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I'm sorry that today's column is a little late but I have spent the morning in the chambers of the South Waikato District Council.
Using the five minutes that is available to members of the public to "have their say" (so long as you don't criticise anyone or speak on subjects more than once), I addressed the issue of the council's (or actually the Mayor's) about-face on the issue of drone flying in our fine town.
I started out by highlighting the strange situation where I could walk a Pit-bull, Bullmastiff or virtually any other type of dog around our parks without the need to advise council of the time/dates when I'd be doing so or obtain a permit. This, despite the fact that there are around 13,000 dog-bites reported in NZ every year and also despite the fact that there have been a number of such attacks here in Tokoroa in recent times which required hospital treatment. Indeed, dogs have killed here in New Zealand and the council itself paid over $100,000 in legal fees to have what it considered a "dangerous dog" put-down.
How can it be therefore that, having gone back on its assurances to the public which were given in the wake of the consultative process associated with the bylaw reform, an 8-year-old child must now get a permit to fly a 25g toy in the park? Remember, recreational multirotor drones have never killed anyone -- in the entire history of the world and I can't find any reported instances of such a craft causing an injury needing hospital treatment anywhere in NZ.
I also confirmed with two of the councilors who were present when the new bylaws were being discussed, that council issued an assurance that people *could* fly their drones and toys in the parks without fear of prosecution. The two councilors clearly stated that this was the case.
I then posed some questions to the Mayor...
Why had she reversed this stated intention of council?
Why had this reversal of position been posted on her Facebook page rather than through more official mechanisms such as the council's website or Facebook pages?
Needless to say, there are only two reasons someone will refuse to answer a question, especially when that person is in a public office:
Suffice to say... they Mayor would not answer these questions... which says it all really.
Despite the very clear confirmation from two of the councilors who were present when assurance was given that the current policy would be set-aside, another councilor (who was in Ireland at the time) accused me of inciting people to break the council's bylaws and -- not having a dog.
It was fun, it was farcical... but most disturbing of all, it was a very clear demonstration that the democratic process has been wildly subverted here in Tokoroa.
When a mayor decides that she can unilaterally reverse the assurances given by her council and then, instead of publishing that change of intention on the council's own web presence, opts to do so on her personal "mayoral" Facebook page -- something is wrong.
When that same mayor refuses to answer a very simple question, you know she's got something to hide.
It's now up to councilors to "duke it out" over this issue.
I really hope that those councilors who gave the original assurances to the community will stand firm and censure the mayor for her arrogance and contempt of the democratic process, however I fear that they will be quashed by the mayor and her little gang of supporters.
At least I hope the community is now able to see that something smells in the state of South Waikato -- although once again I'm sure the mayor will wheel out her own little facebook army to discredit me -- which I guess is all she can hope to do -- since she can't answer the questions I've asked without showing her hand.
Ah... wouldn't it be great to find a place where the council was more mature than the kids you find in the playground of a primary school at lunchtime?
We can but live in hope.
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