Grumpy, white, old men, or critics?

8:25 am on 1 September 2021

Masterton's deputy mayor has slammed criticism of the proposed $30 million civic centre, labelling detractors as a group of "grumpy, old, white men".

An artist impression of Masterton's civic centre.

An artist impression of Masterton's civic centre. Photo: LDR / Warren and Mahoney

And he stands by his remarks, which have since have been met with disapproval from ratepayers.

In a letter to the Wairarapa Times-Age, Masterton Action Group [MAG] co-chair Graham Dick criticised the look of the civic centre artist impressions, labelling the concept a "swept-up woodshed".

The impressions were done earlier this year but were included in a request for tender last week.

"I know Masterton has a long history of the Golden Shears, but this leaves me shaking my head in disbelief," Dick said.

Deputy Mayor Graham McClymont, who chairs the civic centre working group, said a nod to the district's shared European Māori history and the sheep and wool industry was a good starting point for the civic facility designs.

"The part I suspect you will really hate was that aspects of Marae and Wharenui were discussed as equally important," McClymont said, referring to Dick's letter.

"To be honest, this is hard work getting bashed by the same group of grumpy, old, white men."

He said Masterton needed a civic centre with a space of about 4200m2 to bring its facilities into one hub.

"We currently have to pay insurance on a large unusable building [the Masterton Town Hall], pay commercial rent in Queen St [the council offices], operate a library that is only 60 per cent recommended size, and our archives are in storage."

The civic facility project has been surrounded by heightened controversy in recent months.

Masterton District Council [MDC] chief executive Kath Ross resigned last week.

In June, she was caught tearing down the poster for the Hands Around the Town Hall protest, where more than 1000 people took a stand against the proposed civic centre.

Following the protest, funding for the project was signed off by councillors as part of the long-term plan by a slim majority [6-5].

Its location is still not known.

The council is also yet to decide what will become of the existing town hall which is earthquake-prone.

"If there is a silent majority out there that wants to see Masterton progress, keep growing, and provide good civic facilities it's probably time to speak up," McClymont said.

Retired businessman Russell Carthew said there seemed to be "an orchestrated campaign" against the proposed civic centre and its supporters.

"It is good to have healthy informed debate on major projects such as this, but unfortunately it has become completely unbalanced.

"I am sure there are many like myself, supporters of a new purpose-built civic centre who have been a bit nervous about airing their views."

However, there has been plenty of criticism of McClymont's response to Dick.

One resident called it an "appalling personal attack".

Another accused him of pulling the "race card on Graham Dick for merely describing the published design concept as a woolshed".

Hewitt Harrison, co-chair of MAG, said McClymont's response to Dick was "an appalling breach of the council's stated values".

He said the group objected to McClymont implying that Dick's criticism of the proposed civic facility had a racial bias.

"Neither Graham [Dick] nor MAG have ever objected to having Māori or multi-cultural history and culture acknowledged in a new civic centre.

"To suggest that he or we think otherwise is unjustified, dishonest, and unbecoming of a deputy mayor.

"Further, MAG is not a "group of grumpy old white men" - a racist slur from the deputy mayor.

"[This statement is] not just racist but entirely inaccurate as we have a wide range of ages represented, as well as women, in the group.

"The deputy mayor needs to be held accountable. Will the council take any action?"

MAG is currently collecting signatures on a petition to halt progress on the civic facility.

"To date, the Masterton community is being asked to support something that has no known site, no known design, and no known cost - the $30 million cost specified in the Long Term Plan is essentially a stab in the dark," Harrison said.

Fellow councillor Gary Caffell said he understood McClymont's frustrations over the civic facility uproar, "but for very different reasons".

"Graham McClymont seems to think the many letters to the editor and the massive response to posts on social media, which are anti the proposals, are mainly the work of a small group of "grumpy white men" and do not represent the views of the "silent majority".

"My view is exactly the opposite.

"I believe they are an excellent indicator of what the vast majority of our ratepayers think, and I find it difficult to fathom how we can proceed with plans which have been subject to complaints to the Ombudsman and Auditor General, led to more than a thousand people attending a Hands Around the Town Hall protest, largely instigated the establishment of a ratepayers association, and led to a petition which I understand has attracted many hundreds of signatures.

"Hell's bells - if the "silent majority" is bigger than all that lot, then they are obviously hiding behind a massive-sized bush!"

Caffell said he had faith in the recently-elected civic centre working group which would soon have its first meeting.

"It would be nice to think the first item on their agenda will focus on how the mistakes of the past, which are mainly in the area of communication, can be overcome and whether it would be prudent to put at least a temporary halt to the whole project while further public input is sought."

Yesterday, McClymont said he was "actually getting a lot of support and no one has rang with any better ideas".

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