Democracy is messy – and a process


    Biased is always something that someone else is being; language from the upset four-year-old who wailed “you’re always being mean to me” at an intractable parent and got to guilt their way out of some of the consequences.

    It’s a strategy that gets more sophisticated – and better hidden – as one grows up but whole tribes can live inside such unexamined biases and perceptions. 

    They give us the outcomes we expect and it’s just comfortable enough inside the tribe to keep us in a state of blaming others and putting up with the same old nonsense we keep on creating for ourselves.

    Council officials and hired-gun ‘commissioners’ are no exception. 

    Tribe Auckland Planners consider ‘neighbours’ a version of the devil. The supercity continuum has been institutionally biased against democratic representation for three decades. 

    Feeling beleaguered and starved, Tribe Waiheke rails against what it sees as Auckland City’s bias and conflict of interest whenever it comes to spending unnecessary money on anything but pet projects, almost none of them on Waiheke.

    In the case of the Rangihoua parkland, it’s not hard to draw a straight line backwards from the turgid acrimony of the last ten years to the long-ago city council announcement that it didn’t have the money to continue the practice of developing reserve management plans for the public open space it had inherited from Waiheke County Council. 

    That was unfortunate, since our parkland, as well as roads, had been accumulated by ratepayer decisions and available funds and the county had an exemplary history of award-winning and widely-consulted district plans which encompassed its parks and competing interests. 

    As last week’s Waiheke Local Board settled down to deal with the Rangihoua issue that could often be described as a community bloodbath,  ‘The risk of perception/actual conflict of interest’ jumped off page 15 in the month’s agenda item which was to choose a method for hearing the community’s choices for the park.  

    Too many moments in the sorry history of the Rangihoua landscape which enfolds Waiheke’s exquisite golf course flashed through my mind.

    Four options for “independent decision making on a management plan for Rangihoua Reserve and Onetangi Sports Park” were laid out, the cut-and-paste lingo of official documents adding to the impression of obsession with ‘independent commissioners’ who would rightfully mitigate this frightful risk of bias.

    To ensure a pure and perfect “high level of independence for the submission hearing and decision making,” the fourth option even suggested appointing a committee to hear submissions and approve the final management plan.

    I’ve often tried to explain half a lifetime on Waiheke to non-islanders. Not least our relationship to conflict. Democracy is messy and a process. People say mean things, hide their agenda under high sounding principles, gesture wildly and splash about for a bit. It can be raw and hurtful and downright untruthful but when it’s over, few of those who went through the mill would entirely regret the process.

    No doubt there had been considerable time spent working through the Rangihoua issue before the meeting, but by the time Waiheke’s five Local Board members had resolved, in generous measure, that they could and should deal with the Rangihoua reserve plan public submission process themselves, the chances for a durable and well-thought-out resolution of the future of the reserve seemed immeasurably improved. 

    The outcomes from this robust process could surprise and delight all of us: from the kokopu and tuna eels in the streams to the golfers well versed in changes internationally  and opportunities for  their own course and those for whom Rangihoua’s exquisite landscape is a background to daily, low impact and peaceful pursuits.

    Tribe Waiheke has very little trust in ‘commissioners’, with good historical reason, and no perfect process of intellectual purity by a group imported and paid to arbitrate acouncil process could come close to generating the diversity we could generate in this process. 

    Auckland Council itself is sending signals for more, good quality delegation and pilot projects. The views of our elected representatives have been well canvassed with voters over two election cycles and probably, across the issue, represent all the competing interests of our tribe.

    As board chair Cath Handley said, it’s hardly the moment to start backpedaling on our desire for local decisions being made by local people.   Liz Waters

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