I've long contended that some of the dullest minds in the country are currently sitting around local government tables and making decisions much bigger than their respective neurons can effectively process.

To be (a bit) fair, most of those are more inclined towards governance roles within regional councils. What better place to show off your lack of smarts?

I've a long history of defining regional councils as nothing more than firm enemies of the environment — yet these are the very people tasked with looking after our environmental resources. There's a reason why they removed the word "environment" from their names.

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It was basically a lie.

Accordingly, I'd like to see regional councils either completely revamped and/or razed to the ground.

If you think that's extreme, it stems from years of witnessing waterways degrading on their watch.

And, because they're politically top-heavy with dairy interests, they've almost perfected the art of pretending they're doing something meaningful about water quality when the opposite is generally true.

So when their wee minds get distracted from their default position of NOT working on the most important issue facing this country's economic and environmental stability – water – I get nervous. It's like watching Trump, but without the lucidity.

Heard of Orizons? Oh, I'm sorry — I left out the "H". Horizons is the trading name of the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council, except currently "Whanganui" is spelled without the "H".

Confused? Let me break it down.

Despite the Whanganui River's name being legally changed in 1991, and the district which carries its name being legally changed in 2015, Horizons would have us believe that they need to "consult" with the ratepayers over correcting both a grammatical and a spelling error. Because when the racist stew is all boiled down, that's what it is — a grammatical and spelling error.


It's really quite something that the "H" in Whanganui is still up for debate by a regional council whose boundaries are defined by two river catchments.

Further to that, Horizons has already voted to ask the New Zealand Geographic Board to go through the required process of providing a recommendation to the Government to approve the name change.

So, you've got to ask: Why have they decided to "consult" the people, many of whom are scattered hundreds of miles away from the Whanganui River and district, and have no understanding of — or interest in — the area anyway?

The "consultation" is happening via their long-term plan, and they've called for submissions.

These submissions will generate the same stock-standard responses the whole "H" issue engendered before. It's old news. The racists come out in force arguing spurious colonial ethno-centric history, while the rational voices will likely not even play the game. Why bother?

The Horizons' chairman has been doing the media rounds saying that the issue is "divisive" and that the council "doesn't want to open up old wounds".

He even claims that he's received "a number of threatening letters" about the issue. If that's thrown him, maybe he should try being a female opinion writer on for size?

Here's the thing. The reason I keep putting the word "consult" in quote marks is because they absolutely did not need to do it. Also, we all know that councils have the right to ignore said "consultation" and do whatever they want anyway. And often do.

So, why are they doing it?

I think it's a mish-mash of misguided motives. Maybe it was to appease some racists around the council table; perhaps it was a way to treat the Whanganui part of their territory as a poor second cousin, as many feel they do. Possibly, they perceive the spectre of public discord as a bit of fun.

A few weeks ago, this dysfunction reared its ugly head when they decided to write to the conservation and environment ministers asking for their views about trout and salmon protection.

Why? Because one of the tactics used to deflect attention away from dairy farming's impact on water quality is to attempt to blame introduced fish species for the problem.

They've done it before, and they despise Fish & Game for their years of effective work in highlighting dirty dairying and the negatives of irrigation schemes. Remember the One Plan?

The One Plan is the document the council uses to direct how natural resources are managed in the region. Fish & Game were successfully involved in the 2017 Environment Court judgment that found Horizons was not correctly implementing their own One Plan, or doing enough to keep streams and rivers clean, and incorrectly issuing consents for dairy farming.

Given such petty-mindedness, it's no wonder Horizons wants to relitigate the "H" in Whanganui. It's an "up you" to the legal name, and an attempt to hurt local iwi.

How thick – with an "H" – do they have to be?

*Rachel Stewart is a Whanganui-based journalist and commentator