From Mushrooms to Romans. If it wasn't serious it would be a farce. The four Regional Council Mushrooms have morphed into the six Romans.

From cellar dwellers to couch recliners, clad in ermine lined togas slurping fine wines and sucking grapes.

The only missing ingredients are dancing girls and lions eating Christians.

The dancing girls may be hard to come by but the three excluded councilors are the substitute Christians at the exclusive gatherings at Villa Graham.


Chairman Graham's first name is Rex, which, of course, is Latin for King. One supposes that he will be referred to henceforth as Emperor Graham.

So I reckon this century's prize for hypocrisy and double standards might well go to Hawke's Bay regional councillors Graham, Barker, Bevean and Belford: four of the six the self styled Romans who, I believe, have been caught red handed doing precisely what they accused the previous councilors of doing.

Calling themselves the Mushrooms, they accused the previous regime of holding secret closed meetings during which the "gang of five" other councillors plotted to predetermine council policy and actions.

With significant financial backing the Mushrooms waged a successful election campaign citing transparency, open and honest relationships with one another and the community as the cornerstone of a new council.

Their accusations were vigorously denied by then Chairman Fenton Wilson and I don't believe they ever produced any credible evidence that the five had colluded or indeed done any of the things they were accused of.

On the contrary in this case, emails sent inadvertently to staff and other councilors show that the mushrooms have recruited Councillors Kirton and Bailey and call themselves The Roman Mushrooms or Romans for short.

They meet in secret outside council without the knowledge or consent of the other three councilors.

They discuss policy and actions, which may then be hurried through council with minimum public scrutiny or debate.

Such behavior is generally construed as pre determination and in my opinion it is undemocratic, unethical, contrary to the oath of office taken by all councillors and can be unlawful.

The council is being reviewed by the ombudsman for supporting Cr Tom Belford's refusal to release e-mails he exchanged with Forest and Bird and Greenpeace last year. Belford has been the strongest advocate of transparency.

How ironical that for the second time in less than a year his actions appear to completely contradict his stated principles while he is aided and abetted by his fellow open government campaigners.

After only six months in office there appears to be a massive gap between the principles and practice.

The emails contain specific references to setting up private meetings at private houses where the six councilors seek consensus on important council issues: the port and HBRIC directorships amongst them.

Now they are sprung the six have gone into damage control, much as they did over the Belford emails. The meetings were harmless gatherings to informally discuss policy. No harm in that. Chaps do it al the time. Perfectly in order, old boy.

Barker and Kirton are ex-cabinet minsters and spin is second nature to them.

Paul Bailey is an experienced campaigner who stood for parliament last time.

Belford has a Master's degree in political philosophy and worked in the Carter White House.

These are hard hitting, heavy lifting, street fighting men. But no amount of flannel can disguise the nature and intent of the Romans.

It is right there in black and white. It is in my view an entirely reasonable assumption that there may have been other meetings and other e-mails, which like the Belford e-mail scandal, they may fight to hide.

To argue that their exchanges were idle chitchat between jolly good fellows will fool no one.

The RWSS has been reviewed and no serious flaws detected. But for all we know the fate of the RWSS was decided in secret weeks ago by the Romans secret conclave. So much for campaign promises and open democracy.

Given the public unmasking of the Romans by one of their number, how can anyone have faith accountability and transparency where regional council is involved?

If the Mushrooms and friends hadn't slung so much mud at their opponents over the years, and if the Belford emails had been surrendered willingly, one might be less judgemental. Once bitten, twice shy.

The repeated appearance of double standards, hypocrisy and arrogance are hard for me to stomach.

The Ancient Romans waded through blood to gain and hold power by any means. Our Hawke's Bay Romans are aptly self named. The main difference is that like that other famous Empeor, this one wears no clothes.

* Tim Gilbertson is a farmer, former mayor of Central Hawke's Bay and former Hawke's Bay regional councillor. He was defeated by Rex Graham, Rick Barker and Tom Belford in the Hastings constituency in the Hawke's Bay Regional Council local elections last year. His column appears every fortnight on a Saturday. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.