When he received news on October 9th that his 1,322 votes had won him election to his first full term on the Regional Council, I doubt Wairoa’s Fenton Wilson’s first thought was … “Aha! Now I can depose Alan Dick as Chair.”
And when Alan Dick received word that his 10,134 votes had secured his re-election, I’m equally certain his first thought was not … “Uh Oh! Now I’ll need to fend off a challenge to my chairmanship from Fenton Wilson.”
But that’s the way it played out over the past two weeks, culminating in Wilson’s 5-4 election today as Chair, with only Councillors Dick, Kirton, Remmerswaal and McGregor voting to retain Alan Dick.
The opportunity landed in Wilson’s lap, as the least offensive compromise candidate, when a group of three Councillors (Eileen von Dadelszen, Christine Scott and Kevin Rose) — motivated mostly by personal gripes and ambitions — were joined by Tim Gilbertson (a minimalist who worries that Dick’s grand ambitions for HBRC distracted the Council from its core business) to vote for a change in leadership.
You would need to be a regular observer of the Regional Council to appreciate the irony of this “change” coalition. The four instigators can hardly bear each other. Hence the need for Wilson as the least offensive and threatening candidate.
Both he and Alan Dick, in their “campaign” presentations to their colleagues, noted the dysfunction of the Council brought about by heaps of petty jealousies, personal dislikes, chronic disrespect to one another, and constant consequent in-fighting.
Wilson in his comments referred to “bickering and disharmony beneath the dignity of this Council.” He presented himself as a peacemaker.
Dick described a Council that over the past six years has been “plagued with internal conflict and poor interpersonal relationships between members,” which, he continued, resulted in “caucus predetermination, public arguments and general discontent” and consequent “wasted energy in trying to keep the peace.”
He noted that such behaviour cannot be fixed by the Chairman alone, saying: “It can only be fixed by nine people, notably by the six who have been here for the last two terms, individually and collectively having a good hard look at themselves and considering whether they are here for personal gratification and power, or to work conscientiously and consistently for the benefit of the region.”
My, my, my! If I had offered this kind of indictment — the Regional Council is a bunch of juveniles — during the campaign, I would have been accused of “playing the man, not the ball”!
It’s unfortunate that the voters were cheated out of such candid self-assessment by the Regional Councillors themselves during their campaigns! Keep in mind, no incumbents were defeated. [Although Christine Scott and Kevin Rose have pledged not to run again.]
Former Chair Dick offered a impressive case (even to the normally critical BayBuzz) that the Council had indeed made positive strides during his leadership, effectively challenging his colleagues with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” argument. As I saw it, his opponents made no rebuttal to his argument or any substantive case for a firing squad.
Their “case” was essentially that Fenton Wilson is a nice fellow.
So here we are, like it or not, with our fourth HBRC Chair in as many years.
Whether Wilson will be a pawn or a king — or a peacemaker or disciplinarian — remains to be seen.
But he is now the Chair. And he deserves — and should be supported in — his opportunity to banish the conflict, demonstrate independence, and provide substantive leadership on a par with (or better than) his predecessor. The region needs him to succeed.
P.S. The coup plotters might have triggered more change than they were counting on. With the coalition shifting, Councillor Scott was then removed as Vice-Chair, being replaced by Ewan McGregor in that role. If this coalition persists, we might welcome new Chairs for the HBRC’s Environmental Management Committee and its Asset Management Committee when those votes are taken next week. Change has a way of getting out of control!