

Much of the debate was punctuated by “points of order” from the procedure policewomen — Councillors von Dadelszen and Scott — who seem to specialise in thwarting robust discussion of serious issues.

Eventually Council winds its way to the end-of-meeting “General Business” discussion. I’m eager to hear this, because a complaint I’ve laid to Councillors regarding a premature staff submission on the sports park might get discussed. Liz Remmerswaal had added this item back at the top of the meeting. Or so she (we) thought.

King Rex effectively said: Buzz off Liz! I’m Keeper of the List. We’ll be discussing the sports park in due course (referring to the public LTCCP process).

And there’s my complaint. Way back in November 2007, the HBRC staff made a stealth submission to independent commissioners on the sports park plan change. They ticked all the boxes giving the proposal their blessing. But to this day the Regional Council has not taken a position on the full proposition of the sports park … a point reinforced by King Rex’s comment today that the matter would be taken up at a future time.

Helllooo, King Rex!! Who needs the LTCCP, public consultation, or Councillors’ involvement? The staff has already endorsed the project. With what authority?

Perhaps this wouldn’t be so important but for the fact that the independent commissioners relied on that staff submission specifically to justify letting the sports park sprawl onto 30 hectares of prime Heretaunga Plains. The HBRC staff said … not a problem. This will be the pivotal issue in any Environment Court appeal.

This bass-ackwards approach to due process has been the hallmark of the entire sports park consideration process.

I complained of this sequence of events in an email to each Regional Councillor. One replied (and the CEO promised a full reply). Councillor Remmerswaal tried to get the matter on the table, but was rebuffed by King Rex.

And here I am, naively under the illusion that in electing nine Councillors to the HBRC, they will all have equal opportunity to represent their constituents. What a dummy I am! It’s a monarchy after all.

Tom

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