GREG RAY: The price of freedom

DON’T throw away those Save Our Figs banners and other props from the popular long-running Laman Street reality drama. 

Just add a ‘‘P’’ on the end of the ‘‘SOF’’ and we’ve got perfectly good banners for the exciting proposed sequel: Save Our Free Parking.

Here’s the script: 

Some naive elected councillors want two hours free parking in Newcastle for a period over Christmas to help attract shoppers back to the city.

But the bureaucrats aren’t keen, because the council has long ago stopped using parking fees as a mere means of rationing parking spaces and now depends on the income from meters and fines to prop up the bill for its bloated workforce.

Oh, golly, they warn. Go ahead with your ill-advised free parking scheme and it will cost us $450,000 in lost revenue and another $250,000 in lost fines.

Undeterred, the councillors insist on pushing their point and pass a resolution in favour of the two hours free parking.

Shock, horror.

It turns out that, despite the councillors having yelled from the rooftops  what they expect the free parking resolution to achieve, the salaried staff see some ambiguities in the actual printed wording of the resolution.

And since they can’t be sure precisely what the formal resolution means, they have to assume that it might mean some wildly complicated thing that involves switching off all their meters, spending three weeks bugging around with stickers and losing enough money to put a man into space.

Panic. Chaos. Calls from the great unwashed (that’s us ratepayers) for the foolish councillors who drafted this sloppy resolution to be sacked. 

A rescission motion follows from the lord mayor, a rescission motion that will be debated even though the council has an extraordinary meeting at which the original motion is clarified.

Is it clear enough for the bureaucracy to embrace? Beats me. 

Are those compliance folk on the job in the city after the clarification, ensuring nobody overstays their parking limits? I dunno.

Tune in next week for our new reality show, with all your favourite familiar ingredients: acrimony, recrimination, division and dysfunction.

A former Newcastle City Council employee, Phil McLeod, of Hamilton South, cynically pondered the subject on the Herald’s letters page this week.

Mr McLeod wondered why the bureaucracy hadn’t warned the councillors of ‘‘the ramifications they’ve now come up with’’ before the first free parking resolution was drafted.

It ‘‘could sound to some like retaliation for a resolution they were opposed to from the start’’, he wrote.

I asked one of the backers of the free parking trial, Greens councillor Michael Osborne, whether he thought the council bureaucrats understood what the initial resolution was intended to achieve.

‘‘If they have a grasp of English to year6 level then I’m sure they did,’’ he declared.

‘‘I think they are being recalcitrant. I think they are pretending they don’t understand because they don’t want to implement the resolution.

‘‘I think they want this to fail and they will make chaos occur to make it fail,’’ he predicted.

Now, I’m going to step in at this point and protest.

I’m sure that Newcastle ratepayers won’t accept even the remotest possibility that such antagonistic allegations could contain the slightest skerrick of truth.

Where, indeed, is there a precedent for such a jaundiced view?

These councillors are just going to have to learn to cross their tees a lot more carefully in future, and make sure they word their resolutions with the precision that a professional organisation requires.

In the meantime, anybody know what odds Centrebet is offering on the outcome of this little stoush?

I’m tipping the bureaucrats to win, by a length. 

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