A claim Tauranga City Council’s museum referendum is void because of sitting councillors’ support for a particular local body by-election candidate is being denied.
Councillors Steve Morris and Rick Curach endorsed candidate, now councillor, John Robson for the council seat.
In his submission to the Long Term Plan this week, former mayoral candidate Graeme Purches says the council has no option but to ignore the outcome of the museum referendum.
“I had always thought that councillors in a democracy were supposed to ask constituents what they thought, not to tell them what they should think,” says Graeme.
“In fact my very recent re-reading of the relevant Act for legal reasons, tells me councillors are required by statute to in effect use their eyes and ears before their pen or their mouth, in matters of democracy.
“Because of all that I ask and respectfully suggest the council legally has no option but to ignore the overall referendum result.”
Steve Morris says not only is Graeme wrong according to the Bill of Rights Act that guarantees freedom of speech in New Zealand, he’s wrong according to the Electoral Officer as well.
In a letter to candidates, electoral Officer Warwick Lampp says there is nothing inappropriate about Steve Morris’ pre-election comments.
“I see this type of activity in most by-elections, where another elected member or mayor endorses a candidate, its standard practice,” says the letter provided to SunLive from Steve. “He can say anything he likes about all or any candidates, as can anyone.”
The view that free speech is illegal, particularly in an election of all times, is the antithesis of democracy, says Steve.
“While stopping people from exercising their view might have won some support in 1930s Germany, it doesn’t fit well with modern New Zealand.”
Graeme says the referendum does show the number of people wanting a museum significantly exceeds the combined voters for the two top polling candidates in the by election, and that votes for a museum on Cliff Road far exceeded those for the alternative.
Since the electorate kicked out the $23m museum on a pier in 2011, the focus moved to the Cliff Road site.
The council set up a trust and initially agreed to pay for the geotech studies to determine of the $12-14m building would be built there. This was later withdrawn.
The recommendation to council advised that the operational expenses of the previous Cliff Road proposal wouldn’t be any more than the council was spending on the museum collection’s storage at $450,000 per year.
“In the past two decades tens of millions of dollars of financial, physical, cultural and educational wealth generating opportunity for our region has been flushed down the toilet of a non-existent museum by successive councils,” says Graeme.
“If we act quickly we can stem the tide. Our young people need to be able to properly experience and understand the history and the generations of achievements by forebears in the place in which they live and at the same time develop a growing sense of pride and belonging.
“A museum is not a complete answer to re-inventing Tauranga’s future, but it is a vital and key part of the puzzle.”