After the elections under the local government reform in October 1989, Hastings District Council mayor Jeremy Dwyer and Napier City Council mayor Alan Dick met on October 25 for an hour, and decided the two councils would have regular consultation – both formal and informal.
On the way to the meeting with Alan, Jeremy was thinking of a phrase which would sum up what they were trying to achieve, and he believed he found it – "The ebbing tide of parochialism must turn into a receding wave which does not return."
For over a century, the close proximity of Hastings and Napier to each other had caused regional disagreements, which some argue has held Hawke's Bay back.
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Mayor Dick and Dwyer's photo opportunity of their pledge to build closer ties between the two cities would in less than two years' time, during mid-1991, be severely tested from the so-called "Rural Revolt".
In early 1991, a group calling itself the Hawke's Bay District Council Action Committee made up of former Hawke's Bay County Council ratepayers, would express specific grievances with the new Hastings District Council, to which they now belonged.
The issue causing them the most discontent appeared to be their cost of rates, and the concern that rates collected in their areas would not be spent there.
The Hawke's Bay District Council Action Committee's objective was to form a new council through local government reorganisation, which would represent the areas and interests of rural ratepayers.
The Action Committee, however, chose to approach the Napier City Council in early 1991 to discuss a reorganisation to secede from Hastings District Council.
Hastings District Council mayor Jeremy Dwyer upon hearing this news stated, "He had been hearing rumours of the Hawke's Bay District Council Action Committee and had been approached by a number of ratepayers concerned at the secretiveness of what was happening."
He believed it was "the worst example of secretiveness and gross discourtesy in local government politics I have ever experienced".
Under the Local Government Amendment Act (No 2) 1989, new provisions for reorganisation came into force from November 1, 1989.
Until October 10, 1992, only the Minister of Local Government or a local authority affected can initiate a reorganisation proposal. After this date, different regulations applied.
In order for a local body reorganisation to succeed, the "affected local authority" would prepare a draft reorganisation scheme and hear and consider objections to it. If there is more than one local body affected, the authorities must consult as to which one should be the "principal local authority".
However, if the affected local authority and the principal local authority thought the proposal was the same or substantially similar as implemented during the 1989 reforms, it could ask the Local Government Commission to dismiss the proposal.
An approach was not made to the Hastings District Council by the Action Committee as they believed "out of self interest they would not be prepared to action the proposal, the Committee has decided not to approach the Hastings District Council, but to make these submissions to you [Napier City Council] as a more neutral and relatively uninterested party".
A press release by the mayor of Napier, Alan Dick, on April 26, 1991 stated:
"The arguments presented by this group who state they represent a large body of opinion in the former Hawke's Bay County area, are persuasive and compelling."
He further stated that the Napier council must decide whether the proposal is good for the direct interests of its Napier citizens and the region. He acknowledged this would put a strain on the relations with Hastings District Council.
At that time, the siting of a regional hospital was topical, and mayor Alan Dick also stated in his press release, "That after a promising start after local government reorganisation, Napier people are justifiably angry that Hastings District Council and other authorities with major influence, approached the hospital issue not prepared to look being their noses or their immediate parochial self-interest."
Jeremy Dwyer responded to this by saying "relations between the two cities had reached crisis point". He also requested Napier stayed out of the rural revolt.
The Napier newspaper, The Daily Telegraph editorial's in April 1991, in response to the request to the Napier City Council was headed "Rural voices make a point".
Hastings' Hawke's Bay Herald-Tribune editorial view of the event took an opposing view and was titled "More of the lunacy which hampers Hawke's Bay".
Despite calls at that point by Jeremy Dwyer to get the Hawke's Bay District Council Action Committee to talk to him, they refused to.
Both Jeremy Dwyer and Alan Dick met to discuss in early May 1991 the request for the rural reorganisation. They also pledged to patch up the relationships between the two councils and put the divisive rural rebellion to one side and "let things take its course".
Alan stated at this time, "There was a genuine attempt to halt the deteriorating relationship and things onto a more productive basis."
A number of Napier City Councillors had meanwhile, come out in support of the Hawke's Bay District Council Action Committee.
Napier City Council had in May 1991, given the Action Committee two months to get a petition of support for the breakaway. No support would be given until the backing was known, with mayor Alan Dick saying he was cautious about the council's role in the breakaway move.
A pamphlet gathering support by the Action Committee for the petition was called "inaccurate and superficial" by Jeremy Dwyer.
Another request was made by Jeremy Dwyer to speak to the group in May 1991, but they would only discuss the petition.
Jeremy said he "understands their fears and concerns but not their apparent refusal to confront him directly with their arguments".
The 3814 signature petition (featured on the front page of the Hawke's Bay Herald-Tribune) was presented to Napier City Council in July 1991.
A report completed by Michael Ross commissioned by 10 rural ratepayers was released in early August 1991. The funders wanted to know the implications of a proposed breakaway from Hastings.
Ross' findings indicated a $1 million cost to set up the new authority and rural rates to increase by 27 per cent. The cost was disputed by David Hildreth, of the Hawke's Bay District Council Action Committee, but Jeremy Dwyer called the report "thorough and sobering".
The Hawke's Bay District Council Action Committee had previously stated savings would be made if a breakaway occurred.
Retiring rural Hastings District councillors John Campbell and Ralph Beamish reflected in 1995 that the so-called "rural revolt" was now in the past. The creation of rural/plains/urban rating division and a rural community board "had played an important part in placating rural dwellers".
Jeremy Dwyer would serve as mayor of the Hastings District Council from 1989 until standing down in 2001.
He had been first elected to the Hastings City Council in 1977 (then the youngest ever councillor elected at age 29) and became its mayor in 1986, before the reforms took place in 1989. In 2001 he was elected to the Hawke's Bay Regional Council for a three year term.
Jeremy passed away in 2005 from an illness.
Signed copies of Michael Fowler's Historic Hawke's Bay book are available at $65 from the Hastings Community Art Centre, Russell St South, Hastings and Wardini Books Havelock North and Napier.
Michael Fowler FCA (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.