Mayor John Carter earned his keep at Ahipara last week. To put it bluntly, he cut through a significant amount of crap at a public meeting called by Te Hiku Community Board to hear concerns about traffic on the streets and the beach, offering his elected colleagues and council staff a lesson in the increasingly important art of getting things done.
Residents were clearly in favour of installing more judder bars, as are already in place on Foreshore Road and Kaka Street, even if some suggested that they would not be a total answer to slowing motorbikes in particular. It was, however, a meeting of two halves, beginning with the response of an engineer and two elected members, whose instant reaction was to slow things down.
Judder bars would firstly require the making of a business case, and would then have to go to a long-term plan. Some who were looking for solutions must by that point have been wondering if they would see progress in their lifetimes.
"Mr Carter has a lifetime of local government and political experience, and it showed. The pity of it is that his attitude - that the council should be looking at how concerns can be addressed as opposed to reasons why they cannot be - is a minority. It might well be unique in this neck of the woods."
Cue Mr Carter. He undertook to initiate the erection of signage, which he said could be done quickly and at modest cost, to immediately begin investigating the feasibility of judder bars, to look at reducing the speed limit in some areas, and, as an immediate priority, to set up a working party comprising council and community board members, council staff and community representatives. He also undertook to report back to the community before Christmas.
What a breath of fresh air.
Mr Carter has a lifetime of local government and political experience, and it showed. The pity of it is that his attitude - that the council should be looking at how concerns can be addressed as opposed to reasons why they cannot be - is a minority. It might well be unique in this neck of the woods.
To be fair, those who are elected to community boards and the council for the first time are at a disadvantage. As candidates with no experience they tend to make all sorts of promises regarding what they will do, and, not infrequently, voters buy those promises.
Then, when they are elected, they discover that getting things done isn't as easy as it seemed it would be. Politics is largely based on the art of compromise, even before the advent of MMP, which has taken that to ridiculous lengths, and there have always been rules and regulations that are seemingly designed to hamper rather than help.
The fact in this case, however, is that judder bars at Ahipara do not need a business case, they do not need to go to a long-term plan, and, contrary to what last week's meeting was told, finding the money need not be "complicated."
Mr Carter wasn't the only person in the room who knew that. Or at least he should not have been. He said judder bars had been built to slow traffic in a number of communities, including Mangonui, Kerikeri and Waipapa, without resorting to a tortuous planning process.
The most recent example was at Waipapakauri Ramp, where judder bars were installed earlier this year. Mr Carter said later that the cost, about $5000 apiece, had been met from the council's general maintenance fund, and the entire process, from instructing staff to get on with it to completion took three or four weeks.
It's a little disappointing that none of his elected colleagues, or engineering staff, who were at the meeting, were not aware of that. It is even more disappointing that the immediate response was to start throwing up barriers. This is a nasty habit that the council needs to rid itself of.
It is true that local government these days is subject to a plethora of rules and regulations, often pointless and invariably frustrating and expensive, that are imposed by central government. This is not a secret, but we should expect our elected representatives to be seeking ways of circumventing those restrictions when it is in their communities' interests to do so.
It's all very well to blame Wellington, but our councillors don't have to buy into the stultifying bureaucracy that politicians love imposing on others but so often exempt themselves from.
Frank Newman put it very well some years ago at a public meeting in Kaitaia, when he told the Northland Regional Council that Northlanders needed people who would represent them in Wellington, not people who would represent Wellington in Northland. That's the attitude. Rules and regulations might be frustrating, but if there are ways of circumventing them then our councillors should be looking for ways to do that.
Maureen Te Paa told the meeting at Ahipara that she had been at similar gatherings for the best part of two decades, and nothing had ever changed. Perhaps this time it will. Perhaps Ahipara will finally see some action over a problem that has been plaguing it for years, and is getting worse. Perhaps John Carter's can do attitude will finally take root and spread, but don't count on it.
The current reality is that the people who should be serving us tend to wait until there is a calamity before doing what should have been done long ago, and even then it doesn't last. Remember Daisy Fernandez? She was the 13-year-old girl who was struck and killed by a motorbike on Dargaville's Rapiro Beach on January 1, 2007. My word, things were going to change in terms of bikes on beaches. Every elected man and his dog promised action. We're still waiting.
It's not much of a stretch to suggest that signs and judder bars might prevent such a tragedy at Ahipara. And while it's the attitude of those who wilfully endanger themselves and others that has to change, that doesn't absolve the council of its duty to do what it can to promote public safety. The same applies to all sorts of issues.
Let's all resolve now to cease accepting that the council is hamstrung by rules and processes, at least without incontrovertible evidence that it is powerless. We need to see a great deal more of 'We can do this,' as opposed to 'This is why we can't do anything.' Let's see our councillors sticking up for the people they serve. And if Wellington objects, let's see them fighting back on our behalf.
Let's see some resistance to the rules and processes that are seemingly designed to paralyse them, rather than using those rules and processes as a shield that protects them from their responsibility to actually do stuff. They just might surprise themselves.
Out of mind
It wasn't only Jason Taumalolo who abandoned the Kiwis in favour of Tonga in the lead-up to the Rugby League World Cup. TVNZ's 1News seems to have given them the flick too.
Every night, it seems, 1News sport features a story about the Tongans as they are feted by their island fans in between training sessions. They even have their own journalist with them, so we can be sure of getting our daily updates.
And the Kiwis? They will be in this tournament too won't they? One could be excused for beginning to doubt that. When was the last time they made the news? And when they did it was in the context of Taumalolo's desertion rather than the team itself.
Maybe that will change when the tournament finally gets under way, but don't bet on it, especially if Tonga wins a few games and the Kiwis don't do well.