Sunday, March 3, 2024

Council by-election: Nothing is as it seems

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Four candidates vying for the vacant Howick Ward seat on Auckland Council’s governing body were front and centre on Tuesday and faced a barrage of questions and a not insignificant amount of pressure.

Howick ward by-election candidates: Damian Light, Olivia Montgomery, Phil Taylor and Jim Donald.

When I was younger and watching the All Blacks standing for the national anthem, I used to focus right in on who was singing and, more importantly, who knew the words.

I had a flashback to those days on Tuesday night when the candidates fighting for Auckland Council’s single vacant seat representing the Howick Ward were called to their feet with the rest of us for the anthem.

Crikey they were all so good. They knew the words. They sang with gusto. I noticed, with some pride, they were all looking ever-so-slightly upwards. Did they rehearse this? Then I turned. An overhead projector threw the lyrics up on the wall behind me. What a fool I felt. It was no trickery. I had expected the worst and learned a little lesson. Nothing is as it seems.

There are supposed to be six candidates and yet two haven’t even bothered turning up to either of the last two public forums. The absentees – Jessica Collings (yes, daughter of the Howick Local Board chair David) and Paul Young didn’t show. I didn’t understand their messages, but didn’t care really. Lloyd Wong, this week’s forum facilitator, the referee if you will, went further and suggested candidates in future should be obligated to come and face the masses. I tend to agree. He also refused to play a video from Young.

The crowd – and the referee – were tough. They were relentless.

The four who took to the stage at East City Wesleyan Church (the host of many political forums over the years) were given no quarter really. It was full-on from the kick-off. Around two-and-a-quarter hours of bombardment. Little wonder one or two looked absolutely shell-shocked at the end (the four are Olivia Montgomery, Phil Taylor, Jim Donald and Damian Light).

There were around 100-110 in attendance so there was no shortage of questions, sent to Wong in an orderly fashion for feeding out to the candidates. Perhaps they should have been miked up. Each one must have risen to walk to the lectern and back at least 20 times.

And the questions were all to do with your usual chestnuts – bugbears really – in east Auckland – AMETI aka the Eastern Busway Project, the Reeves Road Flyover, ageing and failing stormwater infrastructure, flooding, our beaches, those darned reserves and the awful new Aussie contractors who don’t know how quickly grass grows in NZ. Oh, and buses. The really stupid and ineffectual change to bus time tables earlier this year which has caused chaos, inconvenience overcrowding and brought about a busload of grievance. Surely AT has to act now, the candidates asked.

One of the points laboured by all candidates was a very real need for transparency (we’ve heard it before) and accountability (and this too). “Council needs to take heed of what the community wants,” said Montgomery.

Stockade Hill and the fight to protect the views pressed buttons, as it should. “I find the whole thing very frustrating…it’s an insult to the community,” said Light.

The folks kept coming back to transport. We’re out on a limb. Where is our light rail? Taylor put it succinctly. “I stand for Howick getting a better deal. It feels like we’re a forgotten colonial outpost again.”

And Donald, a current Howick Local Board member, kept returning to the might of ferries, and not just the well-patronised vessels heading out of Half Moon Bay. He reckons we ought very much to reconsider getting a ferry service going from of Howick Beach. “I’m not a great talker – I prefer to do things.”

Wong, quite rightly, paid tribute to these four and their heart for stepping up. “They’re putting themselves out there.”

No smoke and mirrors here. Just good, honest politicking.

  • Voting closes at 12 noon on Thursday September 13 with the winner known on September 14.

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