Fresh chance ahead to achieve our goals

By Jay Kuten

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One small virtue of looking backwards is that it tells us where we've been so that we can figure out where we're going. What can we learn from looking back at this past year?

Last year, the US was a study in unmet expectations - or happy surprises, depending on your point of view.

Republicans, full of argument about the deficit and, more recently, the "fiscal cliff", expected to elect a businessman dedicated to cutting taxes on the rich and cutting services and security for the rest - the 47 per cent. They were surprised at Barack Obama winning on a platform to preserve social programmes and the middle class.

The fiscal cliff itself may turn out to be more of a hill. That's what the smart money on the US stock market seems to believe, despite the alarmist rhetoric.

Our own city has experienced some alarmist rhetoric as well. Some worth heeding, others not so much. In the latter camp, I'd place all that hysteria generated by anticipation of Murray, "the monster", Wilson.

Wilson's placement on the grounds of Kaitoke prison, with stringent conditions of probation, managed to excite the imagination of the former mayor, who in pursuit of a new bogeyman to deflect from his own history of having increased our city's debt to the unsustainable, whipped up a frenzy - with the assistance of a few gullible councillors - attempting to turn our city into a garrison community, the shunning capital of the country.

Until a few adults stood up, including our present mayor, to remind us of who we are, and how capable as a community we can be without the need for trespass notices of doubtful legality.

Lest anyone bring up those old silly charges of a personal animus towards the former mayor, my qualified endorsement of his stance on our earthquake-assessed buildings may go somewhat to dispel that notion.

Again, we're hearing of the dangers we face in the event of a quake and how much it will cost to retrofit our great old buildings.

I'm in favour of finding out the facts and agree with the former mayor that a much more thorough risk assessment must be made before we condemn ourselves to acting on our fears.

The qualification of my approval is his own renewed attack on the Sarjeant Gallery, the jewel in the crown of our city.

He ran for office as a faux-populist, attacking the gallery.

We could have had an extension built at that time for $6 million, with $4 million offered by government and the city to come up with $1 million. The remainder was a private pledge.

The one-man wrecking crew derailed a project which would have committed government to the preservation of the Sarjeant at small cost to ratepayers.

Now we're where we are.

At least one plan is being floated to spin gold out of dross.

Dave Feickert and Rod Trott would like to see the city turn catastrophe into opportunity, slowly renovating the buildings and inviting investment, locally and internationally.

The crisis that brought the city together last year was the DHB proposal to send 400 pregnant women to Palmerston North, ostensibly to solve a problem of specialist shortages.

The combined efforts of council, local MPs and citizens worked to overturn that plan and retain those vital services for Wanganui. I credit a great many people in that effort, including the former mayor, who questioned the lack of serious risk assessment by management.

One thing is clear.

That was a big battle won, but the DHB plans for amalgamation are still a threat.

The most important lesson to be taken is that we, as a community acting together, regardless of ethnic and social differences, can come together and work to preserve and enhance this city.

This season is time for a pause and reflection. In the New Year, we need to commit ourselves to work towards our common goals, whether preserving our buildings, our health care or our cultural heritage.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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