When Sunday trading was permitted in 1990, politicians on both sides of the House assured the public that they would never have favoured the vote but for the fact that the country would always share three and a half days as times when there was a common break.

Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Anzac Day were to be sacrosanct, untouchable.

But politicians have notoriously short memories. Our government recently handed decisions about retail trading on Easter Sunday over to local Councils.

It was a strange move; New Zealand already had fewer common break days than almost every other country. But early this year, the Napier Council voted to let the cash registers ring on Easter Sundays not just in restaurants and cafes, garden centres and tourist attractions and the many other places already able to open, but in every other kind of shop too.

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This month, the Napier City Council will receive a petition demanding a new and better consultation on Easter Sunday trading because of the ways it skewed and manipulated its previous process earlier this year.

When this was reported in Hawke's Bay Today (6 September), chief executive Wayne Jack claimed that 'full consultation was carried out, in line with any such decisions'. I do not believe that to be true.

As a past Napier councillor it gives me no pleasure to say it, but the bias and problems with its process are highlighted by comparison with what happened in Hastings. Both councils received the same information about Easter Sunday trading possibilities at the same time.

Napier made an instant decision in house, then went out to businesses to justify it. That is not consultation, but direction. Hastings, aware this was an issue surrounded by contention, went to the community before it acted. That is genuine consultation. NAPIER 0, HASTINGS 1.

Before new policies are introduced, their impact on society as a whole, and on all obvious stakeholders in particular, needs to be assessed. And everyone must have fair and equal opportunity to comment. These are basic steps. They are fundamental to good local government. On this issue, Napier City Council failed on every count.

Who were the obvious stakeholders? Businesses, certainly. Unions, too; they represent workers who could be pressurised.

And, most obviously in this case, churches, who have had a specific stake in Easter for as long as pakeha have been in this country. Hastings covered all the bases. Napier never even informed the city's churches it was intending to act. NAPIER 0, HASTINGS 2.

Napier compounded the imbalance by specifically going to business associations and asking them to conduct surveys on its behalf. Strangely, it did not think to go likewise to the unions or the churches. Hastings took no such biased action. NAPIER 0, HASTINGS 3.

While Hastings conducted a leisurely process of calling submissions which gave all parties equal chance to participate, Napier made certain this would not be the case by advertising for submissions in what for churches was the third week of Advent, when they were totally immersed in Christmas preparations. NAPIER 0, HASTINGS 4.

Just to make quite sure, Napier specifically invited submissions from the Napier, Taradale and Ahuriri Business Associations, HB Tourism, and the Chamber of Commerce. Not from other key interested parties. NAPIER 0, HASTINGS 5.

As a result of how it acted, Napier received fewer than one seventh of the submissions that Hastings did. Democracy was the loser. NAPIER 0, HASTINGS 6.

Each of the (few) speakers at the Napier hearing gave evidence to council about how impossible it was for most people opposed to Easter Sunday trading to make submissions. Letters sent to council made the same point. They were simply overruled as of no account. In contrast, at the Hastings hearing one business claimed that it needed more time and was granted it immediately. The sad final scoreline: NAPIER 0, HASTINGS 7.

Consultation is a serious process which requires open-mindedness, balance, fairness, and thoroughness. Anything less is worse than a waste of time, it is a damaging farce which deters citizens from having their say in trying to improve their community because they know they will not be taken seriously.

In this case, the process which robbed Napier families of their long Easter weekend was deeply flawed. I believe the officers' report was superficial, one-dimensional and biased.

Council's decision was pushed through in the full knowledge that its process was designed to make it difficult or impossible for many of those most affected to comment. It is as clear-cut an example of how NOT to consult as Napier has seen this century.

The issue must be revisited in a new, fairer way.

Robin Gwynn is a former Napier City councillor. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz