South Wairarapa District Mayor Viv Napier speaking at Saturday’s public meeting at Featherston’s ANZAC Hall. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Mayor, councillors promise to heal relations with Featherston

EMILY IRELAND
emily.ireland@age.co.nz

South Wairarapa District Council has made a public apology to Featherston people over a long-fractured relationship with the town.

Present at Saturday’s public meeting at Anzac Hall, which attracted about 250 residents of the town, were Mayor Viv Napier and five of the eight district councillors.

The unplanned apology seemed the only way forward in healing the relationship between Featherston and the council after what some residents have dubbed a communication breakdown since 1987.

The main focus of the public meeting was the council’s lack of transparency and its “cock-up” with the town centre development and land swap which had left the town with a practically unusable block of land on the main street.

Some residents even heckled council chief executive Paul Crimp over the matter, shouting, “You’re a joke. Resign. Resign.”

With close conflict mediation from former Kapiti mayor Jenny Rowan, who told the audience to “settle down team” on occasion, Featherston residents were able to voice their concerns to their elected members, and “draw a line in the sand”.

About two hours into the meeting, after a break, Mrs Napier took centre stage to publicly apologise to the Featherston community.

“I respect and trust the Featherston community and I always have.

“So, with that, I also would like to apologise to the Featherston community for anything that has gone on in the past up until this time that has not been how you want to see it happen.

“From now on, I and all of the councillors here and the members of the Community Board will work together with this community to make sure we get to a place where you want to go.”

Lee Carter – the only representative from Featherston on council at the meeting – also offered her apologies to the town’s community.

“I made decisions through this whole process that I’m not proud of, but I am absolutely happy to stand here and own it.

“I absolutely apologise to you for what I did know, for what I didn’t know, and what I could have done but didn’t bloody well do.

“There are some good people at this table. I want to work with them, I want to work with you.

“We cannot keep going on like this. It’s destructive, and it’s taken six years out of my life.

“I want a process, transparency, and I want bloody better communication. We will earn your trust back.”

After loud applause from the crowd, mediator Ms Rowan turned to the remaining councillors on the stage and said, “You all need to probably say something”.

And each did, including Mr Crimp who admitted the council had imposed plans on the community and had “misread situations”.

Mr Crimp did not make an apology in line with the councillors, but because he was not an elected member, Ms Rowan said, he was not obliged to.

“Paul actually doesn’t have to be here, but he is here . . . which signals to you that he and the mayor have a good relationship – that is critical for you”, she said.

“Apologising in a public meeting politically is a big deal.

“It is not done lightly. They have to do it in a way that you do get some sense of sincerity out of it, and that will change how you might go into the next phase of this discussion.

“If you think they haven’t done that, give them a chance.

“If you are not happy in two years’ time, then tick different boxes.”

The first steps going forward after the public apology was to redirect power to the Featherston Community Board and community improvement group, Fab Feathy.

Ms Rowan said the Featherston community needed to write out their bullet points of what their vision for the town was, and the community board, with Fab Feathy would convey this message to the council.

Specifically, for the land fiasco issue, Ms Rowan advised the council to hire a contracted independent planner to create a vision for the land that the community was happy with.

The next community board meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 5, in the Kiwi Hall.