In an earlier comment, I referred to Faye Storer’s assumption of the chair of the Waiheke Local Board as a “coup”, and I’m not the only one to use that term. On reflection, however, the word is not accurate, because it implies that someone else — Denise Roche, for example — had prior claim to the position. This is not only untrue, but I think it distracts us from the real problem of the so-called coup and its aftermath. As Denise herself has said many times (and repeated during Saturday’s interview with Shirin Brown on Waiheke Radio), the urgent issue is not the decisions taken at that infamous Thursday meeting, but the way in which those decisions were made.
Even though any objective analysis of last month’s vote would show greater popular support for Denise than for Faye, the board chair is not elected directly. Faye has the numbers on the board; it was clear from the first results that Denise would never be chair. If we need to assign blame for this disconnect between direct and indirect democracy, it is, as is so often the case, because one side’s votes were fragmented and the other side’s weren’t. Consider this: The reason we have Len Brown as supermayor instead of John Banks is that Mike Lee refrained from running and splitting the progressive vote. If Denise’s supporters had shown similar restraint, the makeup of the Local Board would have been very different. Let us keep this in mind for 2013.
So Denise is not going to chair this board, and no amount of irate comment, petitions, threats to disrupt meetings, not-so-veiled references to scorching, or facile appeals to Len Brown or the Local Government Act is going to change that. What the people of Waiheke should be upset about, as Denise is upset, is the manner in which Denise has been excluded from participation in board decisions. Denise does indeed have a mandate from the voters, a stronger one than any other individual on the board. Due to the same disconnect between direct and indirect democracy that brought Faye to the chair, Denise finds herself representing, alone, the views and interests of a much larger segment of the population than any of the other four board members can lay claim to. Jim Hannan, in particular, should bear this in mind, as he watches his hair-thin margin over Andy Spence subjected to a recount. Even if he survives, he will owe his position far more to the chance mathematics of vote fragmentation than to any voter mandate. Thus Jim’s talk of “core support” is vaporous indeed.
As I’ve said before, there have been two serious errors committed in the past couple of weeks. The first was to use the Thursday meeting to humiliate Denise, with unnecessarily hurtful declarations of lack of confidence, and false ones of lack of mandate. The second error was John Stansfield’s call to arms. Each error has served only to inflame the other side, harden positions, and guarantee that any compromise will be very difficult to achieve. The best suggestion I’ve heard so far is to have a facilitator sit down with these scrapping children and teach them how to work together. Unfortunately the suggestion was made by Denise herself, and will therefore be seen as a political ploy and ignored by the other four board members. I wish the suggestion had been made by someone respected by both sides, such as Mike Lee or Len Brown — or, even better, another board member like Don McKenzie.
Barring that, the only way forward I can see is to revisit the allocation of board portfolios, and to do this in a very public manner, preferably before the Saturday swearing-in ceremony. Denise has expressed interest (that I’ve heard of) in civil defence, the Recreation Centre, and social services. Offer her two or three of those, and do so in front of the cameras, so to speak. If Denise refuses the peace offering, let her do so in public. If Faye’s well-circulated typed sheet becomes law as is, and Denise’s only participation is to have her nose rubbed in it, then the protesters will have their day, and they will be right. The Local Board will be discredited as a vehicle of personal vendetta; its voice will carry no weight; and every right-wing opponent of the delegation of supercity powers to the local rabble will point to Waiheke as proof of their oh-so-wise counsel.