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The Dunedin City Council this week, in a behind closed-doors decision, voted against providing a lifeline for the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. Dunedin sports graphics entrepreneur Sir Ian Taylor calls for transparency in council decision-making.
At what stage do we start holding councillors accountable for the decisions they make behind closed doors?
The recent New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame decision has highlighted just how easy it is to move meetings behind closed doors with the result that there is no oversight of how decisions are reached, what material councillors were provided by staff to reach those decision or what dissenting views were presented.
The decision not to support a bid to retain the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame is a case in point. It was decided on the casting vote of the mayor - so it was basically the mayor who decided this was not something that needed further consultation. A vote of one! We, as ratepayers, are locked out of the discussions that lead to this, the most marginal of calls.
There are many questions that arise from this process, not the least of which was the quality of the advice that was in the report given to the councillors. I have read that report and, if that was all I had to vote on, I too, would probably have voted no. Thankfully, at least half the council looked past this deficient document and saw what could be.
The report was deficient in so many ways. In particular, it imagined the museum largely in its current form. Basically - a museum.
What it did not take into account was how this asset could be converted into a self-sustaining, nationally funded, tourist attraction that celebrated the entire country’s incredible contribution to the world of sport. Nor did it give an insight into the new technologies that are available to attract new, young audiences to the story of a country that has always punched above its weight in the world of sport. We have all the tools at our hands to bring that story to life.
But even more concerning than the process, was a series of unsolicited text messages I received from David Benson-Pope the day after my views were aired in the Otago Daily Times. The first text included this: “ I would encourage you to stay with the facts and cease your uninformed and unfair personal attacks on the mayor.”
I would not normally share such texts but in the light of a comment that has been shared with me from the closed meeting I have chosen to do so. Allegedly, at that meeting where the decision was taken not to support the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, a councillor said this in reference to my initial vision of how we could make this a world-class institute that the whole country could be proud of:
“Ian Taylor has always promised but never delivered.”
Apparently, this was not the only disparaging remark that was made about my non-contribution to the city. I have had the comments confirmed by at least two separate sources at the meeting, but we could sort this very quickly if either Cr Benson-Pope, or the mayor, could assure me no such comments were made.
Alternatively, I understand the entire meeting was recorded, so an independent arbiter could be provided with that recording to confirm if this was indeed the spirit within which this closed-door debate was conducted.
The independent arbiter may also be able to confirm other remarks that were made in the meeting, including this rather mind-boggling statement from someone who claimed that “telling the story of Jack Lovelock at the Berlin Olympics would be inappropriate because Hitler was there”. Really? This is the level of debate that went on?
My understanding is that we had a chance to respond to an expression of interest for the national hall of fame but, for whatever reason, the council did not pursue this option with many of us who would have been happy to contribute to the bid. The generous $500,000 gift that was bequeathed to us by Sir Eion Edgar, together with the $200,000 additional funding provided by Forsyth Barr, gave us a significant head start over the other venues bidding for this honour. Then there is the selfless work done by Ron Palenski who has brought together a priceless record of our sporting history. We would consider it an honour to bring that collection to life.
This national sports hall of fame was/is ours to lose. Let’s hope that this council, with its behind the doors machinations, has not made that loss a fait accompli.