Bully-goat’s Bluff

Bull

Napier City Council Mayor, Bill Dalton, claimed in an email obtained by Fairfax last week that online criticism of his council, and in particular it’s CEO, Wayne Jack, potentially had the chance of NCC “being the first council to be destroyed by ill-informed social media”.

In the email he said councillors need to support the council’s CEO, who is re-applying for his position which is currently up for renewal.

This call to action has prompted a complaint to the Office of the Auditor General that it gives the impression of bias, or predetermination – something not allowed in local governance – in the council’s CEO selection process.

“Dalton told his councillors the recruitment agency had received a number of applications and he did not want to lose Jack, who he believed might seek higher pay elsewhere.”

“We need to be out in the community telling people about our successes and acknowledging the role Wayne and his rejuvenated team have played in those successes”

“The purpose of this letter is to ask you all to show support to your chief executive. To ask people you know to publicly, through social media and the newspapers, to acknowledge the progress we are making as a council. At this stage the negative team are winning the game,”

Wrote the mayor.

Soon after, NZME’s Hawke’s Bay Today picked up the story, but with one slight change that made a lot of difference in the eyes of many.

The “Criticism” reported on Stuff suddenly became “Bullying” and “Abuse” in its rival’s headlines and stories.

Quantifiable examples of this “criticism”/”abuse” were not given, rather just quotes from councilors, including those on the CEO selection panel, rallying around “their CEO”.

Reading through the numerous news and social media posts each day for the last few years there certainly has been a lot of criticism of recent NCC actions. Many would argue justifiably so.

The overwhelming majority of this criticism has been targeted at erroneous council decisions and ignoring what Napier ratepayers want.

Council’s handling of Napier’s War Memorial Conference Centre refurbishment and Multi-use Sports/Velodrome facility have certainly been sore points for many members of the public.

As the highest ranking representatives of elected and unelected council management, the Mayor and CEO receive the bulk of “air time” and press coverage, so what they say and do undergoes far more scrutiny and receives more criticism when things don’t go as their public sees fit.

For the greatest part, any criticism of a person holding a public position is usually along the lines of “statements/actions unbecoming a leader/elected official”. This is because the public hold their city officials in higher regard, and expect more from them.

“Personal attacks”, targeting individuals’ private lives and families, are few, far between and swiftly and severly dealt with by both moderators and fellow users on local discussion pages.

It is called “social” and not “anti-social” media for a reason.

So who is bullying whom?

With many members of the public feeling ostracised and ignored by central and local governments in recent years, and with social media overtaking mainstream and traditional forms of media for coverage and effect, numerous local groups have been set up on social media sites like Facebook as a way of spreading news and voicing opinions.

While criticism of recent council actions has featured prominently on Napier Facebook pages, there has also been a large amount of criticism of, well, criticism!

Many who have expressed concern over certain matters, or voiced opinions contrary to publicised council stances online or in local papers are often ridiculed as “moaners” or “nay-sayers” and been targets of abuse by council supporters – the likes Napier’s mayor asked city councillors to rally.

Taradale Ward councillor Tania Wright “feared that this kind of behaviour could discourage people from standing for public office.”

Those sentiments eerily mirrored a post Mayor Dalton put on a fellow councillor’s Facebook page recently condemning criticism of the city council, except his statement was worded rather more strongly.

“While residents were entitled to their opinion”, Ahuriri Councillor Larry Dallimore said, “it was unfair that elected representatives were being personally attacked.”

Councillor Dallimore knows what it’s like to be personally attacked on social and mainstream media because, as you may remember, when the now Ahuriri Ward representative was campaigning for a seat at the council table, Mr Dallimore himself was the target or criticism, some might even call it online abuse – From Napier’s Mayor!

In an opinion piece in the Hawke’s Bay Today, Dallimore pointed out

“Statistics New Zealand quite clearly announced the inflation rate up to the end of March (2016) was 0.4 and if you divide that into 4.4 (Napier rates for 2016/17 increased by between 3.6{3919f50c199a8627c147b24d329ff0de8aa05e3a462fa3330e11cd9ea56ed948} and 4.4{3919f50c199a8627c147b24d329ff0de8aa05e3a462fa3330e11cd9ea56ed948}) you get 11 times,” he said. “There’s no argument.”

In response Napier Mayor Bill Dalton was quoted in the daily paper as saying Dallimore’s (mathematically correct) statement that Napier rates were increasing at up to 11 times that of inflation was “absolute hogwash”, saying the figures were “just nonsense” and accused Mr Dallimore of “scaremongering”.

All this occurred while Mr Dallimore, at the time just a member of the rate paying public, was in the middle of campaigning for election, whilst Mayor Dalton was safe in his unopposed mayoral position.

That sounds a fair bit like bullying, doesn’t it?

Local animal welfare group Watchdog! also found themselves on the end of similar tirades in mainstream Hawke’s Bay media when the Ministry of Primary Industry investigations the group had requested into Napier City Council’s pound discovered the facility had four major and two minor non-compliances:

In a letter to Hawke’s Bay Today this month, Mr Dalton said the council was aware of shortcomings “well before Ms Maxwell decided to make the matter her life” and urged Hawke’s Bay Today to ignore her “pathetic crusade”.

He even turned on Hawke’s Bay Today itself – the paper that gives council news and his own opinions so much print and online coverage in saying:

“Clearly Hawke’s Bay Today has bugger-all to talk about when they keep going on and on and on about a bloody dog pound.” (Run by the council he leads..)

I’m not making this stuff up!

These are ACTUAL QUOTES from our region’s newspaper!

Some have said these outbursts are just Napier’s mayor “calling a spade a spade”. Many more see it as statements/language unbecoming a leader or elected official.

It could also be seen as going against NCC’s Elected Members’ Code of Conduct:

According to Napier City Council’s code of conduct, statements from councillors should not “make personal criticism of the proper conduct of the council or of other elected members, officers of the council or members of the public”.

When I asked if this EMCC could be seen as “gagging” councillors, The mayor called my question “just nonsense”.

In our current world of “Post- Truth Politics” and “Alternative Facts” all these barbs and insults directed at members of the public by elected officials sound worryingly similar to a tactic called “Gaslighting.”

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation intended to spread doubt in individuals or members of a group. Using persistent denial, misdirection, and contradiction it attempts to destabilize and delegitimize its targets’ or the public’s beliefs.

That sounds disturbingly like the treatment of the Napier Skating Club and its “Sk8 Zone” park last year.

Denying anything was wrong with the city pound, then declaring “the council was aware of shortcomings” before Watchdog! shed more light on issues rings alarm bells of a similar vein.

After all the debate, all the press releases and all the ratepayer money spent on commissioned reports trying to justify the construction of a velodrome virtually no Napier ratepayers wanted or needed, Napier City Council shelved the project this week.

But in a parting shot at deflecting blame for wasted time and ratepayer money Mayor Dalton accused Sport New Zealand of “styming” the project, an emotive Hawke’s Bay Today headline declared.

However, further reading revealed:

“Sport New Zealand’s general manager of community sport Geoff Barry said at no point did his organisation support the project; rather supported them to develop a draft business case.

“We haven’t stymied the process. I think that we’ve been involved in a process and the Napier City Council are reflecting, I think, on the fact that they had an interpretation or perception that we were supporting the project and at no stage have we supported the project in the way that they say we have.”

If the council had been actually listening to its citizens over the two years of business case development they would have rather clearly heard a velodrome was not a project worth pursuing and ratepayers might have been benefitting from a new, Olympic-sized public swimming complex by now.

Exclusion can be another form of bullying and many Napier residents, ratepayers, war veterans and their families have felt excluded over the diabolical handling of Napier’s (now former) War Memorial Conference Centre.

Concerned Napier citizens saw an August public meeting as their first opportunity to discuss concerns over the council’s removal of the Eternal Flame and Roll of Honour from the facility when redevelopments began two years ago.

What they got instead was a presentation of the council’s three preferred new war memorial options, none of which included the returning of the artefacts to the conference centre site – something vociferously supported by the public of Napier, military veterans and relatives of those named on the Roll of Honour plaques.

With little time left at the end for questions from those gathered in attendance, it shut off much opportunity for actual public opinion, debate, or criticism of the council’s handling of the matter.

So it must have come as a surprise to only the convenor, elected council members and management staff when the statement “This community presentation hasn’t happened because of community pressure, but because it is part of council process” was met with laughter.

Many left the “presentation” just as, if not more, disgruntled than when they arrived.

At least concerns over the War Memorial Conference Centre are getting more attention and coverage.

Under previous council regimes dissent got even less recognition.

There were signs that little, if any, criticism, accountability, responsibility or blame would ever be taken within Napier City Council when NCC’s disastrous Art Deco Bus venture was sold off for a pittance of what it had cost the council.

Despite there never being any public demand from them, virtually no one riding on them and the ratepayer-borne cost of not only getting them roadworthy when they arrived, but continual on-going maintenance and overall issues cost the city $1.3 Million the project was only a dud:

“..because we have got one or two extremely vocal critics who are stirring the thing up.”

Yes, it was “the stirrers” fault.

And those who recognised and warned the construction, operational and visitor number issues with Napier’s new Museum, Theatre and Gallery would be bigger, longer lasting and more expensive than the council had led their public to believe were portrayed by the dismissive line: “the whole MTG issue had been blown out of proportion by some people who had expressed their feelings and opinions without “thinking it through”.

Napier’s illuminations once again flickered and there was the smell of LPG in the air…

Public Trust

All this boils down to a lack of trust between the people of Napier and their council.

If ratepayers can’t trust what their elected officials and council management are saying, then doubt and criticism are soon to follow.

Ignoring their public’s needs and requests, whether it be in person, in traditional, or social media; Continued deflection of blame, rather than accepting responsibility and accountability for city decisions that go wrong; and being disrespectful to the citizens of Napier who vote them in, pay their wages and fund council activities all add up very quickly and all undermine the trust a city has in its council.

As Deputy Mayor, Faye White, speaking of her sadness that “the mayor can’t send a confidential email (that began this post) to his councillors” without it being leaked, said:

“When the trust goes … it’s never quite the same.”

Indeed.

Napier deserves better!

A Tale of Two City Councils

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I’ve often wondered who is actually in charge at Napier City Council.

In the on-going fallout over the removal of the “War Memorial” name and features of Napier’s (now former) War Memorial Conference Centre a handful of councillors (and I mean “handful – only around four out the dozen in total) have spoken out admitting they might have actually gotten it wrong.

Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing.

But when elected councillors with up to six terms (that’s 18 years) of hindsight still fail to grasp what their community wants or claim to “not know the history” of the important decisions they are making (here’s a hint – the words “War Memorial” should generally ring foresight alarm bells) such “mea culpas” turn into flimsy excuses very quickly.

A HBT commenter recently observed, given recent council criticism, we could be forgiven for having the impression Napier was being ruled by a dictatorship.

The comments were intended to be pithy, yet, only a day after a recently re-elected councillor’s opinion piece claimed “Councillors Genuinely Keen to Hear From You” and “it is so important to continue to vigorously resist as a community any erosion of democracy and local representation that presents itself” unelected NCC staff declared that, despite hundreds of online comments, letters and texts to the Editor of Hawke’s Bay Today to “Put them Back!”, returning the Eternal Flame and memorial plaques the conference centre “was not on the list of options” presented to yet another publicly-excluded council working group / committee by yet more unelected council staff.

Where is the democracy in that?

Our mayor and CEO, meanwhile, continue to ignore any and all criticism. Instead they sit on and crow about the laurels of an inspection conducted in February, before issues with plunging staff morale and issues over staff restructuring, chlorinated water, and hocking off council headquarters to hotel developers became big PR problems.

Now we have the chasm of credibility and accountability opening underneath the council over the War Memorial and Eternal Flame removal.

The fact the publicity photo chosen to head the article features Napier’s mayor and CEO looking gleeful inside the recently “desecrated” (War Memorial) Conference Centre might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

To many that image could certainly “make mockery” of council hierarchy, justify public criticism and erode Napier ratepayers’ faith that their “local democracy and representation” was being honoured.

There certainly appears to be two councils at work here:

The unelected council management, under the stewardship of the CEO, who run council operations day-to-day and advise / provide the bulk of information and reports to the elected councillors.

And the publicly elected council of twelve councillors and mayor, who make decisions often based solely upon the information provided to them by the unelected management staff.

As reaction to the SK8 Zone debacle revealed, the information council management provides their councillors may not always be as accurate or objective as it could be.

And as I helped reveal late last year the openness and voice of the elected councillors has been somewhat muffled for some time by a Code of Conduct that every councillor must agree to and sign before taking office.

This EMCC – “Elected Members Code of Conduct” prevents publicly-elected councillors from publicly criticising each other, members of the public, or council staff, whose direction in matters like the War Memorial Conference Centre may have lead the councillors’ decisions astray, opened them up to public ridicule and ultimately mean they miss out on a seat at the council table next elections.

Even though it was considered out-dated and can only be changed or rescinded at the beginning of a new council term, all current councillors still signed up to it.

At least this time they pledged allegiance to Napier City (ergo, it’s ratepayers) rather than the local body of the City Council who they had been indentured to for untold elections prior.

Napier’s mayor claimed that the EMCC “had never been invoked“.

Rubbish.

Like any pre-employment agreement, councillors signing the Elected Members Code of Conduct before taking their seat at the council table immediately “invoke” it, meaning they have to abide by its laws from the get-go.

It also means Napier’s ratepayers, whose democratic vote selects the councillors to represent them and whose rates pay those councillors’ and council staff’s wages will often never hear the truth behind ratepayer money being wasted, the true reason for plans and directions gone wrong, or see anything resembling accountability in their local government.

The only real opportunity for true democratic change amidst the current unelected council management structure will come in September this year when the publicly elected city councillors will get to vote on whether to continue their current CEO’s contract, or head in a different direction.

Pressure from recent events must surely be mounting.

Employed as a “Change Manager”, NCC has certainly seen change under his rule. Some has been received positively, but more recently a lot has not.

Will the councillors listen to those constituents who voted them in and are now feeling ignored and subjugated by council decisions?

Or will their EMCC, lack of hindsight and foresight, and bellicose leader muffle, muddle and muzzle them into another term of the same-old, same-old?

Whatever happens, we can be assured of one thing:

Napier deserves better!

McLean Park’s Drainage Problems Need Plugging

Don't let the sun go down on cricket at McLean Park! (except when it's a gorgeous sunset like this one...)

Don’t let the sun go down on cricket at McLean Park! (except when it’s a gorgeous sunset like this one…)

As a life-long cricket fan and player it breaks my heart to think that McLean Park may be struck off the international schedule after the recent farcical game abandonment.

As a sporting venue there are few more picturesque grounds in the world – Phoenix and Norfolk Pines surround with Hawke Bay sparkling in the background and Cape Kidnappers reaching out to the distance of any wide shot of the park.

It is a place of many fond cricket memories – From Danny Morrison’s hat-trick against India in 1994 to England and New Zealand scoring a combined total of 680 runs in an epic, TIED ODI in 2008, or even Scott Styris and Mitchell Johnson butting head and helmet in 2010 proves McLean Park’s pitch, at least, can deliver the goods.

kp

The cricketing deities may smile upon the clay block out in the park’s middle, but when the skies (and ticket-buying fans) weep, it can be another story.

Drainage at McLean Park has long been an issue and while it may not affect the “mainly rugby” aspect of the ground, cricket’s red and white leather balls don’t take to moisture quite as well as their oval, synthetic rugby cousins.

In an interview for a pre-Cricket World Cup venue tour in 2014 former player and cricket ambassador Gavin Larsen noted before the World Cup “some maintenance work will occur, including drainage improvements on the outfield” (Bay Park in Cricket Spotlight March 26 2014).

The ground underwent improvements around that time with, I believe, a re-turf of the field and drainage improvements made.

Just before Napier’s World Cup games began it was declared the “Pitch is Cricket-perfect” (Napier Mail 4 March 2015). A groundsman was even quoted as saying:

“We have very good drainage out here on the park and we plan to keep it that way. Across the park we have drainage lines about 1.5meters apart, so it drains very quickly into the sump”

McLean Park’s World Cup games all went ahead without outfield issues (even when it rained the morning of the final game between West Indies and UAE).

Volunteering at McLean Park's Cricket World Cup games.  Photo c/o Steve Dykes

Volunteering at McLean Park’s Cricket World Cup games.
Photo c/o Steve Dykes

But since then things haven’t been so flash.

Last year’s Pakistan game being abandoned has been mentioned, but is quite different from the NZ Australia game in that about 40mm of rain fell the day before the Pakistan match with another 10mm on match day.

In other words “it hosed down”.

I doubt many venues would have been playable after such a deluge.

It similarly poured down when the All Blacks finally returned to McLean Park to play Argentina in 2014, but the game went ahead with great ticket sales and the city thrived with all the visitors.

IMAG2110

Yet, for whatever reason, one of the greenest pieces of grass in an otherwise bleached-dry region was “too wet” to play on.

That’s not good enough.

It’s even worse when you consider ratepayer money went into getting the game here.

I had naively thought New Zealand Cricket dispensed matches out in an egalitarian manner – West Indies will play here, India there etc., but this is not entirely the case.

Hosting venues (or rather the local councils behind them) “bid” to host bigger games like NZ v Australia.

Not only is there an expected, ratepayer-funded cost in the logistics of hosting of these games, but there’s also an added financial sweetener to attract them here?

So to have a big game like this Chappell-Hadlee match canned in such a ham-fisted manner with players, international media and worst of all the rate and ticket-paying public left in the lurch harms not only McLean Park’s reputation and reliability, but also Napier’s finances.

We want to see Hawke’s Bay promoted on the world sporting stage. We want people to visit and enjoy our wonderful region. We want to see international sports played here and as Napier and Hastings’ combined population is around 130,500 – the 5th largest population base in New Zealand (Hamilton = 150,000 and Tauranga = 128,200) we are in the box seat for hosting such events.

The March 1st ODI against cricketing greats South Africa has now been lost to Hamilton and Napier City Council have revealed that field and drainage upgrades at McLean Park had been put off prior these recent events that will now be done this year, but all too late for this cricket season, criticism and credibility.

There are two One Day Internationals against England and Pakistan scheduled to play in 2017/18. For the sake of one of New Zealand’s most popular international sporting grounds let’s hope things are sorted by then.

Mclean Park’s drainage problems need plugging.

Napier sporting events deserve better!

Good Riddance, 2016 (Time of your Life, 2017)

cyoa

“2016 is the year I shall fart rainbows and poop unicorns!”

That was the first line of the first entry in my diary for last year.

As it turned out there were a few rainbows, the odd, rare unicorn and a fair bit of poop.

Speaking of equines and poop, 2016 started with HB Ratepayers being asked to look their Gift Horse (of the Year) in the mouth, while mucking out the event’s financial stables.

"Where are we going, Wilbur?"

“Where are we going, Wilbur?”

In February I was feeling a little unloved and unappreciated as, even before #StuffMe merger hype and propaganda was ramping up, at least one of the proposed partners was proving they couldn’t even credit the right person when taking the mickey out of another media organisation’s portmanteau.

However, the power of social media showed that far more important people were listening to me when the Office of The Auditor General replied to I tweet I sent them over Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s on-going Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme fiasco.

oag-2

Everything was plodding along happily until March came along and tried to wipe me off the face of the planet.

A month in Hawke’s Bay and Wellington hospitals changed perspectives and gave me a lot of spare time to write what has been some of my best stuff.

BizWire

Recovery and getting back into normal life meant not much time for writing posts.

The recent upheavals could have been the reason for some retrospective maudlin in June and lack of self confidence and loss of direction in August.

@Oatmeal Nails it once again :/

@Oatmeal Nails it once again :/

But Mediaworks scrapping what I still consider one of the finest and longest-running television shows EVER could not go unchastised in June.

Health issues and uncertain immediate future scuppered any plans I may have had to run for Napier City Council this term.

But there were other, more concerning democratic issues clouding those hopes too.

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My concerns actually made the local paper just before the election and did effect some change. Though the biggest concern I had – the “gagging” Code of Conduct still remains.

In September, after months of what I and many others considered Napier’s 60+ year old skating club getting some unfair treatment from Napier City Council, I wrote another piece that proved very popular and once again featured in the local paper.

Skating Fish

Ultimately, though, the skate club’s facility is long since demolished. The club has not been reimbursed and the errors it had put upon it are unresolved.

Those posts and their other printed pieces received a lot of attention, however, which was very welcome. Because it showed that local people STILL care very deeply about local news and issues – Something media networks and #StuffMe proponents still seem utterly oblivious to.

Those local concerns, this time over Hawke’s Bay Regional Councillors’ behaviour and the debt the organisation was set to burden all its ratepayers with for the benefit of a few in the Ruataniwha area, did at least see some positive local government change, with the balance of power tipping from pro-dam to anti-dam in this year’s elections.

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I finally got my cool cyborg parts in October and we closed out the year with our traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas Deliciousness” menu review.

I would love to say I helped democracy and righted wrongs this year, but that wasn’t the case. I helped shed light on what I considered were problems and wrongdoings, but those issues STILL exist.

That’s a real disappointment.

Though, given the interruption my life had in March-May, I guess it wasn’t a bad run for the rest of the year.

And, as I’ve written many times this year already: “There’s always someone out there worse off than you”.

There is still 2017 (and hopefully many more years) to come to get some good achieved and points on the board.

Now, does anyone know of a good unicorn dealer in Hawke’s Bay?

dgf

Fishy Goings on at the Skate Bowl

Skating Fish

Something smells fishy about the way “Sk8 Zone” / The Napier Skating Club has been treated over recent months – and it’s not just the aquatic entrails of Marineland’s gutted carcass.

A couple of weeks ago, just as the school holidays were about to get underway, Napier City Council announced the “pop-up” site they had found and leased to temporarily house the club was now not “looking viable” due to structural concerns about the site.

It was the latest sprinkle of salt in a wound that had most recently flared when the council rather unceremoniously evicted the club and demolished their 61 year old premises – despite saying in August last year that SK8 Zone would remain open until the new park opened.

In Hawke’s Bay Today on July 19 NCC’s community strategies manager Natasha Carswell said “the council had spent considerable time searching for an appropriate venue and was pleased to have negotiated the (Salvation Army site) deal”.

Add to that another month’s worth of reconstruction and expense by Skating Club members and you have at least 8 weeks for Napier City Council to check and sort building reports, earthquake ratings, codes of compliance and change of usage for the temporary site they found for the Skating Club.

Yet the site was only discovered to be “unsafe” the weekend it was due to open?.

That doesn’t sound right.

Incidentally, what civic authority administers and controls such oversight of buildings in Napier? Oh, yes – Napier City Council!

In fact the Community Services and Compliance / Planning departments are a few minutes’ walk apart or mere speed dial away!

Council Community Services / Strategy departments expressed platitudes that this development was “really disheartening for both the team at council and the skate club.”

But the NCC Marineland skate park is not a redevelopment of “Sk8 Zone”, rather a replacement.

Whilst NCC CEO Wayne Jack had previously claimed that “We definitely need their input to make it a world-class facility… The club is instrumental to [the facility’s] success”, the council have previously stated they wanted to run the new facility because they felt Napier Skating Club does not have the “operational expertise” despite 61 years of operation.

You will, of course, remember how successful NCC’s recent “operational expertise” in MTG construction and Art Deco Bus operation proved.

You could easily be forgiven for thinking there appears to be a strategy going on here, but it’s not in the community’s best interests.

At best this is an error that would likely see any other organisation liable for what this is costing the skating club.

At worst it could look like an attempt by the council to break a long running, local, mainly voluntary community organisation that it sees as competition to its plans.

Napier deserves better!

I Want to Believe

Andrew's self-confidence, last seen heading into the gaping vacuum of space...

Andrew’s self-confidence, last seen heading into the gaping vacuum of space…

“If just one person believes in you,
Deep enough, and strong enough, believes in you…
Hard enough, and long enough,
It stands to reason, that someone else will think
“If he can do it, I can do it.”

And when all those people,
Believe in you,
Deep enough, and strong enough,
Believe in you…
Hard enough, and long enough

It stands to reason that you yourself will
Start to see what everybody sees in
You…

And maybe even you,
Can believe in you… Too!”

The Muppets – “Just One Person”

Self-esteem has a major, critical failing (ok, maybe several).

Whilst, as the name suggests, it is focused on esteem or confidence in one’s self, it really helps if there are others there to encourage confidence in that self as well.

So it kind of figures that self-esteem has been as hard for me to come by as real-life recognition or praise recently.

I’m trying to remember the last time someone complimented me in person – said “well done!” “good job!” “You’re hired – here’s $100,000!”(ok, I’m pushing the limits of reality there..) and nothing comes to mind.

Twenty years ago I finished working in radio (for the record, I started working in radio on New Year’s Eve 1995).

While I’m confident I could still wipe the floor content-wise with what qualifies as “on-air talent” today, you will likely never hear my beautiful bassy voice on the radio ever again – and not just because I’m inclined to swear lots more than I used to.

I tell people my dream radio career lasted only six months because I had too high an IQ and too low an ego (the other reasons were rubbish pay and trying to stay awake for 24 hours each Saturday).

I just couldn’t fake the level of self-belief required for radio.

And this was ‘90s-radio-level bravado I’m talking here – absolutely nowhere near the stratospherically narcissistic / Ninth Circle of Dante’s Inferno that it has become today.

But, while my radio career was muted, my voice was not silenced.

From an early age I learned the power words can wield.

So I started writing.

I’ve written stories, poems, radio ads, press releases, pieces for work newsletters, letters to the editor, Man About Town columns for “BayBuzz”, opinion pieces in Stuff and even a couple articles in the local paper many years ago about growing up in Napier in the 1980’s and my love for my home town.

My Dad was always my biggest supporter.

He believed in me.

He kept newspaper clippings of every letter or item I had in the paper and even some of the more colourful reactions!

Three years ago I started writing Napier in Frame.

It’s not a profession – I make no money from my writing.

I have a full time job and a young family to support which is my priority, so I can only write when I have the time or inclination.

I still wrote the occasional letter to the editor, when something utterly atrocious stood out – Art Deco buses and the miss-management behind MTG’s construction were stand-outs.

But I steadily shifted towards writing on this site and promoting it via my Twitter and Facebook profiles.

People who know me even say “I haven’t seen your letters in the paper recently” when I see them in the street. I tell them about this site, but they seldom seem interested or even aware of a world wide web beyond traditional print media.

Two years ago my Dad died suddenly.

I kept writing – it helped me cope and process things, but it kind of felt like any support, luck, or belief anyone had in me died too.

I’ve written, what I at least think, is some of my best work since then – The coverage of my recent stay in hospital received plaudits, but these are predominantly from friends online.

This is where things get a bit confuddling.

FM

Positive reactions are always good to receive, but self-doubt (self-esteem’s arch-nemesis) can begin to creep in.

Someone (usually a friend) gives you a compliment on Facebook or Twitter and you automatically discount it – “Of COURSE they’d say that, they’re your FRIEND!” Or “It’s ONLY social media – it’s not ‘REAL’” – sabotaging yourself and your abilities.

Even when you point out something that you think is blatantly wrong – Like hypocrisy over the Ruataniwha Dam, or the local newspaper covering Hastings District Council bailing out Horse of the Year, when the event’s board said in the same paper just weeks before they themselves would cover the loss and nothing is done.

The “bad guys” win.

Worse still can be spending years developing and making your case for a way to improve the city you love and the region you were born and raised in.

That idea gets local and national coverage.

Heck, even John Campbell likes it!

JC

But when you approach people you believe have the resources, funds and it’s in their best interests to actually enact your idea and the response is nothing – silence.

In this gaping vacuum of space no one can hear you scream in frustration.

I’ve had similar responses trying to rejig New Zealand’s flailing mainstream media – But the general consensus there is

“What would he know? He’s only from Hawke’s Bay!”

If I’m wrong that’s not a problem. You can learn from mistakes and correct them.

But no one has told me I’m wrong.

People tell me they “admire my passion” and am constantly queried on how I would achieve the goals I seek.

I tell them, but they don’t offer to help and “passion” won’t pay the bills, or finance what I have planned.

What if I’m right and no one cares to help try and make a difference, to help effect change or fix the problems I’m trying to remedy?

Ignoring problems doesn’t solve them or make them go away.

But ignoring people who are trying to fix problems makes the people go away – lose hope, lose self-esteem and confidence.

Imposter

I’ve become quite philosophical and theological about it:

“If Andrew makes a factual statement and no-one notices or cares, is he still right?”

“Before THE WORD, or there was light, or even the Big Bang, Andrew was wrong”

When the negativity or gaping vacuum of ignorance gets to you and makes you glum, sad, or grumpy and strips away your self-belief, you’re STILL wrong – Because being glum, sad, or grumpy isn’t allowed – You’ve apparently got to be happy, positive and smiling All. The. Time?!

This isn’t one of those inspirational stories of the little struggler, the battler, who overcomes adversity to triumph.

It is the tale of someone who has been told they’re wrong when they’re not, who has been ignored and unappreciated long enough for it to essentially become a default setting – a shitty-mood Stockholm Syndrome.

@Oatmeal Nails it once again :/

@Oatmeal Nails it once again :/

Having to spend a few weeks in hospital pales in comparison.

Shakespeare said we only have an hour upon life’s stage to strut and fret before we are heard no more.

I want to make a difference in that hour, but I can’t do it alone.

I need support, I need people to believe in me.

I need to believe in myself.

I want to believe.

No Such Thing as a Free Car Park

WP_20151120_006

Central business districts around New Zealand are suffering.

Shops that thrived for generations now lie empty due to drops in customer numbers, increases in rents and the rise of internet trading and ill-conceived council planning allowing giant malls to be built on city peripheries.

Currently the most popular panacea to injecting life into central cities seems to be offering free parking.

All the cool North Island cities are doing it – Rotorua, Hastings, Tauranga, Hamilton, Palmerston North

And now Napier is joining in on the fun, with our city council deciding to provide free on-street parking in Central Napier on Saturday November 28 for its (VERY EARLY) Christmas festival and in Taradale on December 5th for their festive fair.

There’s no such thing as a free car park, however, and NCC estimates “losses of (parking) revenue to the council of about $4200 in the city and $700 in Taradale) for these days.

But is there really a loss of revenue?

If having to pay for parking is such a turn-off to central city visitors, or the parking is too expensive, no one will park there, so no income will come from that parking space regardless of cost.

It’s like airline flights being too expensive.

If a seat on a certain flight isn’t sold – no matter how expensive of cheap the price may be, the moment the doors close and that plane takes off, the airline will NEVER recoup the money for that unfilled seat on that particular flight.

So is the cost of parking the actual problem?

Go into Napier’s CBD on any particular weekday when you have to pay for parking and the closer you get to the centre of town, the harder it will be to find an empty car park.

Having to pay for parking isn’t stopping people parking in town.

Heck, go to Wellington, where parking costs in the centre of town are ridiculously high and viciously enforced and you will have an even harder time finding an available car park.

To put it bluntly, price is no barrier to laziness. The closer people can drive to their destination and the shorter the distance they have to walk, the better.

Fifty cents or a dollar or two isn’t a great inhibitor to that.

The parking fines for over-staying your allotted time, however, might be.

When compared to other centres’ parking fines and fees, Napier’s are actually quite reasonable.

Putting a dollar in a central Napier parking meter buys you the right to keep your car there for, say, an hour.

But get way-laid and return fifteen minutes to just over an hour late and you run the risk of facing an additional $12-$21 parking fine (the time examples given being merely a reasonable representation of how long an appointment or lunch with friends might over-run their anticipated time).

Is the equivalent of twelve hours’ worth of parking time a fair penalty for being a quarter of an hour late?

How does 25c worth of time justifiably manifest itself into a fee forty-eight times that value?

Worse still, fail or forget to display one of the tickets from a parking-lot machine on your dashboard and you’re in for a fine closer to $40.

For some that’s a week’s worth of petrol and they just can’t afford to take that risk.

Parking fines that better reflect the value of the park that is being over-stayed in might be a better idea.

Lower fines would likely be more easily and promptly paid too.

If all else fails you can just do what I usually do – park at one of the hundreds of one and two hour “free parking” spaces that ring Napier’s CBD – Along parts of Marine Parade, next to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council building, up Shakespeare Road and down Munroe Street – soak up the wonderful Napier weather and enjoy the very short stroll from these already ratepayer-funded car parks into town.

Ultimately, there has to be something in town worth paying to stay and visit, too.

Rows of empty shops, vacated when landlords’ income expectations far exceed their current worth won’t attract people into city centres.

Neither will a lack of events or activities that enhance or compliment the CBD.

Bringing vibrancy and vitality back to our CBDs is what is needed to re-enliven our city centres.

If city councillors, or those tasked with looking after the heartbeat of our main business and shopping areas seriously think that a dollar or two is the only thing inhibiting our city centres from thriving, it’s beyond time they stood aside.

Why should a CBD’s vitality be fined for their over-staying?

Hawke’s Bay’s (and New Zealand’s) inner cities deserve better!

“The Rest is Silence”

"Thanks for your input, but we don't care..."

“Thanks for your input, but we don’t care…”

“But I do prophesy th’ election lights
On Fortinbras. He has my dying voice.
So tell him, with th’ occurrents, more and less,
Which have solicited – the rest is silence.”

Hamlet Act V Scene 2

When last we left our submission-making protagonist, he had just made his presentation to Napier City Council and was eagerly awaiting the results.

And waiting.

And waiting….

Then the council released the results of their submission process (viewable HERE: Report from NCC LTP & AP Submissions Hearing )

Aaaaaannnnnndddd……

Nothing.

Most of the key projects the council had been championing, promoting and featured as a major part of the submission form got the go ahead, with “overwhelming support”.

But no mention of my submission!

No mention of the council reviewing their outdated Youth Policy or “YCON” website.

No money, services or interest in allocating assistance to Napier’s youth, or trying to keep any of the almost one thousand students who finish Hawke’s Bay high schools each year and leave the region each year.

What the hell??!!

Were my submissions wrong??

Did they deserve to be totally and utterly ignored??

I did plenty of research. I used facts and statistics. I made what I and those who read and shared my posts thought were valid arguments and points and I made suggestions on how this situation could be overcome.

All for nought, it appears.

The only semi-NCC-related-reaction I got was this on Twitter:

Is someone telling tales out of school?

Is someone telling tales out of school?

The “Michelle” Condy mentions is Councillor Michelle Pyke and Condy helps run “The Thirsty Whale” – a bar previously owned by Councillor Keith “Spongy” Price.

I don’t know what you will make of that comment, but it certainly seems to be more of an insight to a catty mind-set among some of Napier’s elected officials, rather than any smudge on my concept of empowering Napier’s youth to stay in the region and help it prosper.

If that attitude is any gauge as to how Napier is being led, then the decision behind Funding Request 13 for the Art Deco Trust comes as no surprise:

“Discussions covered the huge “in kind” contribution made to Art Deco events during Art Deco Weekend, and (sic) the committee was concerned that there were no financial plans, or justification for the large sum of money requested.”

And yet:

“It was decided to fund the Art Deco Trust usual $59,000 in service contract but fund an additional $41,000 specifically for events. This would bring the annual funding to $100,000.”

Translation: “We’re a bit worried that you can’t justify why you need so much money, or show us what you will do with it, but, what the heck – We’ll give it to you anyway!”

Now there’s the sort of sound logic we know from our council of old!

Napier City Council once again puts tourists ahead of its own residents.

That. Is. WRONG!

And that is the core argument behind my submission.

Napier STILL deserves better than this!

Palmed Off and Blocked Off on Prebensen Drive

Prebensen Drive's Phoenix palms - gone, but not forgotten!

Prebensen Drive’s Phoenix palms – gone, but not forgotten!

They say “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Well, in Napier’s case, the road to the port is paved with tree stumps and dodgy intersections.

A couple of months ago Napier City Council started a project 11 years in the making – the widening of Prebensen Drive from two lanes into four.

The intention is to ease congestion and hasten the trip of heavy vehicles to and from Napier’s Onekawa and Ahuriri industrial areas as well as the Port of Napier.

Built in 1990, Prebensen Drive (also known as “Tamatea Drive”) was created to help decongest Taradale Road and speed up the transit between central Napier and the suburb of Tamatea (hence the moniker). An extension linking it to Greenmeadows and Taradale came later on in 2005.

One of the first features added to Prebensen Drive was a line of Phoenix palm trees planted on either side of the road to give it a natural look not too dissimilar to Kennedy Road’s famous date palms and Marine Parades Norfolk Pines. From looking like tiny little pineapples, the Phoenix palms grew into big, wide, beautiful palm trees. Until earlier this year.

On a trip down the road, I noticed a few of the palms were missing, with the sawn-off remnants of other trees lying nearby. It wasn’t a good look and it even got some media attention, with international business visitors saddened by the destruction.

Napier City Council claimed they had tried to sell of, or move the palms, but there had been no takers and the palms had grown too big to economically re-plant elsewhere.

But it did raise the question – if four-laning Prebensen Drive had been in the works for at least 11 years (it’s not unreasonable to consider it was part of the larger plan upon creation of the road) could a solution, other than destruction of these majestic trees been incorporated earlier?

Despite lots of focus and advertising recently being put behind the constant creation and adjustments of council “Long Term Plans” the answer is evidently not.

But within the last few weeks the planning and traffic flow adjustments of Prebensen Drive and its’ surrounding industrial areas just got even stranger:

Some time ago, soon after Mitre 10 Mega moved onto its Prebensen Drive site, a roundabout was put outside the store on the corner with Ahuriri’s Severn Street.

For a time it appeared half the roundabout was there for the sole purpose of allowing easy access for Hawke’s Bay’s handy-men and women to the region’s largest hardware store. But other plans were afoot.

Ford Road, a minor side-street in the Onekawa industrial area was being extended over the creek that used to border it and past Mitre 10 Mega to join up with Prebensen Drive. This new extension opened only a few weeks ago.

But with the opening up of Ford Road, traffic flow into the Onekawa Industrial area via Austin Street – its main thoroughfare and entry / exit point was halted.

Where Austin Street used to have right-of-way from Taradale Road at one end all the way through to Prebensen Drive at the other, it suddenly had a stop sign planted at the Ford Road intersection, mere meters from the Taradale Road egress point.

While extensively publicised and signs on the road indicating the upcoming change for several months, it has been hard to break the traffic habit of decades and incidents at the new stop sign’s intersection have apparently been numerous.

But the news gets worse for Austin Street – From May 12th, due to the four-laning of Prebensen Drive, access into Austin Street from Prebensen Drive will cease permanently – essentially making Austin Street Napier’s biggest, busiest, most industrious cul-de-sac!

To enter the Onekawa Industrial area you will need to use the new Ford Road extension / Mitre 10 roundabout.

Once construction of the additional lanes on Prebensen Drive is complete, restoration of one-way, EXIT ONLY traffic from Austin Street onto Prebensen Drive (a tricky intersection at the best of times) is being considered.

But that doesn’t address a major issue this corner faces. Getting onto Prebensen Drive and heading towards Tamatea / Taradale at this intersection, particularly during morning and evening rush-hours accompanied with the rising / setting sun makes vision particularly difficult – especially with more heavy traffic set to thunder down the road at right-angles to merging traffic.

Ultimately the question for this whole project is:

“Is it necessary”?

“Does Prebensen Drive REALLY need to be four lanes?”

The prime focus of this expansion is to accommodate more heavy trucks and keep them off suburban roads and, of course, off Marine Parade.

But, while often busy, I must say I have never seen Prebensen Drive jam-packed with traffic (except when a particularly long train passes the level crossing at its central Napier.

We are a regional area, largely ignored by national economic development and internal immigration. So our suburban traffic along Prebensen Drive will likely never get to the levels of Auckland or Wellington rush-hour congestion.

And, to be honest, can Hawke’s Bay drivers really handle a four-laned road?

Many Hawke’s Bay auto pilots can’t even seem to fathom a two-lane roundabout without cutting across lanes, cutting other vehicles off, not indicating, or simply running into other vehicles? Is a four-lane road leading into a roundabout with four lanes just a few lanes too many?

I can’t help but think that, once again, there are bigger problems at play here which won’t be cured with the expensive, complicated projects that have been set in motion.

Napier, its road users, industries and palm trees deserve better!

It’s Not WHAT You Know…

"Napier Life" - promoting Napier to people who already live here...

“Napier Life” – promoting Napier to people who already live here…

It looks like Napier City Council’s new CEO, Wayne Jack and his staff have been having a good old clean-out at the NCC offices.

Closets are being emptied and a few skeletons have been evicted.

While at least one skeleton came back to haunt the council, causing a bit of a poltergeist-like mess and costing the council a fair bit of cash, other skeletons have been evicted a bit more quietly than they should have been.

In late February THIS little doozy appeared in the Dominion Post and on Stuff, but didn’t seem to get much airtime here in Hawke’s Bay, where I would have expected it to deservedly cause a bit of a stir.

“Napier Life” magazine was a bold, glossy, ratepayer-funded publication intended to attract people from around New Zealand and the world to come and live in Napier.

It was first produced in 1997 – 90’s television presenter Lana Cockcroft and the Marineland dolphins featured on the cover. The magazine had a pretty impressive 16 year run until 2013, where the last issue’s back cover was an advertisement promoting the debacle that was to be the Art Deco Buses.

In retrospect it’s kind of ironic how those two Napier tourism attractions – without doubt the most hotly-debated ventures of recent times – literally and figuratively book-ended the existence of what should also become a thoroughly debated, or at least PUBLICLY examined, venture.

Because most of the 31,000 copies produced in 2013 were delivered to Napier letterboxes and local businesses – mainly motels, hotels, cafes and the like.

Yup, around 30,000 glossy, ratepayer-funded magazines meant to attract people to Napier went to around 30,000 ratepayers already living in Napier – Now there’s some marketing genius for you!

And there was nothing in the Dominion Post’s article to indicate that any of the 15 previous editions were any different – making that total potentially closer to Half a Million Copies!

“Napier Life” was the baby of former Economic Development Manager Ron Massey (one of the aforementioned evicted “skeletons”) and a company called “3Sixty5 HB” which is owned by Napier advertising executive Rick Hopkinson and his wife Judith. Hopkinson edited the publication and his wife wrote articles for it.

Last year Napier City Council commissioned an audit of Massey’s Economic Development Unit focusing, in particular, on its operational spending.

The audit found $555,441 – 35{3919f50c199a8627c147b24d329ff0de8aa05e3a462fa3330e11cd9ea56ed948} of operational expenditure – between January 2012 and February2013 (EDU’s total expenditure was OVER $1.5Mill PER YEAR?!) went to one company – the Hopkinsons’ 3Sixty5 HB”!

And here I was thinking “Napier Life” was financially self-sufficient from selling advertising space and glossy, multiple page “advertorials” like most regular magazines.

The auditors stated they were “not provided with evidence of the approval of this expenditure before it was incurred” – Never mind a regular review, tendering process, or due diligence…

“To comply with council policies”, the Dominion Post reported, “Massey should have had the spending approved by former council chief executive Neil Taylor.”

“The audit recommended the council look closely at the sum being spent with one supplier when spread over several projects under the control of one manager. This would “set a ceiling on the amount able to be spent with one supplier before CEO approval is required”.

Napier City Council had since ceased publication of “Napier Life” and was moving its focus to more effective and cheaper methods of promoting Napier, such as social media.

Napier City Council’s previous administration certainly didn’t seem to do many people many favours. But for the select few it did favour….. Good grief!

Addendum:

Since writing this on Friday, something has been gnawing away at me- annoying me:

No-one knew about what was going on with “Napier Life”?

REALLY??!!

I can’t believe that while the auditors may not have “been provided with evidence” of prior approval, that this sort of spending or contracting out of work went un-noticed or unknown once, let alone SIXTEEN TIMES!

Half a million dollars per year is a significant amount of money – especially when it is ratepayer’s money. There are checks and balances in place to monitor its usage, right?

Neither the Tourism and Economic Development Committee, or the Finance Committee asked about any of the spending or practises employed in making “Napier Life”?

And while there may have been no evidence NCC’s previous CEO Neil Taylor gave prior approval for the spending or deal with 3Sixty5 HB, Napier City Councillors were certainly at least aware of the publication’s production.

Previous mayor, Barbara Arnott, wrote an opening piece / welcoming letter in each issue and councillor John Cocking (who was apparently renowned for his accounting nous) appeared in the publication on multiple occasions as his “Art Deco Ambassador” alter-ego of “Bertie”. I’m pretty sure I remember seeing other councillors featured in “Napier Life” at different stages, in different / prior capacities, too.

During that time none of those elected or employed council people featured bothered to ask or check how much “Napier Life” cost, how many people it reached, where it went, or how the project was tendered out? As a glossy promotional job for the council – a good, solid, well-paying client – it would have been a dream job, so other parties must have been some interest in getting in on the deal themselves.

But nobody did and here we are again.

Napier deserves better!