As predicted the Three Waters Reforms debate has started to heat up and public awareness of the Government's plan is rapidly growing.
That is a good thing because we want community engagement, but in my view this needs to be directed primarily at government politicians, because it is the Government pushing these reforms, not councils.
Of real concern is some of the online commentary and the copious amounts of misinformation that we are being exposed to on social media, which is just not helpful.
And as some keyboard warriors cut loose with conspiracy theories, incorrect facts and personal views, the Government continues to soften up the public with childish television advertisements and bombard councils with supporting information that justifies their reform proposals. What a debacle this debate has become and it is set to get worse.
But before I incur the wrath of the people with differing views on these reforms, let me make it clear. I am not arguing for or against the proposed reforms and have not made my mind up on which way I will vote if and when the opportunity comes to do so. But like many mayors and councillors I have enough reservations at this stage to say I am far from convinced the proposed reforms are in the best interests of this community.
What is needed is more time for the Government to answer and explain the dozens of questions and concerns that have been raised. Alternative models are starting to appear and collectively need time to be evaluated.
At present I am in the camp of those calling for the Government to push pause on the current proposals. This would allow time for proper consideration of the issues raised and for the new water regulator Taumata Arowai to establish itself and the new water standards councils are expected to achieve will be put in place as a clear target.
Councils could then make an informed decision on whether we as a stand-alone council could meet those standards or need to change to achieve them. I suggest that creating a huge new, commercially orientated bureaucracy that has no community voice, such as the proposed Entity B, would not be our preferred option.
In the meantime another government reform is rapidly progressing, albeit in the background and out of the limelight, it is the Future of Local Government Reforms.
In essence, this is reviewing what will be the function of councils in the future given that about one-quarter of our activities, that is the three waters, are about to be removed from council ownership and operation.
A pause on the Three Waters Reforms would allow time for the Future of Local Government Reforms to continue to be developed and when the outcomes of this significant piece of work are known, the three waters could be factored in. It would be more desirable and a more logical sequence to undertake the two reforms in this order.
In my experience, rapid change nearly always results in poor decisions and poor changes. The stakes are so high with the three waters, no one can afford to make a mistake, particularly one that is irreversible.
In closing, I can forgive any elected member or council employee for feeling overwhelmed with the complexity and volume of information that is flooding out of Wellington in recent months. It's all consuming.
As an example, I have attended a daylong meeting and sat through three 1.5 hour long webinars on this subject in the last week alone and along with the written material, it just keeps coming.
As a council we have been asked to provide feedback on the proposals to date and as you read this we will be finalising our feedback letter. Let me stress, that council has not been asked to make any decisions at this time and nor will we.
Once the Government has considered all the nationwide feedback and announces its final proposals, public debate and engagement can and will really ramp up.