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!

People At The End Of Glass Viewing Platforms Shouldn’t Throw Stones

Exclusive footage of what may actually be the "vandal" in action.

Exclusive footage of what may actually be the “vandal” in action.

On, or around the night of the 27th / morning of the 28th of June “vandals” are alleged to have broken one of the three glass panels on the end of Napier’s Marine Parade viewing platform.

This is the fourth time the glass has been broken since the platform was opened in 2015.

In the 30th of June edition of the local paper, Hawke’s Bay Today, Napier’s mayor said it was “soul destroying for council staff” and even the paper’s editor later chimed in vilifying the acts of, as yet, unidentified villains.

Posters on local Facebook pages alleged (without proof) the damage was caused by Napier’s current easy target – Homeless / Beggars / Rough Sleepers.

But there’s a problem with pointing the finger on this matter:

There’s no proof!

Pictures of the damage in the local paper showed, while the extra-strength glass had “shattered”, it appeared to have held its shape, like a car windscreen, meaning the end of the platform wasn’t exposed to a drop of several meters into the waterline below, but it also didn’t give an indication which direction the glass panel was struck from.

As far as I’m aware there are no CCTV cameras on the platform, or located in such a position to get an unobstructed view down to the end of the platform, especially during the middle of the night.

The council officially reopened the platform yesterday, and the paper accordingly reported:

Mayor Bill Dalton said it was the fourth time vandals had smashed the glass, which was initially installed in a single piece but later separated into three panels to minimise the cost of vandalism. He said that any repeats of the vandalism could lead to a decision not to use a see-through barrier in the future.

Council chief executive Wayne Jack said no one had been identified as a culprit for the latest damage..”

In other words they had no idea what may have caused the glass to break?

So why blindly point fingers?

I think I may have a lead on the culprit. But it may not be a “who”, rather a WHAT.

I just happened to be on Marine Parade the afternoon before the “vandalism” took place.

The sea was very rough that day:

rough

The same newspaper picture that showed the broken glass panel also showed a fair amount of water on the platform and some very damp looking concrete and glass – Not unusual, given the platform’s location.

The day before news of the damaged panel featured, coverage of Clifton Beach (south of Napier near Cape Kidnappers) further eroding away after high seas on Tuesday night – the same timeframe as the platform damage – was front and centre on Hawke’s Bay Today’s front page.

Yet no one could make a correlation?

Exactly one week later Hawke Bay put on almost identical conditions, resulting in this stunning footage by local photographer Tim Whittaker of Haumoana Beach (just north of Clifton) taking a battering. So I went for a wander down to the platform to have a look.

This is what I saw:

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The driftwood in the foreground denotes the height the sea was getting to at high tide – It is almost level with the Marine Parade Walkway and entrance to the viewing platform – Some 40-50 meters from the shoreline.

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The wash from some of the swells was still making it around half way to the high tide mark at times.

Given the homeless people blamed on social media have been occasionally seen residing under the viewing platform, the most accessible parts well within this wash zone, it is highly unlikely they were anywhere near it during these large swells. That puts a dampener on claims they were potential culprits.

And of course:

Exclusive footage of what may actually be the "vandal" in action.

Being a beach of big breakers and rough surf, the platform is a popular venue for photographers to get snaps of waves smashing into the base of the viewing platform and spray leaping high into the air and onto, and over the platform and any thrill-seeking viewers who happen to be on it at the time.

High tide on the night of Tuesday June 27 was at 8:20pm – Well after dark, and with high tide exacerbating the already wild seas very few people would have considered venturing out onto the platform in the dark.

With these high, rough seas and, given water weighs one ton per cubic meter (this is what makes tsunamis so destructive) it wouldn’t take too many waves to break even toughened glass after enough of a battering.

Factor in the chance of a hunk of driftwood, or a large stone being hoisted up by the force of the water and there’s plenty of extra ammunition to barrage and potentially break a glass panel on the end of the viewing platform with.

The viewing platform is in a very exposed position on Marine Parade and takes a battering from the elements. It had already come under early criticism for how it was holding up, particularly to tidal shingle deposits building up in the storm-water outfall pipe underneath.

It must be expected that the platform will be damaged by the elements at some stage. Good design and correct building materials should minimise these effects. But given the unpredictable nature of, um, Mother Nature some level of damage must be anticipated.

So why was the potential of a natural cause not considered or opined along with the chance of it being some miscreant human?

Given Napier City Council’s current strike rate with their ratepayers’ trust, it seems fool-hardy to just blame phantom “vandals”.

People at the end of glass viewing platforms shouldn’t throw stones!

The Truth Shall Make ye Fret

Napier ratepayers' fuses are running down over their council's treatment of the city's war memorial eternal flame.

Napier ratepayers’ fuses are running down over their council’s treatment of the city’s war memorial eternal flame.

“The truth shall make ye fret” Terry Pratchett “The Truth”

Albert Einstein once said “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

It certainly appears that public trust in what Napier City Council says is the truth is fading fast.

That NCC, normally so obliging for a positive-spin photo op, was not quickly forthcoming with access to the stored-away flame and Roll of Honour plaques (note – we haven’t seen a photo of them yet) erodes what little public trust they may still have even further.

Long-term, seat-warming councillors can express their regret, hindsight and sympathy all they want. But it doesn’t hide the fact that those same publically elected councillors voted to remove the “War Memorial” name from the Marine Parade conference venue (on the basis of marketing jargon from unelected council staff) and in doing so, consigned a sacred memorial to a council yard and the Eternal Flame to being sheltered by what appears to be a rubbish bin cover.

This is hardly new, though.

The likes of “Spin-Doctoring”, “Fake News”, “Alternative Facts” and “Dirty Politics” have been around long before #Hashtags made them fashionable on social media and American politics somehow made them standard operating procedure.

In recent years Napier ratepayers were told Art Deco Busses would be a great tourism attraction and money spinner. They weren’t.

We were told 680,000 people would visit the city’s new Museum, Theatre and Gallery. They didn’t.

The same facility was meant to be able to house the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust’s $44 million, 100,000 object collection. It still can’t.

Napier Skating Club was told that “SK8 Zone” would remain open and in place until the new, Council operated “Bay Skate” facility was opened. It didn’t.

When the council demolished Sk8 Zone ahead of what was previously stated, we were told they had found a temporary facility for the club. The week it was supposed to open we discovered that wouldn’t happen either.

Watchdog! claimed there were serious issues with the Napier Pound. Napier’s mayor called it a “pathetic crusade”. The Ministry of Primary Industries found otherwise.

Following a positive E.coli test and subsequent chlorination of Napier’s normally pure water supply in February this year, another positive test was returned in late May.

To ensure the waterborne bugs were killed off the council chose to chlorinate the whole system for “up to a month”.

That was still on track in mid-June when Napier’s water was due to return to normal “by the end of the month”.

Yet, here we are in July – six weeks later and it still smells like a swimming pool whenever I turn a tap on and our annual rates are up 4.9{3919f50c199a8627c147b24d329ff0de8aa05e3a462fa3330e11cd9ea56ed948} for something that never used to be a problem.

And, of course, we’ve been told Napier “needs” a multi-million dollar velodrome, in fact it’s the “number one priority” for some in council and is sneaking back into agendas.

We don’t.

I’ve read through the “O’Connor Sinclair Participation Report 2014” and “Hawkes Bay Sports Regional Facilities Plan Feb 2015” reports which were being used as a basis for justifying this “need” and for the life on me, all I can find about a velodrome is that, Under “State of the Sport” for Cycling, quote: “There is no track cycling venue in HB” and under “Development Options”: “Explore future opportunities for a velodrome”. That’s it!

The same report stated that ”No additional development is required” for “Aquatics” (Swimming), despite “an increasing trend” in participation , current facilities closing due to earthquake strength issues, and lane pool demand outstripping supply.

During the last election the public very clearly voiced their opinion that what the city needed a public swimming pool like the old Onekawa Olympic Pool. Those running for re/election voiced almost universal approval for a pool and dismissal of the velodrome.

Even the mayor said the Velodrome/Public Pool issue was “not an either/or situation”.

Yet thousands of ratepayer dollars have been spent on viability reports for and promotion of a velodrome concept wanted by a very small minority, while there’s no sign of a new, publicly supported, competition / Olympic-sized swimming pool under construction and silence from its freshly elected ‘supporters’?

More recently, many a “Yeah, right!” has been muttered at revelations NCC’s offices were dangerously earthquake-prone, despite 2010/11 reports saying they were more than 100% up to code.

Many consider this timing all too auspicious, given NCC management were looking at selling the site off to hotel developers, relocating NCC HQ into the neighbouring library building and somehow squeezing Napier’s library into a much smaller space amidst Clive Square and yet more war memorials – Napier’s Women’s Rest building and the city’s cenotaph!

Throughout this, the senior, unelected, Napier City Council management behind many of these decisions have remained silent, while the city’s mayor attacks public, press and online questioning and criticism of his council’s decisions and actions, lambasting critics as “nay-sayers”, as if the rate-paying public who fund his salary were responsible for the problems.

It used to be that public servants took great pride in doing just that – serving the public.

More recently, and locally, it feels like there is an expectation that the public should be serving them.

The people of Napier want answers.

The people of Napier want the truth!

The people of Napier deserve better!