The new Board members were sworn in and immediately disappointed the whole community. Unbelievably, they voted unanimously to elect Paul Walden as the Chair for the first 18 months of the term. Cath Handley will take over as Chair for the last eighteen months. Handley will play bridesmaid and take the Deputy Chair and vice versa when the Chairman role reverses – assuming it ever does
Handley’s supporters left the meeting feeling angry and betrayed. Walden’s supporters, on the other hand, while not 100% happy, will be delighted that their man is left in the Chair to set the tone, and decision making for the next eighteen months.
The weeks of backroom wheeler dealing have come to nought. Second termer Shirin Brown, newbie Handley and wastrel Walden all wanted the Chair and, no doubt the $55,000 salary that goes with it. According to Handley’s supporters, after both Handley and Walden refused to back Brown, she refused to back either of them. And who can blame her. On the day she said ‘a plague on both your houses’, you can toss a coin to decide who gets the top job. So that’s what happened. This is politics at its lowest level.
Handley and Walden split the Chair’s role between them. Walden got the best end of the deal by carrying on in his current role; something that Handley’s supporters and the vast majority of those behind Bob Upchurch wanted to see an end to. People who put a huge amount of effort into getting the result they thought would put the kibosh on Walden’s highhanded and wastrel ways.
It beggars belief that Handley and Upchurch couldn’t, or wouldn’t, cut a deal with Brown. Brown has potential and finally, right on election time, had the guts to tell school yard bully Walden where to put it. This was the only chance the new members had of changing the culture of waste, cronyism and backward looking that has marred Waiheke over the last three years. Today’s actions show political ineptness of the highest degree and the rumblings out there are that the voters have been ‘sold a pup’. Handley might think she knows politics because she’s been on a couple of company boards but her naivety can only be marvelled at by those of us who understand how the game is played. Handley’s distrust of Brown has delivered the community right back into Walden’s hands.
Upchurch and Handley tried to hand Brown a consolation prize by nominating her as deputy Chair during the Handley tenure but Brown declined. After all, there’s neither money nor power in the position. Instead, Brown supported Walden as Handley’s deputy.
Handley’s supporters will be rethinking their campaign strategy of backing a single horse and realising way too late that if she was to be effective she needed to be there with other fiscally prudent candidates. That strategy has cost them a majority on the Board. The result is today’s debacle.
Well good luck is about all one can say. Who knows what will happen over the next three years. Previous experience shows that the Board can rescind any decision it makes at the inaugural meeting if they have a majority. This is what happened to Brown when the knives came out and deposed her from the Deputy Chairmanship of the second Board. It could well happen to Walden’s hopes of a compliant team (now that’s a thought!) and it could well happen to Handley’s hopes of the Chair in eighteen months time.
The meeting ended with talk of peace and harmony (yeah right) but the writing is on the wall. This will be a divided and divisive Board. The big loser is the island. With Walden in charge there will be even more waste of ratepayers’ money, more money to his mates, a worsening traffic and parking crisis at Matiatia, and no new infrastructure to cope with the demands of the growing local and visitor population.
It was almost the worst possible outcome. The only thing worse would have been Walden in the Chair for the next three years. Heaven help us if this happens.