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5 April 2018

The French have a saying: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

That would seem to be very true around these parts, at least when dealing with the council and in particular, the Mayor of this council.

Back in December of last year, the South Waikato District Council reviewed several of its key bylaws, including The Public Places Bylaw, a piece of legislation that included the thorny issue of whether people should be allowed to fly drones in the town's parks.

The standing bylaw didn't ban drones as such but the revised bylaw, drafted by council staff (who have a very low opinion of me because I keep bringing facts into the argument and challenging their actions and efficiencies) introduced the word "drone" and enacted a ban.

When I complained about this, the Mayor (Ms Jenny Shattock) said that the draft bylaw was open to public submission and that the council would listen to all submissions before making a decision.

So I set about encouraging locals to make submissions on this issue.

As a result of my efforts, over 20 people submitted (a huge number by local standards) and those submissions were overwhelmingly in favour of allowing people to fly their drones in the parks.

The draft bylaw was amended so that control of drone-flying would no longer be hardwired into this immutable document which is only updated every five years or so, and instead controlled by a policy which could be updated as/when required.

The only problem with this is that the policy in effect at the time also effectively banned drone flying. When this was bought to the attention of councilors, they agreed and gave an assurance that nobody would be prosecuted under this existing policy until such time as a new policy was created and approved by council.

So the people and children of Tokoroa were finally free to fly their drones and toys in the towns parks... and many of them have been doing exactly that for the almost five months since that assurance was given.

To the best of my knowledge, there have been no incidents or complaints as a result of people enjoying the parks they pay for with their drones and toys (and I'm sure the council executive would have been quick to advise me if there were problems).

Now a couple of weeks ago I noticed a couple of very important issues appear in the agenda of a council meeting that was held last Thursday. As is my right (indeed, my responsibility as a member of a free and democratic society), I reported those issues to the public and, as I suspected, there was huge public concern.

This clearly pissed off the Mayor who wasn't even aware that some of this information was in the public domain by way of the published agenda for the upcoming meeting.

How coincidental it was therefore, that just days after this, she published a statement on her Mayoral Facebook page that reads:

"There has been some confusion as to the current Drone Policy that council has in place.

The current drone policy does not permit drone flying in Strathmore Park or at Lake Moananui. Drone operators need to obtain Council permission before flying in these areas.

Council will take action for deliberate flouting of these rules.

I checked with other councilors and it appears that this decree from on high has been made without any consultation with them and completely contradicts the assurances given by them.

What the hell is going on here?

At the time, the Mayor agreed that residents and their kids should be allowed to use the parks to fly their toys and drones. She even prided herself on the way that her council had listened to the submissions and acted on them.

Now, seemingly because she's pissed at me for publicising some of the less popular things that her council is doing, she's decided to exact a little retribution by unilaterally revoking this general permission.

That's the only reason I can think of for this 180-degree about-face. After all, the past five months has proven that my claims in respect to the safety of drones and the responsibility of their users have been irrefutably proven to be true so there can be no other reason for reversing this permission.

In taking this action, she has effectively thumbed her nose at all those people who made submissions and at the entire democratic process itself.

So here's my course of action...

I am going to engage in an act of "deliberate flouting of these rules" which means that if the Mayor is being honest, I will be prosecuted by the SWDC.

The matter will go to court and I will subpoena the councilors who were present when it was decided that people would not be prosecuted under the existing policy and when that assurance was given. Since one of these councilors is a respected lawyer, I do not believe they will risk a charge of perjury by lying and this will then call into question the honesty and integrity of the Mayor -- who also agreed to this arrangement.

I'm sure the media will have a field-day and the Mayor is now on a hiding to nothing.

If the council does not prosecute me then she has obviously lied in the statement on her Mayoral Facebook page when she says that they will.

If they do prosecute then the Mayor's attempts to unilaterally revoke a permission given by councilors will be scrutinised for motive and legality.

What's just as important right now is that we must all be wondering how many other times has an elected official decided to misuse their power to extract retribution simply because someone has rolled out a few inconvenient facts and embarrassed them?

The absolutely ridiculous thing about this is that I have offered to work with the Mayor and her council regularly throughout the entire 15 years I've lived in this town and my offers have repeatedly been turned down.

Ah well, I think we have a few interesting months ahead!

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