Regular guest blogger Jerry Flay takes a look at the performance of the Waiheke Local Board now they've been in office nearly six months. He contrasts their per-election rhetoric with what they are saying now and therein discovers a mystery.
Jerry also administers a Facebook page, the Other Waiheke community page, which encourages constructive debate.
In the classic short story Silver Blaze, fictional detective Sherlock Holmes remarks to his trusty sidekick Dr Watson on the curious incident of the dog in the night.
Well known for making a racket at every available opportunity, the dog had, it turned out, remained obdurately silent whilst thieves had been making off with the aforementioned Silver Blaze, a famous racehorse.
They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and in creating a parallel between Holmes’ observation, and the current silence of our Local Board, they might well be right.
Hitherto famed for their cacophonous outpourings of bilious venom, their salivatingly, seductive promises, and their ability to pop up on social media like so many rabbits from a hat, they have, not to put too fine a point on it, gone to ground, like so many British badgers who have just read Badger Weekly and realised their Sett is in this week’s culling zone.
Why, not six months ago, the fragrant Ms Ballard was babbling like the brook about bathing facilities for all. And now? Not a squeak, silent as a doll.
Beatle Treadwell, who swore so passionately to do her best for Waiheke has perhaps recognised that silence and inactivity maybe her best chance of delivering on that promise.
What a pair they make, those two; one delivering babies, the other rearing them with gusto. It would be easy to explain their apparent lethargy for local affairs as simply not practical given their other commitments, but they both avowed these would not hinder them. Curious.
And then there is the man affectionately known as Waffling John, so called after a lifetime’s service of pointless and obscure committees deprived him of the ability to speak factually and briefly. He has quickly slipped back to a level of anonymity more usually associated with someone whose surname is desperately difficult to pronounce accurately.
But these are mere bit part players. We, in truth, expected little of them, and as such our expectations were well founded.
So on to the leaders, those whose remuneration levels surely demand at least a cursory bark or two as the shadows lengthen?
Shirin Brown, it must be said, does make the occasional appearance on her beloved WIPP Facebook page, although in an entirely private capacity. Anything to do with official council business she urges be sent by email to her official council email address, which messages she no doubt prints off and uses to populate the official leather council briefcase of which she is so proud.
But has she turned Waiheke into a haven for sustainophiliacs as she indicated was her avowed intent? To be a pilgrim for environmental matters? No. She has, I understand, attended a number of workshops, guided carefully by her handlers from Auckland Council, where she has been able to seek public wisdom as the answers to the questions which trouble her so. But what has she actually done for us? Unlike the case of her Pythonesque forbears the Romans, sadly the crowd must answer nothing.
Finally we turn to the most strident of all, our dear leader. What an inspiration he was to us all as he bestrode the stage of the Morra Hall like some colossus of modern local politics, declaring in Churchillian tones that he had “had enough”.
How disappointing he chose not to clarify that he referred to the cooked breakfasts responsible for his ever burgeoning waistline. How ironic that this phrase is at the forefront of the minds of so many of his erstwhile supporters when they now consider his brief but entirely impotent tenure as Board Chair, a chair he has already vacated on occasion.
True, he has spent like a prodigal. The Junket springs to mind. But his failure to triumphally crow about the globally beneficial outcomes of his boat trip suggest that in terms of positive material outcome, it shares much with another disastrous maiden voyage, that of the Titanic.
So it is curious, this silence. Could it be that collectively they now realise there is much more to the business of local government than vapour and rhetoric? Has some criminal mastermind, a Moriarty of the Waitemata, led them like lambs to the slaughter? Would this explain the silence of the lambs?
In Silver Blaze, it transpires that the dog was silent because the criminal who stole the horse was none other than its master. Is there some deeper force at work here? Are the board silent lest they disturb the arcane plotting of their puppeteer?
Conspiracy theorists would make much of it. They might point to the plunging rankings of a politician who appears to have been written off by party leaders as an electoral liability, preparing the way for a return to more junior responsibilities.
They might even go so far as to suggest that attempts to hinder the future of Onetangi Sports Park, thus improving the chances of adjacent land for being rezoned and subdivided, have been laid bare for all to see, and in so doing wrecked the masterplan which drove the entire campaign to get elected in the first place.
Impossible, do I hear you say? No, as Holmes would have pointed out, merely improbable.
No matter, truth will out. But it is curious, this deafening wall of silence, from such a previously chattery bunch. A most curious incident indeed.
Sustainability is of course a tremendously important thing. It's at the core of our guiding philosophy, which is survival.
So it's good to see that here on Waiheke, the need for sustainability is a key driver for our leaders. So much so, in fact, that the word itself is now officially incorporated into the title of every meeting they hold. Workshops on sustainable this and sustainable that, if you are lucky enough to negotiate your way through their arcane publicity process, can be attended almost every day. Sadly, the way in which these workshops are promoted is so obscure that the average attendance is comprised of 2 LB members, 4 concerned citizens and a bloke who is sheltering from the rain on his way to the bus stop.
Inevitably all good things must come to an end, and this one is especially premature in its demise.
It has become very plain to all and sundry that, to this particular group of local politicians, sustainability is little more than a word - an important one, of course, because it’s a real vote winner, but really that's where it ends. Because they clearly have no clue what it actually means.
I recall only too well Dr AJ Fairclough, one of the founding fathers of UNEP and a man more responsible than most for making sustainability a byword, sharing his fears with me that it would be hijacked by the Green movement, who would use it only to further their own cause in their quest for power and control..
How right he was.
Sustainability is of course what is says - something that can be sustained. Astute readers will be quick to point out that being sustained is not exclusive to environmental matters, nor should it be.
It can be applied to a myriad of things. For example, profit. If Air NZ makes 1bn 2 years ago and 2bn last year, can that level of profit growth be sustainable? And would it be a good thing?
But let us think about the environment for a moment. Of course we want it to be cuddly and fluffy and beautiful and enduring. But we have to live in it too. And that comes at a cost. A new pair of shoes that look beautiful in the window will doubtless be but a memory after a year of solid use.
And it is the same with the earth.
Sustainability is a trade off. Short of wiping ourselves out voluntarily (and of course in some cases this would be entirely commendable), we are stuck here on planet earth, and it is going to take a bit of a battering.
But it is arrogant in the extreme to think that Nature will not fix this. We are of minute significance in the greater scheme of things, and the chances of us doing for the Earth are infinitesimally small.
The idea that mankind has no responsibility for the planet is as ludicrous as those who seek to scare us with their absurd postulations about climate change.
Only this week the much maligned Tony Abbott ensured the sustainability of Australian Forestry by making guardians of it those who will profit most from its longevity.
Abbott’s strategy is brilliant – and free too. Give the moral and financial responsibility of sustaining a vital natural resource to those who will profit most from it. Far better than empowering a bunch of unwashed hippies with their left wing textbooks, who have never done a days work in their lives and who would either abandon the forests altogether or use them as a place to grow their illicit marijuana, and demand massive lumps of taxpayer money for the privilege. Remember the stand of trees on Waiheke? QED.
Abbott’s way is real sustainability in action.
On Waiheke, however, it means sacrifice - usually yours and mine, mainly in terms of changing the way we go about our daily lives, and paying money: lots of money, because it is not understood in anything other than a theoretical, abstract sense by our Board. Why else would they insist upon sustainable tourist (a misnomer if ever I hear one) and then organise a workshop in the hope that some bright spark will tell them what that means in real terms?
Honestly what on earth do they mean by sustainable tourism? Sustaining the number of tourists? Sustaining the island's economy through tourist dollars? On making sure those nasty tourists don't tread on the grass lest they wipe it off the face of the planet. It’s farcical, or it would be if we weren’t paying them $150,000 a year to conduct such charades.
Real sustainability means working out a practical solution which balances economic, social and environmental needs.
Is there any chance that these poor deluded fools will see the error of their ways? Highly unlikely, as they simply don’t live in the real world. They are here to pursue personal agendas and leave others to do the work and pick up the pieces.
But as they sit at night in their intellectual teepees, guzzling pot, massaging their own egos for being slavish adherents to the cause of sustainability and uttering self congratulatory edicts, the real world must go on, and as is always the case with fervent proponents of nothing, they are a distraction from the real business of living and surviving.
Out there in forward thinking countries, sustainability has already been forced to take a back seat to resilience. Of course resilience is required because of climate change, which is a result of a lack of sustainability. So it’s all our own fault anyway.
It takes no quantum leap therefore to assume that in due course we can all be expected to learn (after the event of course) of a series of workshops on resilient tourism, resilient marina development, and in all likelihood resilient candidacy for the local trough, I mean board. Plus ça change and all that.
So is anything sustainable? Well yes, and we have Viagra to thank for that. Which is ironic, because we all being stiffed in the name of sustainability.
By Jerry Flay
Dillon Mahoney is my new Guest Blogger. Dillon is a home school student and budding video entrepreneur. He made this video of the Onetangi Beach Races at the beginning of March. (double click on the Play Button to watch).
The Onetangi Beach Races have been a part of island life for longer than many locals can remember. Almost everybody who lives on the island has visited the races at least once and many make it a yearly tradition. With the island having so many Sealegs owners it is only natural that the Sealegs Race is one of the main attractions. Horse Racing is of course the main event with four different races and two miniature pony trotting races. The stalls and sideshows are almost an event all to themselves and most of the local stallholders from the Saturday market were present.
This Friday the Waiheke Local Board will embark upon their biggest folly to date, a cruise around the Hauraki Gulf with friends and hangers on, paid for by you and me, the humble taxpayer, to whom it seems they will be entirely unaccountable for the next 2 3/4 years.
The exact purpose of the trip remains clouded in mystery.
Eminent local doctor Kevin Appleton, who claimed to have been invited to join the cruise, believes its intention is "to improve Waiheke for residents and visitors alike", although after making this statement he then admitted he had made up his invitation, and got rather confused, the poor fellow.
American student Marshall Lewis, a keen defender of the venture, admitted he had "no idea" about its purpose.
And John Meeuwsen, a member of the Local Board, claimed it would be "very good value for ratepayers". He went on to discuss a need to get a better idea of the Hauraki Gulf Forum.
Quite why he needs to spend a day aboard an expensive Ferry to do this, when he could simply read the Forum minutes in the Local Board office, I have no idea. He chose not to explain that.
He also declined to elucidate as to why a free briefing on the Marine Spatial Plan from one of the countless Council officers whose responsibility this actually is, was something he spurned in favour of a junket with the ill-informed.
Veteran politician, and wily old dog Mike Lee, who knows a vote loser when he sees one, urged the Local Board to can the whole idea.
Board members Walden and Brown wisely chose not to answer questions about the trip when I posed them to them. Perhaps they acknowledged you cannot defend the indefensible. Perhaps they had not received instructions from the Cabal Verte. Who knows?
And Board Member Ballard elected to maintain the dignified and absolute silence she has chosen to adopt since her somewhat "surprising elevation" from young mother to local dignitary late last year. Perhaps she is overwhelmed, and who could blame her?
As for Board Member Treadwell, she also failed to respond, presumably distracted by the busy duties elsewhere which hamper her prompt attendance at Board meetings so often.
So it's difficult to know what to make of it. Undeniably it is a junket. Unless a miracle occurs, it will be another $15k down the Swanny.
Look, no-one expected them to simply slip into the job and get it right from the start. It was clear from some of their absurd election promises there was little understanding of purview or financial responsibility.
Even Walden, who had joined the previous Board mid-term after Denise Roche dumped the local populace to further her own personal ambitions, could hardly be expected to have much of a grasp of how things were done, given his sporadic attendance record.
But this? This cannot be explained away as naiveté. This nonsense smacks of self gratification.
The Great Barrier Board are clearly a bit more savvy – they jumped at the chance to let the ratepayers of Waiheke sponsor a day in the sun aboard ship for them.
The great city of Detroit is bankrupt. The imperious metropolis of Rome is days away from joining the ranks of the financially moribund, and countless smaller towns and cities have filed for bankruptcy in recent years.
Local government must learn to be financially prudent. Budgets must be treated as upper spending limits, not sums to be got rid of with all due haste.
Auckland is facing a debt crisis, and every employee of Auckland Council, every Councillor and Board member should be working to minimise costs, not to inflate them with vague initiatives that would struggle to hold water even in boom times.
The sad fact is that when a city goes bust, it is the services than stop, and the people that suffer. The bins and the buses, the lighting and leaf sweeping, all fall by the wayside.
But the people who caused it, the financially profligate leaches who wasted our hard earned rates? They carry on with their comfortable salaries, their generous expenses, safe in the knowledge that another election is nearly 3 years away.
And all the while we work our fingers to the bones, to pay our rates to service the debt they have forced this city of ours into, with their shameless irresponsibility.
There are of course 2 days to go. Is it too much that the Board will heed the hundreds of emails, the messages, the cries of the ordinary people imploring them to junk the junket?
by Jerry Flay
Several commentators have asked me to publish their blogs on my site. The blogs on this page are not my own nor do they necessarily reflect my views. However, I do believe there is a need for a place where differing voices to those allowed in the local media can be expressed.