Democracy is messy but needs to be fought for

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    By midday on Saturday, voting will have closed and a high-stakes term in local governance will be set in place.

    Voting papers must now have to be handed in at the Waiheke Service Centre in Belgium Street or at Oneroa’s library, which is open weekdays from 9am to 6pm and which will continue to take voting papers until close of voting at 12 noon on Saturday 12 October. 

    The Belgium Street local board offices are the only place where special votes can be cast and voting papers can be delivered there until 12 noon on Saturday 12 October when voting closes.

    Results will start to come through from 2pm on Saturday 12 October 2019.

    The current board’s final business meeting was on Thursday 26 September when the board delegated urgent decision-making to its chair Cath Handley and deputy chair Paul Walden until the commencement of the term of office of newly elected local board members. From then until the new board’s inaugural meeting on 4 November, urgent decision-making will be undertaken by the Council’s chief executive.

    However, a tsunami of decisions have – with even more manufactured urgency than usual in the interregnum between this board and the next – crowded into board agendas in the meantime, leading to rumours, a behind closed doors meeting on Monday and the calling of an extraordinary business meeting of the Waiheke Local Board for today, Thursday 10 October.

     It aims to resolve the incredulous reaction of residents to a third year of off-the-wall ‘trials’ – remember the yellow duck footprints leading off into the parking maze a few years ago – to manage the wharf zone congestion, parking and buses at Matiatia through the summer.

    The gloves are off in terms of the supercity hegemony and there is every indication we are being fitted up for high-volume, low-quality tourism that benefits a few and will destroy the rest. 

    A pilot programme chiselled of Auckland Council by Waiheke’s previous local board to devolve power and decision-making to the island board is now in its second year and, despite some softening, it seems as if we will wait forever to reach the top of the budget lists for proper solutions to Matiatia that might impact council parking revenues. Or budget for pretty much anything else.

    The pilot started in the days when we were still hoping to gain substantial control of our governance from the Local Government Commission and insufficient public toilet provision had been mentioned by most board members at the start of the initiative in late 2017.

    “The board have been advocating for new toilets for a number of years and it wasn’t on the list of priorities for Community Facilities, and ATEED weren’t able to help in a great way…” a council staff member told the authors of a Council progress report 18 months later, outlining a visit by city officials and an “agile”, on-the-island meeting to view our public toilets.

    As a result, “we were able to get four hundred [thousand dollars] for that project, which still isn’t enough to build a toilet but we [now can] go to central government and apply for tourism infrastructure funding for that”, said the staff member with some pride.

    A good percentage of Waiheke’s current public toilets – concrete block and pre-1970 – were built for a song in the days when the County rates revenue was a couple of million. 

    In the budget of the largest council in Oceania, with a $3 billion annual budget, $29 billion of ratepayer equity, 11,000 staff and something upwards of $200 million that the city has collected from Waiheke alone in rates and revenues over the past nine years, surely there has to be budget for decent public toilets for a world-renowned visitor destination island of otherwise remarkable, unspoilt beauty.

    Apparently not, though. About this time last year, the current board was placated with a plan to put portaloos in place at the top of Oneroa’s track  to the beach to beef up facilities. Ubiquitous plastic cabins were subsequently enthroned on a plinth in the middle of one of the world’s most enchanting coastscapes.

    Perhaps the chief executive’s emergency decision-making powers next month will turn up some more elegant solution – and a budget to implement it.

    How galling all this is to those of us who have patiently built up businesses, planning ordinances, view shafts, public amenities and support services over thankless decades, paying exponentially-increasing rates we see little for and treated to Oliver Twist disdain when we seek the most obvious remedies. • Liz Waters

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