There is a receptive climate in the new council for taking another look at the library/service centre project- the mayor’s liaison has said that they are willing to open up the issue to ensure that Waiheke gets the most appropriate solution for its community. It is not a matter of taking what someone is willing to give because we might not get anything at all.
Colin Beardon will be petitioning the local board to pursue a 6-month moratorium on the proposed project to enable the community to look at the possibilities and engage in substantive consultation.
Please try to attend the Local Board meeting this Monday, 17th Jan at 4pm to give support to this effort to secure a library that works for Waiheke.
2.25 PM. Those saying you’d have to be in early were right. The Ostend Hall is filling up fast and there’s over half an hour until this thing is due to kick off. It is already getting warm and stuffy. This hall was never very comfortable with a crowd in and that’s what is rapidly growing.
The board members are already here, milling around looking stiff and awkward. They look like they just want this to be over and I can’t say I blame them. You can already tell that over half the people here have protest in mind and even Denise is looking nervous despite the obvious support she’s getting. Don McKenzie is wearing his Sunday best. In a suit, he looks diminutive, almost fragile. Jim Hannan seems to have aged decades in less than a month. There’s a slump to his shoulders that he keeps trying to straighten and he can’t seem to get comfortable. He sits, then stands, wanders about a bit and sits down again.
Faye Storer is determined to show her professional thick skin. She’s well turned out, a far cry from her low key look during the campaign. The fact that she knows most of the council staff milling about the front of the hall clearly helps.
The biggest presence is Jo Holmes. Jo isn’t wasting any time trying to appear tough. She IS tough. Her outfit, though colourful, seems well suited to the possibility of a bar brawl, and she knows she has a decent number of supporters in attendance. I’m still proud that she’s made it to the board. I may disagree with her judgment over the last week or two and some of you may roll your eyes at this but I’m damned if I’m going to regret voting for her and I’m still sure she’s going to prove herself in the long run.
2.45 and Len Brown arrives with Mike Lee. Their reception is loud and heartfelt. You can tell right away that both of them know that this is going to be different from the other ceremonies that they’ve sat through recently. The new Mayor works the room well and seems energised. Mike Lee seems relaxed and clearly in his element. The hall is now seriously full and I’m wondering why we couldn’t get this many in for the campaign meetings.
By five to three the crowd is still trying to fill the remaining spaces and the mood of expectancy is tangible. There’s tenseness for sure, but a lot of good humour too. A bit like the Roman Coliseum must have felt during a Christians V Lions final.
Council chief Doug McKay looks amazed at the turnout as he begins his opening remarks. The Maori protocol stuff happens with considerable gusto. Then the crowd sits down and waits for the ref to blow the whistle.
As the new board are introduced you can see the way the crowd sympathies lie. The applause for the Gang of Four is light to say the least but as Denise Roche is introduced the uproar must be audible in Onetangi. Looking around I can see there are those who are not happy with the way this is going. I’m sitting next to Tony Sears and his face says it all. Len Brown on the other hand looks like a kid on Christmas day. He hasn’t had this much fun in ages. Doug McKay then returns to his prepared remarks. These are worthy but dull and the crowd seem restless as he waffles on.
Then it’s on to the declarations. Jim Hannan lurches to the podium first and I almost feel pity for the lad. The actual declaration is a limp and bloodless thing to have to read out, full of dry legalese and devoid of any big words or soaring rhetoric. Jim stumbles through it drawing derisive laugher at the word ‘impartial’. He looks like he’d rather be mopping up regurgitated tourist lunches from the deck of the Superflyte during a northerly swell than doing this and you can’t blame him.
Each board member is entitled to have their supporters join them for a photo after their declaration and Jim has to summon his two from the back of the hall.
Jo Holmes goes next and also draws a few derisive snorts as that word impartial is uttered. But the applause is more determined and her supporters make a decent go of it as they line up behind her. Jo really does have some ‘core support’ and they have seen that they need to make their presence felt.
Don McKenzie gets it over with quickly and sits down. I almost can’t watch. Don is a decent and admirable man and deserves to be on the board. That his induction to it has to be under these circumstances is little short of tragic. Let’s hope he can put Faye-Gate behind him and show us his true worth.
The order is alphabetical so we all know who’s up next. The collective intake of breath in the sweltering hall is so intense you can almost feel your ears pop. Denise Roche is called and this time the noise can be heard in Orapiu. For over half the people in attendance to stand behind her is impossible. Yet somehow it happens. Clearly emotional, Denise makes her declaration. She’s not a powerful speaker. She doesn’t have that Toastmasters knack of hammering words home like nails into thick timber. Yet that hardly seems important right now. The clumsy machinations of her rival have turned this woman into the focal point of huge community feeling and she now has a power beyond anything she could have dreamed of.
The rest of the board are expressionless. They can’t be enjoying this yet they made it happen. Just a slightly different approach two weeks ago and Denise would be making her declaration simply and resuming her seat like any of the rest of them instead of standing at the centre of a huge vortex.
Faye Storer cuts straight to it. She rattles her declaration out in seconds to light applause, stands for a few moments with about fifteen supporters and sits down again. If any of this is hurting then she doesn’t let it show. Faye may have made some disastrous miscalculations of late but she has a hide a rhinoceros would envy.
Can it get more intense? Hell yes! That was just the declarations. Now it’s time for the real meat of the business. Time for the new board to elect a chairperson. There will be no surprises of course but then that’s what caused all this. Doug McKay gets the ball rolling. Now you can see that his carefully prepared remarks are of little use and he’s into the realm of politics. Faye is nominated and the heckling begins in earnest. Any other nominations? Denise stands and nominates herself to huge cheers. But the audience’s voice is not what works in this case and she’s not getting any traction where it counts.
Faye Storer it is and the mood is now plain ugly. As she begins her speech the hall begins to empty. Many stay to listen though and there are some who try and match the feeling by catcalling those departing. Which is as it should be. Faye’s speech is businesslike but strangely embarrassing. It sounds like she wrote it the moment she knew she’d been elected and felt no need to alter so much as a word to reflect all the upheaval of the last two weeks. Controversy? Never heard of it. So the platitudes come thick and fast. Moving forward. Challenges that lie ahead. New era for Auckland etc etc….
Finally it stops and its time for Len Brown to speak. What a contrast. No fudging the issue for this Mayor. He begins by removing his tie. He must be glad to. The heat and humidity are now close to unbearable. His speech is heartfelt and inspiring. He has the ability to speak without recourse to the well worn bag of political clichés and it goes down well. And unlike the new chairperson he goes straight to the heart of the debate that’s kept us all enthralled of late. There is division and while that may be healthy for the democratic process it is now time to put it aside and work for Waiheke.
Jim Hannan rises and makes his way over to shake hands with Denise. The rest follow. Does it all seem a bit forced? Maybe too little too late? Time will tell.
Ultimately, Waiheke is better off for what has happened. All too often we go into these elections, choose a board then forget about it for three years. This time was different. We debated, we got involved, we had opinions and we chose sides. We got reminded of how good it is to live in a democracy.
Waiheke has this strange relationship with Auckland. Like the youngest of five siblings it is alternative, rebellious, sometimes bullied, sometimes spoilt. After 20 years of living with an annoying big brother it seems to me that most of the activity during the Royal Commission and Select Committee Supercity campaigns was about whether the Local Board would have power to do anything, would be allowed to make some of its own decisions, would be able to take proactive steps for its own future or to defend itself against unwanted changes. We needed control because them over the water were ‘against us’.
However I feel this misses the point rather. All communities develop structures of governance. Throughout history where groups of people are living together they have modes and means to express what might be called their civic society, that collection of mores and opinions about how things should be arranged, how people work and live together, how they protect and develop their living space and environment. This is true whether the community is a gold rush town with a sheriff, a German university town with a mayor and aldermen, or a commune with a council of elders.
Modern society with all its structures and institutions – contract law, resource management acts, plans, police forces, utility companies, real estate agents might give the impression that this lowest level of civic society is no longer required – that all the human interactions are taken care of. That is the implication by a structure like the new Auckland City having one representative for 80,000 people.
My belief however is that Civic society is just as important as it ever was, We still need representatives close enough to home to know the people, to know the ground and who can listen, emote and collate views. Who can give leadership, agree, disagree, consolidate, arbitrate, and guide. Who can take on ceremonial functions, who can act as highly connected nodes in complex networks of relationships.
I believe that if Waiheke had not been ‘given’ a local board. Then the island would have invented one anyway – called a representative forum or a civic network or some other thing – but fulfilling the same function.
So while it will be great if the new Local Board are able to take on more powers, spend more money, and play a role in representing Waiheke to the rest of the City. Their every day activities will be the same old, small decisions that reflect the character of the island, talking and listening, being a hub.
I believe that all the candidates stood because in some way they understand this whether expressed clearly or not. They have a love for this place where we live. Whether I might agree with their viewpoint or not those elected start with my respect and support. They lose it only by acting in ways that are either self serving, or allow the interests of the few take precedence over the interests of the many.
After the events of the last two weeks one might feel that this is exactly what happened. Four candidates made a serious mistake in the way they consulted on the leadership roles. They made the fundamental mistake in assuming that the success of their election, a quirk of the first past the post system, meant that they now knew the wishes of the island. And then under criticism they responded by retreating into a defensive corner – painting all who comment, even supporters, into the opposition camp.
The Local Government Act and the election confer organisational legitimacy on the Local Board and I will respect that. But true legitimacy derives from the constant support of the people. It is easy to listen when someone tells you what you want to hear, its the mark of true leaders that they can listen to and understand people who are less agreeable. If this group loses that legitimacy the community will treat it a damaged and route around it, forming other structures.
My message to the new members is to think about how many people they talked to over the campaign – and then think about how many they listened to, actually sat down and listened to for a while and instead of thinking what can I say that will get me elected, what can I do that meets the needs of this person. A handful probably a hundred at the most, one or two percent of the island. How are you really going to represent us? If we call you – will you answer?
In words of Bo Catlett in Get Shorty – you don’t know us, you just think you do.
The thing to remember about Waiheke politics is that as important as the number of people who support you is the number who don’t. The amount of precious time board members and gulf councillors have lost to defending their position locally on a number of occasions every week and again at the monthly board meeting has usually been directly proportionate to the size of the last hornet’s nest they kicked. Unhappy islanders are wont to queue – even patiently – for their right to be heard (happy islanders are too busy being happy to care, of course). The amount of local angst is directly proportionate to the amount of time the board spends stalled, inward-looking, forced to long, fruitless discussions about process, and making sure each member is fully heard before any vote is taken, completely predictable though the result may well be because of the numbers game we’ve already seen at work. Board members – even those who, by dint of their alliance, can dominate the decision-making if they choose – will need to feel they have won the discussion, and sometimes, yes, even the moral battle, before they raise their hands in unison and inflict the inevitable on the underdog. But the outnumbered, too, have every right to speak. It all takes time, this passion. A reasonably happy board, with everyone feeling pretty much heard, is a much leaner, more productive machine. By far. A board under fire – as this one is likely to be – is regularly distracted and in strategising mode.
That’s the tragedy of Faye-Gate. Lost woman hours.
Annoyance was plain in the letters columns from people who perceive in the objectors a kind of intransigent denial of the election result, which is an unfortunately two-dimensional take on the issue. In fact, I would have thought the election result was pretty satisfactory for supporters of Denise Roche, who polled significantly better than anyone else and seemed assured of some real influence and an opportunity to bring the skills they clearly believed she had to the job. Is there a clearer statement of what – or, indeed, who – the island wants than the numbers of votes cast for each candidate? That’s why so many islanders are walking around this week red with apoplexy and smoking from the ears. They feel personally aggrieved by the dismissing of their wants even before, it seemed, the starting gun had gone. Elections give a sense that we’re all playing the game nicely, but the rules suddenly changed and people feel tricked, powerless. On top of all that, the multitudinous supporters of the island’s most popular candidate are now being called extremists when, surely, in the context of this community that must make them the boring, old mainstream majority. I would have thought.
Once more to the news stands dear friends and let’s see what the print media have to offer us.
Last week’s ‘Fairfax’ seemed oddly out of step with the times, with no coverage in their news pages on the whole messy business and only the letters page to show that anything was amiss. Sultry editrix George Gardner was heard to observe that it being a long weekend, news ‘stopped happening’. An interesting take on solipsism if ever I heard one and we really need a philosophy expert to sort that one out for us. Answers on a postcard please.
But this week the story gets a full page of coverage with two stories, one laying out the basic stuff and another focusing on Mike Lee’s call for everyone to behave on Saturday. The tone is brisk and we shouldn’t be too surprised to find it somewhat dismissive of the concerns of many locals regarding the Gang of Four.
Onward we go to the extensive letters page where, after four letters on assorted other matters we come to the Faye-Gate correspondence. Here at last we get to hear from those who support the new board as it stands. Leaving aside letters from actual board members we have a grand total of seven letters voicing support, four of outrage and one that doesn’t really go either way.
Well, seven people is a fair start I suppose. Several of them refer to being in a ‘majority’ which seems a trifle over optimistic given how long it took them to appear. Like Jim Hannan’s ‘Core Support’ I expect they are too busy to get involved in all this and prefer to stay silent.
What does come across however is how the seven letters of support fail to understand more than the basic idea of what so many of us are worried about. There seems to be an idea that all we are protesting is the fact that Denise Roche was not elected Board Chairperson. Well I’m sorry, but this is nonsense. Certainly a lot of people would have liked to see her get the Big Chair, given her considerable popular support, but that’s NOT the main issue. Had the board met for the first time and voted against her in public we’d have accepted that. Nobody ever suggested that the highest polling candidate was automatically entitled to the chair, just that it should be an option.
The problem is the WAY IT WAS DONE. And to compound the matter, the way in which Faye and her supporters have behaved in the last ten days is not something that sits well either. Too much arrogance and not enough of the ‘Listening’ that all of them swore they were so good at during the campaign. They have been too ready to dismiss those of us who questioned them as;
Gulf News Readers.
And, worst of all A MINORITY.
Well fine. You folks go right ahead and build your ramparts of self belief. Reassure yourselves that you are right and anyone who dares say otherwise is simply wrong and therefore not worth listening to. Enjoy your three years of self importance.
Then, in three years time when you have to unlock the castle gates and mix with the common herd once more….Then we’ll talk.
I’ve been heartened by the huge response from people concerned about the first decision – for the chair and deputy chair – being made by our new local board and once again our community has demonstrated that it has a strong sense of fair play. Despite all our best efforts however I’ve had no response to suggest that any of the board members have changed their minds.
All those emails, letters, phone calls, facebook and web page comments are not wasted though. The mass action by so many people in our community has sent a very clear signal to every member of the local board that the community will not be left out of local decision making and it’s a fine start for ensuring that the board ‘engages’ with the community. For the new members particularly the level of concern that people have expressed to them is a wake up call reminding them that elected representatives do need to be accountable to the whole community.
The inauguration is on Saturday and I’m determined to work with this new board for the best interests of Waiheke. I don’t want to squander the opportunity that so many people fought so hard for us to have when we made submission after submission after submission during the creation of the super city that resulted in us getting our own local board. So I’ll offer another olive branch to the new board members so that we can work together. If it’s refused it doesn’t really matter – I’ve got a whole damn olive grove at my disposal.
I want the swearing in meeting this weekend to be well attended and I also want it to be orderly. Hope to see you there.
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.