Peninsula Press & the Election 
Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 11:04AM
Bill Barclay

After two years and nearly 100 columns (99 actually!), There has been a parting of the ways with Gary Bulling - publisher of the Peninsula Press, and I will cease the column. It was probably inappropriate to continue in this role while I remain undecided about standing for Council in any case. On the other hand, it is a good time to withdraw - readers bore easily when presented with similar gripes week after week, though I did endeavour to vary the diet. And although I have parted on good terms with Gary, I did find the Thursday 1080 issue difficult to stomach - he will need to be careful if he is to avoid alienating a large proportion of his readers – it happened previously with Norman Jones – Thames is not Coromandel/Colville, and Forest and Bird's views hold sway around here.   

I strongly believe that Gary's entry into publishing in the town was a courageous act that put to shame the coverage that had previously been provided (and still is!) by the Fairfax controlled ‘Hauraki Herald’ - now in effect published elsewhere, and parachuted in. Gary took another punt when he asked me to write a regular column, and although it has been an enjoyable exercise, it is probably true to say that my unrelenting attacks on some aspects of recent Council policy have not assisted with his relationship with Council. The deliberate and concerted attempts to strangle his paper by the withdrawal of any recognition and denial of all Council advertising has been put down to deliberate interference by Leach, but well and truly supported by Communications Manager Ben Day, whose controversial, and arguably partial role remains one of this Council's great enigmas. It must be of enduring frustration to Ben and his team that the Council's many Press Releases are treated with such utter disdain by virtually every media on the Peninsula - even those who provided such invaluable support to Leach prior to the last election.

The machinations within our Council have been a sight to behold over the last two years, and the complete and utter complacency and self-satisfaction with which incumbents are approaching the forthcoming election is manifest. But at least Leach turns up to work, unlike his predecessor.

I believe that healthy democracy demands that they be challenged at every level, and I trust that sufficient quality candidates come forward to give them a run for their money. Unfortunately, Leach appears unassailable at this stage, but interestingly, is showing signs of nervousness as he attempts to deal with the criticism that has been directed at him over the last month or two - even from within his Whitianga power-base. The issues surrounding the Whitianga Sports-complex, and Council rate reduction/debt increase are clearly beginning to irritate more than usual - his confidence needed a shake-up and these two issues, along with over-hyped Board Empowerment will probably constitute the major debating points going into the election. Leach is smug about the latter, but clearly fails to understand the rod he has made for the back of every Council into the future.

On the other hand, his recently revealed intention to remove interest on debt incurred building infrastructure (a major component), from the Development Contribution calculation is probably a belated attempt to repay obligations incurred with developers prior to the last election. He will no doubt pursue this into this election, but risks strong opposition by a considerable number of electors who will view such a move as a blatant ratepayer subsidy. Leach has indicated that he believes removal of the interest is necessary in order to encourage development - whether it is sufficient to achieve this objective is one thing - the moral and fairness test is quite another.  Further, his 'development at any cost' approach will also come to a head over finfish aquaculture, and his 'Round the Peninsula' Great Walk(s) - a real doozy if ever there was one, where he projects passion as a substitute for common sense.

The other issue surrounding my departure from the pages of the PP relates to my own intentions regarding the election. I have given the matter considerable thought, but will not make a final decision until much closer to nominations. My decision will be based on my own perception of the other announced candidates. Having missed out by 100 votes at the last election following the concerted effort to 'dump' the previous Council, I consider that there probably remains sufficient support 'out-there' to warrant another shot, and I have certainly made no effort to hide my views on just about every relevant subject over the last two and a half years. A glance down the index to the right - either Chronological or Alphabetical will confirm that – alternatively, type what you are looking for into ‘search’ – it is super-efficient.

As for the local incumbents - let me assure them that regardless of any decision I may make to stand, they have far from an assured 'free-ride' on this occasion. They will need to justify their support for Leach's policies, and their failure to deliver anything notable of benefit to Thames, other than a $90,000 Draft Urban Plan of dubious quality, and reflective of the views of but one of their number if I am not mistaken - namely Strat Peters. Body language at the last Board meeting when the draft was presented suggests to me that there is considerable water to go under this bridge. Everything else of note derives from previous councils. Strat is standing again for the Board "because of my need to see the Urban Plan through to fulfilment”. 

As for individuals, I would have to say that I along with nearly every other observer have been impressed with the development of Peter French into a hardworking and effective Councillor, and a good foil to Leach as Deputy Mayor. Peter did a splendid job with the Moanataiari problem - he chaired it through to a logical conclusion. His work elsewhere has been of a high standard, and he almost alone on Council asks intelligent questions, and often struggles with Leach’s more zany utterances.  

Diane Connors has at times demonstrated a feisty disrespect for Leach, and appears to have worked extremely hard at the community level. She will probably have considerable support from that quarter as a result, but along with the others cannot really point to any particular achievement of note. She handles herself well in the Council Chamber, but although she won't agree with me, she has to take responsibility for the unnecessarily divisive, expensive, and ultimately futile fluoridation exercise.

Wyn Hoadley has been absent from more Council and Community Board meetings that any other member in my six years association with Council. She promised to change her domicile before the election, failed to follow through, and reportedly had the audacity to claim mileage from Mairangi Bay for her infrequent attendances. She has apparently chaired the Judicial Committee competently, but her pedantic outbursts at Council meetings have revealed a deep-seated antagonism to Leach, and I would surmise that her frequent absences from Community Board meetings is  due to a deep-seated contempt for Strat's Chairing - somewhat understandable on both scores. Nevertheless, other than achieving an anodyne Positive Aging Strategy, she has remained totally ineffective, and in spite of her abundant local government CV, appears out of sorts with her involvement with a Council/Board of ‘inferior’ quality. 

All back off from taking an independent position, and wither under Leach’s bullying tactics. Debate, if any, is confined to public excluded ‘workshops’ – the tactic du jour of this Council. Sometimes as an observer, you just want to scream when some of the more idiotic or naïve proposals pass through absent of any discussion, often to the delight of sycophantic senior staff from the Leach camp, who thus avoid public scrutiny of their papers.  

Both Peter and Diane have indicated that they intend to stand, but Wyn has given contradictory signals, and will no doubt wait until the last moment before indicating her true intentions. There was a strong suggestion that she may be angling to be appointed as Chair of the Judicial from outside Council, but I would doubt that Leach would countenance it. That would involve substantial 'Independent Commissioner' fees, and would probably suit her quite nicely, but recently Leach made sure French qualified as a Judicial Chair, just in case!

It is a pity that Peter will not stand against Leach - he would be a credible and strong candidate, though his ability to overcome the Eastern Seaboard retiree support for Leach is moot - perhaps 2017. Leach is very sensitive to being labelled a 'bully', and 'bombastic', but he has only himself to blame. This aspect of his nature is probably more appreciated amongst his East Coast supporters than in Thames, where in my experience, people are a little less enamoured with his approach, and his resorting to the all-emcompassing "youse" and similar crudities. Council employees below the top echelon appear quite dismissive, and constitute a substantial voting bloc.  

I intend to prepare a post on the remaining councillors, and Leach in due course. Having sat through the entire set of meetings since the election, I believe that I have developed considerable insight as to the manner in which each operate. Don't be put off by my comments about Leach - I have actually developed respect for his rat-cunning, and political savvy - he is nobody's fool, and he does does have his finger on the way in which a large percentage of the electorate thinks. I would like to try to fairly analyse his achievements, together with those areas where I think he has 'missed the boat'. I plan to prepare this post over the next week or two as an election taster. They will hate it of course, but then again, they never read my blog, so it should not upset them too much - after all no one else takes any notice of their performance. 




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