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.