Rotorua at war with itself

Phil Campbell

Within a week Rotorua was at peace with the world; by the end it was at war with itself.

 A week of commemorations leading to and including Anzac Day reinforces an unbreakable bond in Rotorua unity.

On Anzac Day, April 25, old timers noted the crowd at the Dawn Service was the biggest yet. So, too, was the attendance at the civic service in the Government Garden’s Sports Drome.

Ushers this year made 900 seats available, compared with 600 last year. Most rows were filled. The seating on high which encircled the large arena was at least half filled. An estimate of 1500 would not have been conservative.

By the weekend, the news again emerged on a local media site (first reported by Rotorua Now as far back as April 4) of the division within the local galvaniser, the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers group.

As reported earlier this month, two of its council aspirants Kevin Coutts and Wilhelmina (Mina) Mohi had withdrawn from the chosen six. Still attached to RDRR, they will operate independently.

Coutts, a former policeman who later took charge of the Rotorua Lakes Council’s dog pound, has kept his reasons personal. Mohi is understood to have succumbed to whanau pressure.

No one’s poodle, Coutts has little truck with autocracy under the guise of democracy. For under RDRR leader academic Reynold Macpherson collegiality is all very fine as long as it is carried out according Reynold.

Mohi was burdened by the weight of recent history. In 2014, the RDRR group adamantly opposed te inclusion of Te Arawa around the council’s main debating chamber. It drew powerful support from prominent locals – notably a sitting councillor Glenys Searancke, former mayor Grahame Hall and Judy Keaney, formerly chair of the influential Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust and wife of late mayor, John Keaney.

Led by mayor Steve Chadwick (and what Macpherson and his acolytes refer to as her bloc) the council pushed through the inclusion of two Maori voices on the council. Ostensibly picked within the confederation of tribes, these two representatives have speaking but not voting rights. To date, nothing suggests their voices go unheeded of that the decision to include them was the wrong one.

Now aligned with RDRR, Mohi has made a strategic retreat, yet retains her allegiance to the RDRR group.

If not as public caustic as I its early years, the group’s followers maintain a constant barrage of condemnatory letters to the local paper.

It, or at least its leader, has cost the community a packet, yet has offered nothing in how it would improve the circumstances of the town’s poor socio-economic status.

Under the patina of his democratic right, Macpherson has not been averse to sullying the reputations of executive council staff.

 No one is immune, including respected long-term elected types and this correspondent, from his tirades and bluster.

If he is questioned you are in Steve Chadwick’s corner or in this case “doing the council’s dirty work for them”.

In one absurd exchange, he challenged the estimate of the attendance count at Chadwick’s mayoral launch. Rotorua Now thought 150; Macpherson, saying I should apologise, said his numbers people counted 70. The official clicks were 120. Viva le difference!

The word is RDRR have zeroed in on two coucillors – Karen Hunt and Charles Sturt. Both strong councillors are seen as Chadwickniks (or Chadniks for want of a better expression). Both polled down here years ago. Hunt is particularly vulnerable, having lost on election night but winning in the final special count.

Hunt headed inner-city projects, in which she eye-balled the public. Removed were the City Focus and sails which adorned he city for many years. A radical redesign has hardly placated the town, nor was the push for a Cycleway now under review.

But few would appreciate the imminent unbearable cost of the sails – they required maintenance or replacing. That and for aesthetic reasons – shopkeepers complained pedestrian obstruction and the not unimportant fact of criminal activity – a redesign seemed necessary.

Not vote winners, certainly, but tough decisions which would have drawn the admiration of Chadwick herself.

As cabinet minister in the Helen Clark government, Chadwick fronted the ‘no smoking’ policy in bars nationally. Chadwick’s popular vote eroded before closing time. In the ensuing years, she could say, an did, “No one is complaining these days.”

And very few bars have closed, challenging the irrational fear of change.

Chadwick also has a new admirer: Rob Kent, the articulate and the one true intellectual councillor, has switched his stance that he would not “work with that woman” to now saying there is no mayoral alternative for Rotorua.

The Chadwick camp says it is her election to lose.

Macpherson will continue to say this correspondence continues to do the bidding for her.


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