Archive for May, 2015
If you have nothing to say, then just say it.
Just because its Thursday and I intend publishing on Thursdays does not mean that I have the right to intrude on others thoughts just for the sake of reading my own words or hearing my own voice when I really have nothing worthwhile to say, or write.
So in a week in which I have been quietly and peacefully embraced by the awe-inspiring scenery of Central Otago, I am reminded of the maxim that silence is so often golden.
I will check in again next Thursday.
Why do something today when you can put it off until it becomes someone else’s problem?
As we enter another yawn-fest Long Term Plan consultation phase for Dunedin City Council we are reminded again how much time council spends talking about what may or may not be done at an unspecified time in the future by people as yet unknown in circumstances as yet uncertain. Submit all you want you hopeful residents, but look at the faces behind the table you are submitting to. Lights are on but no-one’s home. If you asked them about their long-term plan they would tell you that “we are on journey.” Was there ever such an over-used phrase for bureaucrats to embrace as their catch cry for filling in time without actually doing anything? We are having meetings; we are going through due process; we are strategising; we are consulting; but we are most affirmative and decisive in stating that someone should do something, sometime.
But what are we achieving right now? What are we doing about today’s issues?
One example of Dunedin’s inability to sort itself out was highlighted when the “Sunday” TV show decided to have another ratings grabber by reporting on Dunedin’s student party culture. This is not new; its been around for decades. The Hyde St party is a years’ old well-established event. Never actually bothers me, I don’t live anywhere near it. By now our civic leaders should have had a solid a position on it. Either we tell the rest of NZ to mind their own business or council ought to have brought in the cavalry years ago to outlaw this ‘party culture‘. Personally, as a very long-term North Dunedin resident surrounded now by more and more flats, I am very firmly in the former camp. Tell them to sod off and mind their own business. I don’t know much about Hyde St, but I do know it seems well contained within core student land and the loony couch-burning phase is under control, so party on! I am however within the precinct of Feastock and have nothing but praise for those organisers. Every year I get a notice letting me know when it’s on and even kindly inviting me along. I would love to pop in and bore them senseless about the original ‘stock’ (Cocker was there man, like, far out man) but I still have enough sense to let them have their fun. Apart from that, the TV Current affairs show focused on one inner-city resident complaining about one flat that apparently has had one party this year. What a slow night of affairs when that hits primetime. Where on earth is that an unusual or newsworthy event. TVNZ needed to be told to sod off and find a story worthy of their primetime.
What we did not need was a mayor wringing his hands on national TV saying this was such a bad look for Dunedin and muttering something about us being just too tolerant. Then a day later he announced that a meeting of ten stakeholder organisations had a meeting about this issue back in March. Everyone at the meeting had agreed that someone needs to do something. And, by jove, something they did. The representatives of these stakeholders unanimously drafted a statement confirming that someone had to do something. They began a journey with an announcement that another meeting will be planned for sometime in the future. And at that meeting, or a subsequent one, ideas will be discussed and as a result someone will be most clearly told that something needs to be done. We are not a Council who sit around ummhing and aaahing. We called a damn meeting; we consulted; we issued a statement.
But putting a student party or two aside for a moment, lets look at the real elephant in the council chamber.
This mayor and his greater Dunedin party knows precisely what achievement was expected of them in their term. A reduction of the debt incurred by proceeding with the overdue public amenity projects of renovation of our Town Hall and our Early Settlers Museum and the building a modern and international standard sports complex for cricket, football and rugby in the University/ Logan Park precinct. The rhetoric of this “Greater Dunedin” political party during the debates to commit to these projects gave residents the distinct impression that this ‘Greater Dunedin’ political group was of a similar mindset. Objective: reduce the ratepayer debt.
I personally believe a city of Dunedin’s history and status has an obligation to maintain the appropriate standards of our Concert Hall, Conference Centre, Museum and Sports facilities. But whatever side of these civic projects’ debate other residents sit on, one thing everyone is agreed upon is that with our Council having committed to them, we needed some creative thinking and action from Council around reduction of that debt. The debt cannot be just be loaded onto the residents’ tax bill becoming not only a burden for us but also a burden of the next generation or three. Just let taxes take care of spending is, however, the standard answer of green politicians. All of these buildings will need further investment within twenty years and that will be sufficient challenge for future generations. We must deal with the current debt level now.
So what has been achieved? Nothing. Four and a half years after voting Dave Cull and his crew in, the debt situation has gotten worse and worse. It is not as if there are no precedents for alternative funding options for civic projects. The Sydney Opera House was fully funded by a national Opera House Lottery. Even closer to home, in the 1920’s, while Dunedin residents agreed a grand Dunedin Town Hall would benefit the city, it was decided to fund it by staging the South Seas Exhibition. And over a six month period, between November 1925 and May 1926, three million people attended. Consider the logistics, ambition and dynamic management of this venture especially given New Zealand’s total population was just over one million at the time and the challenges of people travelling here. The Town Hall was paid for in cash. On an even grander scale, the Eiffel Tower, while commissioned by the French Government for their Universal Exhibition in 1889, was only partially paid for from taxes. Most of the cost was met by Gustave Eiffel’s own company in return for the income derived from the tower over the first twenty years.
All great monuments at different levels. But achieved by people who focused and solved financial challenges in the now. They did not ‘start on a journey’; they were not just part of a process; writing cheques today that their children and grandchildren were going to have to honour or go bankrupt in the attempt.
Our Council called together ten organisations to address new ideas for dealing with a rowdy student party. But as far as I am aware, in the past 53 months of Dave Cull’s mayoralty there has ever been a meeting of creatively minded people called to develop innovative ideas for reducing this $200 million debt that we have incurred.
Something is starting to make sense. The only ‘visionary’ project that Council is blindly bringing to reality, the cycleway network, actually does suddenly have some tragic logic. Council have left our debt level entirely in the hands of market forces. If the economic environment tightens, highly probable with the attitude of this Council to any business interest in Dunedin, and/ or/ when Dunedin City Council’s credit rating is downgraded, also highly likely, then interest rates on the $200+ million dollars owed by Council itself will climb exponentially. Then the only option will be to raise rates further and further to meet our astronomically rising interest bills, with capital repayment no longer even an option.
At that point a significant proportion of our population will simply not be able to afford to own and operate a car; bicycle transport will be a rapidly growing economic necessity. So we do have a council of vision. They have already given up on being able to slow down the runaway debt train and so have prepared for our economic demise by creating cycleways right through the city. It is the macro version of a person buying a bike to leave in his will for his children and grandchildren because he knows he has incurred debt on their behalf that he knows will probably bankrupt them.
If this Council expects to be fondly remembered for their vision, they are tragically mistaken. We need a Council that can live in the now and deal with today’s challenges today.
Well technically we are at the mid-point of the current Council’s term but at this point we already have one councillor, Mike Lord, announcing that he is totally disillusioned with the Council processes and is questioning whether he would ever want to stand again for Council. Alongside this we have Councillor Lee Vandervis, being “seriously reprimanded” for what most would say was just speaking up on behalf of his constituents.
I recall a few months ago, Lee Vandervis was ejected from Council for some alleged breach of Council rules. Like most casual observers I assumed he must have lost his cool, done his scone, and been ejected for inappropriate behaviour. But that was when I was advised that the Council meeting is recorded and available on YouTube and that I should watch it and judge for myself. So I did.
I was astounded. What I saw was quite simply a Councillor calmly expressing his concern about the potential loss of car parks as a result of proposed new cycleways through the city. Quite a valid and important consideration in the debate, I would have thought. Then things got unorthodox, to say the least. The Mayor interjected to demand that he withdraw that comment and therefore remove the discussion about car park loss from the debate. Cr Vandervis paused and replied that he could not withdraw the statement because it was important to consider it. Then, quite bizarrely, Mayor Cull, with all the composure and dignity of a possum in a spotlight, stood up and ordered Cr Vandervis out of the Council meeting. Cr Vandervis then calmly collected his papers and left the meeting. End of debate about lost car parks. Democracy Cull style. The legitimacy of this action aside, it was an example of complete incompetence in meeting chairmanship. It was a travesty for democracy. A councillor elected by the ratepayers to represent their viewpoint was ejected from a meeting for doing no more than he was elected to do.
More recently I read where Cr Vandervis was questioning whether Council were adequately investigating the major fraud scandal involving the private sale of Council owned cars. He was told to both apologise for his loudness with Council staff and also to apologise for questioning whether the parameters of the investigation was adequate. His concern apparently that investigators may not want to discover any further fraud that might have occurred from the absence of adequate management controls. He did apologise for his loudness but not for his concerns about whether investigators were properly investigating the council staff fraud until he, as a ratepayer representative was given access to the investigation report.
And so he then had his voting rights withdrawn and a lawyer was hired to sit in on the next Council meeting to advise on how to control him. It was reported that when another Councillor raised the question of illegality of this censure, the Mayor’s arrogant response was a one word ‘whatever’. But again legality aside, what an embarrassing standard of chairmanship is being demonstrated. What a further travesty for democracy.
But then back to Cr Mike Lord whose concerns were more general than specific. What was going on in Council that would disillusion such a typical Kiwi guy who had earned the confidence of his electorate to represent them?
So I returned to YouTube and at random looked through more tapes of Council meetings. Have you ever done that? My goodness I have seen more energy and more lucid debate in my mother-in-law’s rest home after lunch than I saw in these Council meetings. These Council meetings would just take away your will to live. No-one seems to know quite why they are there. If I were to guess, no-one dares challenge the Mayoral agenda. No loudness please, you might wake the residents.
So as Cr Lord himself is doing, maybe we should all be using this mid-term point as the time to make our decisions about the next election. We all know that you cannot put your faith in what politicians promise in the lead-up to the election; we know what they will do in the future by looking at their actions in the now; in the mid-term. This is the time of truth. So maybe we should heed Cr Lord’s call and start seriously considering our position for the next election right now.
What a real pity if we as ratepayers lost the voices of the likes of Crs. Lord and Vandervis. Voices of people who actually take their duties of representation for the people seriously as against those who use their positions to push their own agendas.
And in my opinion the real problem is that the Dunedin City Council has been hijacked. The Greater Dunedin Political party vote as a block and the independents seem to be just shut out of the process. But it also seems clear from their statements, actions and agendas that the Greater Dunedin Party is just the Green Party in drag.
So what we really need is another local political party to be able to stand as a group and debate issues that many Dunedinites consider a priority. The Greater Dunedin Greens see Dunedin as a village where cycles dominate the roads and morris dancers fill the Octagon.
We need an alternative ‘Progressive Dunedin’ party which will focus on welcoming businesses that are offering productive employment to our young; that reduce bureaucracy and red tape; that allocate resources to the reality of the 21st century need, not some ill-conceived romantic ideal of a 19th century Europe. We need a solid voting block of the people, by the people and for the people so that minority pressure groups can wag the tail no longer.
Any city, any civilisation is either in a state of progression or regression.
Imagine what Dunedin would be like today if 150 years ago protestors had prevented gold mining in Otago; or had prevented polluting trains from coming to Dunedin? or if 45 years ago had prevented our port from upgrading to a container port? A city has either energy or stagnation.
Dunedin needs to once again put out the “Open for business” sign; the “situations vacant” sign. And we need a united group of progressive civic leaders to achieve this. And electing them starts now, at the mid-term point.
We need some loudness, we need some passion; we need more people saying ‘I did not sign up for Council to just sit through bureaucratic droning, to watch Dunedin turn the clock back, I signed up for progress.” And now is the time for them to speak up. But say it loud, say it proud.