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Friday
Oct262012

Board Short-Takes 

Cr Hoadley - was again absent – she appears to attend just enough meetings to preserve her seat on the Board, and appears to have lost interest in the District. The word is that she will not stand at the next election. Can’t say that she will be much of a loss as a DIDO (drive-in, drive-out) member – a big disappointment to all who supported her election. I am told that she hasn’t done a bad job on the Judiciary Committee, but that on its own does not justify her re-election. My suspicion is that she is  exasperated with Strats chairmanship, and in that regard, I must agree with her.

General - Yesterday’s Board meeting must go down in history as one of the most boring, drawn-out and confused assemblies of local government politicians ever foisted on this District. Without fear of contradiction, or accusation of hyperbole,  I believe I can state that Strat Peters is the nicest, most confused and most ineffective chairman I have ever known, and boy I have known a few in my time. He is just hopeless, and the sooner he is moved out to pasture the better for all concerned, not the least, the two members of the media pack – Robert Jeffares and myself who have to sit through this interminable litany of chairing stuff-ups – Robert even gave advice from the side-lines yesterday when the whole place ground to halt over some idiotic point of procedure.

Strat is a good guy, but after 12 or 15 years on the Council and Board, he has perfected the art of fence sitting to a degree unknown in political annals. He broke all records in regard to the manner in which he opted out of any decision making role for himself (and preferably, the Board) in regard to the great fluoride debate. Clearly Strat thinks he can only make enemies by coming down on either side, and proceeded with a great speech at the end of the debate (?) about how "the public temperature of the was to be taken".

The general tenor of meeting was a gravely effected by the absence of a substantial number of papers - several were handed out at the meeting which is hopeless for governance, and an indication that the back-office processes are falling down. The numbers of support staff for Thames/Coromandel have increased dramatically, and one would expect them to be able to produce papers before the Agenda closing time – about ten days before meetings. You cannot expect people to absorb the content of papers that are presented to the Board in this manner. I take the view that there is an element of contempt involved when members of the Board are thus treated.

Both Robert and I were totally unimpressed with the performance of the new Community Development Officer – she appears incapable of meeting the requirements of the position, and speaks from her boots from the top table – can’t hear a thing in the back of the room. I have no idea as her back-ground, but she certainly seems a strange appointment. On the other hand, the new Community Manager – Greg Hampton failed to produce a single paper in the agenda – nearly every one appeared to have been produced by the a low level Community Co-ordinator – this is really strange, and you are left to wonder just what responsibility the Area Manger takes for the proposals that are being put forward.

Other items that were ground out during the day (until well after 5 o'clock!) included:

Airport - Something strange is going on here – they went into Public Excluded after lunch to discuss some mysterious matter concerning presumably commercial negotiations. This is interesting because of the failed attempt last year by Strat’s good friend – Geoff Furkett to get his hands on the place. Secrecy always breeds speculation – something that these folk don’t appear to understand. I will use the OIR request process in due course to find out what is going on, but in the meantime it is certainly worth keeping an eye on this little matter.

The airport clearly has potential for development, but in main those interested want the Council to pay for the entire infrastructure, and that is an imposition on Thames rate-payers that is hard to justify. Peter Wood who has carried the flag for openness in airport matters was present, and bemused that such a matter could legitimately be made 'public excluded'. I agree, and rate payers need to be protected from the development of habitual behaviour in this regard – it is just too easy, and the Act has few teeth to protect us.

Fluoridation – The removal of fluoride from our water supply is to go to consultation – the question is what form of consultation. This was brought about as the result of the lightning strike by Crs Connors and Hoadley during the TYP process to take fluoride out forthwith without any consultation. They were only stopped on a 5:4 vote by Council, and the decision was put back to the Board who then decided to consult.

Strat clearly wanted a referendum (at considerable cost), because as he explained he did not want to make a decision – that is putting kindly interpretation on his stand – he actually gave every indication that he considered the decision an Albatross that could hang him out dry at election time. And he wants it finally decided by the full Council – a total ‘cop-out’ in other words.

Cr Connors dominated the conversation pushing for survey of all those who drink water in Thames - school-kids, parents, visitors and migrant workers, and then tried to influence the manner in which a survey would be constructed by instructing the Strategic Planner responsible – Katina Conomos, on the wording of the questions – eg “Are you happy with having fluoride in your water supply?”.

This is of course totally in line with the methodology involving loaded questions that the anti-fluoride forces have endeavoured to push with councils elsewhere.  Any survey will of course be accompanied by a massive campaign by the nay-sayers using pseudo-science, and emotional claptrap to influence the outcome. It will have national backing because any little victory in towns such as Thames can be used very effectively in pushing for reversals of use in cities like Auckland and Wellington in future campaigns. 

The others wanted the targeted questionnaire option, but Cr Connors was anxious to retain the right to make the final decision – if she is not conflicted through pre-determination then I am a monkey’s uncle, but she does not seem to understand the concept – she is so committed to the removal of the horrid substance. Hoadley was not there to support her, and the others were fairly quiet except for Cr French who has indicated in the past that he has an open mind – so open that he appears gto be seeking, seeking, seeking information everywhere, but still unable to state where he stands.

The Act is a very specific in the manner in which consultation must be undertaken (Sec. 82(1)(a)) and others. All persons who have an interest have to be given a reasonable opportunity to present those views. The proposers have no idea as to the divisions that will be stirred up in this town as a result of their actions – in election year! So it will be major election issue whether they like it or not. And I think that suits their purposes. Hence Strat’s studied fence sitting stance. He may be a terrible chairman, but he is not stupid,

Parks Level of Service - Savings are the order of the day, and about $25k. was identified as possible savings with a reduction in the level of service on reserves – mainly an increase in the height of grass required to be cut by the contractor. The 5 year contract will go tender early next year. The recommendations were all adopted, but one potentially controversial decision taken was to cost the removal of the so called Ngati Maru Mounds at the entrance to the town. The rationale is that they cost an additional $11k. to maintain in their present state with what amounts to a hand-mowing regime by a very frustrated contractor.  

They were installed 20 years ago at considerable expense, and a previous attempt to remove them led to major protest. Our stalwart members are naturally nervous about the election, and don’t want to upset anyone, so more investigation has been called for, though Cr Connors initially, and rather bravely called for their immediate removal, but she soon backed down.

Thames Focus Group    This little group of Strat’s (mostly Thames Club) mates, which is at best well-intentioned, and at worst a total waste of money who are nearly all aging white males. Hold on – stop-press! - they have decide to invite David Taipari and Wati Ngamane to join them as co-opted members, apparently because some smart arse has described them as aging, white and male. So there you are – major progress, maybe. Wati will fit in well, and David will seldom attend I suspect.  

But it remains a talk-fest – they are still going on about “Charettes” for wider consultation with the residents of the town, but the only progress in over a year of meetings and talk is the Wintec Community Asset Mapping tool that was inspired by Transition Town Thames, and paid for by TCDC - the data has now been sent to Wintec ”some time ago” and there “has been a lot of toing and froing”, but now “a plan has been received to implement the software, to be up and running by Christmas 2012”. It was reported that  “no budget has been used to date” - well that is a relief, though if I am not mistaken $11k allocated in the previous year has already been spent – perhaps they should check on that. It was decided that the Area Manager “will take the software and proposed plan to Council’s IT Manager to assess the merit of it and report back to the TFG”.

What a complete waste of time, but Strat remains upbeat about the wonderful progress being made by the Group to improve life for everyone in Thames. Well, as I have said to Strat - I will believe it when I see it. So far there is nothing to show but a lot beautifully written minutes from their various meetings. Fortunately, no-one is being paid for this painless, but pointless boondoggle. 

It is interesting that their meeting on 20 September was attended not only by the usual crew – Errol Kingsbury, Morrie Dunwoodie, Mark Bridgman, Bruce Oliver and  Mark Skelding, but also by the entire Board and a raft of staff members. It appears that they all take it very seriously, or else they are dragooned into attending.

Whatever the reason for such a gathering of notables, it remains a nebulous and fanciful attempt at drumming up business for Thames, and it is time that it was knocked on the head before it begins to cost ratepayers real money. And I say this as a good friend of Strat’s.  

Underfoot Gallery – And now for a bit of light relief.

You probably have not heard of the UG – it is a remarkable attempt by a group of arts people and the Thames Art Society to brighten up the town prior to and during the upcoming Thames Arts Festival which will feature a seaside 2012 event with guest artist Michael Smither. Michael’s services have been secured through local resident Colin Broadley who happens to be a good friend.  It is immaterial that Michaels works sell for tens of thousands of dollars in galleries, and that he is recognised as one of the country’s top artists.

The Society sought and secured the Boards permission to undertake a project painting the footpath under Michael’s guidance from Victoria Park through to the bridge at the southern end of Pak ‘n’ Save. Various community groups have agreed to participate and take responsibility for sections of the path. The whole thing is being  overseen by Colin.

All was well until Colin decided to take it on himself to start the project early and get a bit of publicity at the Kuranui end of the path, and Michael kindly went ahead and designed a starter piece that was nearly completed when a raft of complaints appeared at Council from residents who live along that section, and who apparently prefer the  view of clean concrete to the work of a ‘so-called’ artist”, and whose work some declared to be “graffiti”.

Well of course, Colin did not have permission to do that section, so the Council was in a quandary, particularly as most of the Board members appeared to have never heard of Michael Smithers, let alone have any appreciation of his work. So when the complaints came before the Board with a non-committal recommendation, they were reluctant to make a decision until after they had visited and ‘judged’ the work for themselves.

Strat wisely suggested that the initial work should be completed, it is only 20 meters all-up to the bridge, and then if following examination, the Board could decide whether it wanted it removed (the concrete slabs could be lifted and moved to the original approved site ($$$$?), or by ‘grinding’ as suggested by one of the complainants), or left as it is, well away from giving offence to concrete loving complainants. Colin seemed pretty happy with this when I spoke to him later in the day, and he offered a simple solution regarding removal, but I prefer grinding – then we could put a brass plaque beside it with the title ‘Grinding Smithers’. Trouble is, it may get stolen in the night only to appear in a fancy Auckland gallery with a very high price.

Fortunately Strat’s suggestion was adopted, but the risk of the National media getting a hold of the story remains, depending on the outcome of board member inspection. Hopefully all sensibilities have been smoothed over, but I suspect that having been stirred up, Moanataiari residents will not let it rest, and the remaining work will still come in for substantial flack.  Such is life in a small town, with small minds, and myopic vision amongst some of its elderly residents.    

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