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Hostage taking, and a lost opportunity

by Ian Apperley
No further movement so far this week in the paralysis that has been visited on the Wellington City Council by the former mayor and the six hostage-taking councillors who have set themselves against the new mayor and all other councillors.

It’s a disgraceful situation given that, while they are grandstanding and thinking only of themselves and the political parties they represent, a major opportunity for debate has gone sliding past – the Airport declaring its plan to massively expand its operations.

In the light of the so-called “climate emergency”, the council should have immediately responded to the announcement and made a statement on the expansion plans, specially given that residents are generally up in arms, very concerned about the impact on the city, and asking questions.

Once again, out East, the councillors weredeathly silent on the issue, with some locals asking whey they bothered to elect Sarah, Teri, and Sean when they are invisible.

Justin Lester needs to act or get off the pot, putting it nicely. Delaying a decision on whether to go for a recount or not is keeping the city in a state of stasis with no one able to plan or act. Interestingly, Kiwiblog has been doing some research [1], and it’s not as cut and dried as to whether an application for recount would even be accepted:

An interesting decision from the District Court in 2016 when it was asked to do a recount in the Dunstan constituency of theOtago Regional Council by the candidate who just missed out by 5 votes. Judge Kellar turned down the application, as he ruled there merely being a close result is not grounds enough. The applicant has to have reasons as to why the result may be incorrect.

Now, Justin’s rhetoric has changed [2] in the past few days from one of considering a recount based on a narrow margin to one of challenging the process.

“A lot of mistakes were made, and the process has been flawed,” he said. “We’ve seen countless stories already coming out where people didn’t receive voting papers, they posted them and may not have been received in time through the postal ballot… You have got to uphold the integrity of the election.”

That signals to me that he is probably taking time to gather evidence and make a case. Either way, it’s holding everything up and suits the six mutineers in the Council who appear to be loyal to the old mayor.

The mood around the city toward the six councillors who are holding the city hostage is changing.

Generally, most of the commentary is now painting them as sore losers and a roadblock to progress. Each day that goes by is further damaging their political credibility as the city perceives them in an increasingly negative light.

Regardless of what happens, Pannett, Fitzsimons, Free, O’Neill, Matthews, and Day are starting their triennium in the political red with a resident base unhappy with what they have done around the deputy mayoralty, the tunnel commentary, and the airport ownership. Another hit to the overall trust and transparency of the Council. Any new mayor should be very, very cautious about assigning any portfolios of importance to them.

Frankly, they need to apologise to the city, the residents, and the mayor for their behaviour and pledge they are going to put Wellington first rather than whatever it is they are doing now. Of course, they’ve all gone silent in the last couple of days.

Between the recount and the Hostage Taking Six, a major opportunity went begging this week for the Council to answer some tough questions about the airport’s planned expansion [3] over the next decade.

The airport plans to take half of the Miramar golf course and turn it into a giant concrete slab, to massively increase traffic movements to and from the city, and probably to cut off through access to residents (my opinion). It also wants to buy the old Miramar South School land, which will no doubt also be concreted and see the death of many houses in the vicinity.

It’s a devastating blow from, in my opinion, a bad neighbour which has consistently ignored the wishes of the community in preference to monopolistic profit-taking.

In a time when we have a housing crisis, need more social housing, have epic traffic issues to Eastern Suburbs, have declared a climate emergency, and are fighting for community rights, this plan goes against everything the city voted for.

It removes housing, it removes social housing, it increases congestion, it sees pollution increased significantly, destroys the community at the end of Broadway crossing into Miramar, and reduces access for residents.

And we, the Council, own a third of it. Butdespite Fleur Fitzsimons’ claims of the new mayor grandstanding over the possible sale of the airport shares and her belief that sitting on the board of WIAL can give us influence, she is utterly wrong.

And shame on the Hostage Taking Six for creating a situation where rather than working together, they have managed to silence the Council at a time when it needs to have a voice on an incredibly important topic.

A special mention for both Sarah Free and Teri O’Neill who know exactly how the community feels about this. And yet they have been silent. Shame. You’re there to ask questions and represent the community, and you’ve let slide a massive issue because you’re off playing politics. (I’m pretty sure I know where Sean’s allegiances lie, so you expect him to be quiet.)

Never mind a recount. Can we vote again now that some of these so-called elected officials, who work for us, have shown their true colours within days of getting on the Council? What a mess. All because of one or two players who have managed to gather a minority group of mutineers in the name of party allegiance and personal power-mongering.

First published on Inside Wellington