Has video killed the councillor star?

Phil Campbell

An early morning email sent to a Rotorua Lakes councillor triggered a week of intrigue in Rotorua local body politics.

An email from Rotorua mayoral candidate Reynold Macpherson to a former ally Rob Kent, a sitting councillor, was apparently the reason a live video of a full council meeting was removed.

The dangers of live streaming have become evident. Just as inherent dangers exist when newspapers publish mug shots of a town’s ‘most wanted’. What one or two had not committed a crime?

Rotorua Now did not report Kent’s alleged remarks which involved an allegation impossible to prove, but a recording of the meeting remained on the RLC website for several hours before it was removed. A week on, it had not been returned.

Has caution been exercised on what is now thought a calumny? It seems certain the council acted on advice to remove the offending video for editing, if not for later reposting.

The opinion involved a message posted on RDRR highly critical of Kent to which an indignant Kent felt compelled to respond. While councillors have retained silent counsel over RDRR criticisms, it appears at some point Kent had enough.

The Tania Tapsell ‘pied piper’ allegory was the limit for the collegial section of the council. It sought legal advice, drawing national scorn and the application of a media blowtorch on councillor Tania Tapsell.

Though 26 and in her second term, Tapsell clearly has a future in politics beyond local level. The attention to her by the stately looking Macpherson who wields a pen as if a claymore is a high compliment.

Why has he picked on the youngest and one of the brightest councillors? It started in 2014 when, during the Te Arawa hearings, the allocation of two seats for Maori voices (but not voting rights) on the RLC, Tapsell was signalled out for referring to “my people”.

She was ridiculed in letters to the newspapers that she had referred to “my whanau”. She did not, and I still have the tape of the hearing to confirm it.

Yet it seemed to suit the purposes of the group Macpherson led (it operated under another title then and has since been rebranded) to belittle Tapsell, as if she was to the fore of, gulp, a Maori takeover of the council, since it was argued Maori could if they wished stand for the council at large.

In the early 2000s, a former Rotorua mayor John Keaney won national media intrigue when, as chairman of Environment Bay of Plenty, he led a push for Maori seats on the authority.

He noted Maori were major landowners and farmers in the wider Bay of Plenty. Yet, they were barely represented. He said they needed a voice, noting also Maori were reticent in putting up their hand for elected office. Hence, provision for Maori was made in each of the constituencies – Rotorua, Tauranga, Whakatane and Opotiki.

In Rotorua at local council level, Maori have been elected at large – the late Maureen Waaka, Trevor Maxwell, Bob Martin, Charles Te Kowhai and Mita Mohi are examples over the last 20 years.

Otherwise, a satellite Maori group was set up. The group met regularly in a council committee room but soon realised it barely had hen’s teeth. Frustration became public in Kevin Winters’ time as mayor, with open rebellion by the emerging Maori intelligentsia.

Rather then keep Maori outside the tent, the council under Steve Chadwick and the (slim) majority of councillors who supported her, embraced them around the table.

Since the Te Arawa Hearings – in which support for the move came from notable citizens – Maori now have voices around the table. Their points gain a respectful hearing; even if they’re not given the vote their opinions are public record.

Tania Tapsell could easily have qualified for this group. But she entered a brave new world of capturing votes at large, securing a lifetime of popularity. She is young and smart (and now coated in treble thicknesses of skin against RDRR’s cold comfort rhetoric). To her credit, she was pilloried. One to chalk up.

In fairness, RDRR has at times been a useful monitor of botched council projects. The Mudtopia festival was total disaster; the decision to restructure the public baths in Kuirau Park was a PR mess; the inner-city Cyway forced a rethink. The decision to proceed with the $40 million Lakefront development is one remaining yoke. Not everything the council has undertaken, however, has turned to failure.

In training on individuals, like Rob Kent and Tania Tapsell, RDRR chisel ploughs a bog.

In time it may turn its attentions to others of Chadwick’s bloc, as Macpherson likes to call it.

Rotorua citizens should look forward to scrutiny of other councillors, such as his mouthpiece Peter Bentley, joined at the lip, and supporter Raj Kumar.

RDRR has also fired verbal cannon balls – it has referred to the council as a ‘tyranny’, a ‘corrupt practice’ and a ‘regime’ (it retained the latter term).

In firing these adjectives to create odium, it overlooks the point that, having unloaded such opprobrium, it has little left in its lexicon of invective – that little they can say henceforth can damage further the council or elected officials RDRR would like to replace.

What can be more debasing than the terms ‘tyranny’, ‘corrupt practice’ and ‘regime’?


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