Warp Factor Seven, Scotty - 29/11/2004by Mayor Michael Laws, 8 November 2004
In an address to council staff last week, CEO Colin Whitlock noted that his senior management team had been "working at 100 mph" since my election. I smiled. Because I don't think I'm out of first gear yet. So it must surely be speed of light next week.
Of course, change is always a fraught affair. Although there's something to be said for the routine, a certain rooting does tend to follow. It is the job of my Council to kick off the cobwebs, brush off the dust, and properly prepare Wanganui for the twenty-first century.
I've started with the way we make decisions. 'Direct democracy' will become a feature of the next three years. As promised, you'll be having a direct input into how your rates money is spent
even how much you pay.
But first I have to ensure that all the internal decision-making processes are spot on. That means getting rid of all the blithering and blathering that characterized previous council meetings. We've adopted the parliamentary model for committees and, although some noses are out of joint, it is a proven method for clear and concise decisions.
Of course, there's going to be grumbling some people aren't happy unless they're unhappy. And there will be those who think that we all collectively inhaled the electric puha before voting on 9 October. That's human nature. The grieving process can be a lengthy one.
Not such problems for Chas, though. He's appeared positively beatific since the election and we've shared some very positive chats. This week we discuss his farewell function and I'm keen that we formally recognize his 18 years as mayor and 27 consecutive years on council. Having a park named in his honour might be an idea. Just not Moutoa.
Cr Don McGregor has also suggested the "freedom of the city" which is something of a misnomer. You don't even get a discount. But you do get the right to march through town bearing arms. Just before the Police arrest you.
Then there was the minor issue of what to call me. For the first couple of days I was a minor deity - "Your Worship" being followed by genuflections that wouldn't have been out of place in a Muslim mosque. Then it was "Mayor Laws" and now, at my request, it's just plain "Michael". As it should be. I could have got used to all the adoration though no wonder people set up their own religions.
Then there were the not-so-pleasant shocks. The failure of Council to fulfil its legal requirements, and be unable to file its audited annual report on time, is embarrassing. It has highlighted issues within the management team and the CEO is addressing them. In the meantime, the Audit & Administration committee (AA, for short) is recommending that an independent review of Council finances and financial reporting be undertaken.
This "opening of the books" will give ratepayers and residents a much better appreciation of council accounts, and financial information that is easier to understand.
And then there's the issue of the forestry investments
a Hammer horror all of their own. According to the former Council's plans, we were meant to be receiving $1.7 million in receipts from forestry this year, $3.2 million next year and $2.0 million the year after that. Instead, we'll get nothing. Current market conditions make milling uneconomic. And this has been the case for quite some time. So there's now a near $7 million 'hole' in Council revenue.
I have instructed council staff to undertake special research in this area when I get the results, I will share them with you. This is your city, your council and your money. You have an absolute right to such information.
But the true terror is the actual Council Chamber. It's not so much a convocation as a cave. An artless, graceless place with neither form nor function. Some weird group (architects, I think) recently decided to award the council buildings a design prize.
I had a thousand and one reasons not to attend their ceremony being hosted in the grey expanse that is Palmerston North being but one. But the credibility of the award would have to be another. The architects obviously never worked in this place it's a shocker. Complete with the Mayor's "batwing" chair. The whole Council chamber seems more sepulchre than style.
As for the acoustics
they make all speakers sound like they're stoned. Or on very strong medication. One word simply folds into the next. But they have proven the perfect excuse to transfer the full Council meetings to more people-friendly and accessible locations. Starting with the War Memorial Hall on Monday, 29 November.
The other important change is that councillors are going to become much more visible. They will play true leadership roles and already deputy mayor Dot McKinnon, Cr Sue Pepperell and Mayoress Leo have made important speeches on behalf of both district and council. And they're much better-looking than me, so I expect they'll be in hot demand.
Finally, thank you for the opportunity to serve. Ten of the thirteen Vision candidates were elected to either council, regional council or district health board. The ratepayers association did well and so too strong independents.
The premier reason was because Wanganui wanted new blood with new ideas. The next three years will be about keeping that faith. We won't let you down.