Small minds in small communities
Mark Dinniss (courtesy Local Matters)
[Updated sections are in brackets.]
I’ve learned from 25 years of politics that there are two things that lead to downfalls: hypocrisy and arrogance. Instead of dedicating a lot of time to prove someone’s unworthiness of their office, often people become so brazen that they cause their own demise.
Let’s beat to the chase.
In December last year, the Auckland Council Governing Body (the mayors and councillors) met to consider a Notice of Motion. To my surprise, Mayor Phil Goff mentioned that he received a submission from the Snells Beach Residents and Ratepayers Association (SBRRA) opposing the motion, which was news to me.
I sent an email to Phil Goff and asked for a copy of the submission under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA). The request was sent around the council and I was told that the Official Information department needed more time to process the 31 emails and 12 reports, memos, briefings and minutes that came under the scope of my request.
Strangely, before the requested information was released to me, it was first circulated to all the members of the Governing Body. Several councillors rang me to ask why they received the information as it was “unprecedented” that they would receive such information.
When I received the information, I could see why the information was circulated. Besides the one emailed submission from the SBRRA, there was a plethora of damning subterfuge emails from members of the Rodney Local Board undermining Rodney’s councillor, Greg Sayers.
Needless to say, I lodged a complaint about the members of the Rodney Local Board for alleged breaches of the council’s Code of Conduct. I await their result by the end of this week. I am not holding my breath.
But what is most concerning is the conduct of the SBRRA. The chair, Mark Dinniss, wrote the submission in an email to Greg Sayers and carbon-copied to Phil Goff and his official. Here is the email:
it came to our attention earlier this week that there has been a request to look into altering the nature and lines of the RLB ward boundaries.
The Snells Beach Ratepayers and Residents Assoc committee met and discussed the concept at our meeting yesterday.
We were unanimous in our conclusion that the present ward structure and lines is satisfactory and the proposed change floated, as described in Mahurangi Matters, would be both unnecessary and undesirable.
We strongly request that the status quo be retained.
Snells Beach Ratepayers and Residents Assoc.
The next meeting of the SBRRA was on 6 April 2021. Here is the minute relating to correspondence:
Correspondence: In/Out RLB 10yr plan, Safeswim correspondence, Hill Street proposals and response, Dawson Road correspondence, Bird roosting correspondence, Questions for Dr Carbines, Restore Mahurangi East document, Mahurangi East Land Restoration Community Day. Greg Sayers
Nowhere in the minutes is any mention of the submission. While there are descriptions of correspondence by topic, there is only a mention of “Greg Sayers.”
The SBRRA Committee effectively took it upon themselves to oppose a local councillor and then not tell its members. At the meeting – attended by Greg Sayers – no mention was made of the submission either.
No other community organisation sent a submission or correspondence relating to the notice of motion. Beth Houlbrooke, however, carbon copied her submission to One Mahurangi chair, Chris Murphy. What motivated Mark Dinniss to act in the way that he did?
I smelt a rat. So, I set a trap.
Sadly, the organisation is dominated by beachfront homeowners and a clique centred around Sunburst Avenue. These residents have opposed dogs, motorhomes, kite surfers, and the erection of a picnic shelter by a boating club. These curtain twitchers have lodged so many complaints that the beachfront reserve carpark is littered with signs.
I’m not joking. There are fourteen signs bordering this carpark.
Whenever this group meets for social gatherings, they look for the next thing to ban. One former committee member said that the beachfront homeowners were so obsessed with maintaining their uninterrupted view that "regular long executive meetings ranged from passive nimbyism to aggressive nimbyism."
[Since publishing this article, I received several confidential disclosures from former committee members. Two said the covering of the basketball court with astroturf was because one committee member couldn't stand the sound of people having fun and especially wanted to discourage brown people from congregating near their house. The opposition to the sheltered barbeque area had racial overtones of not wanting brown people to "cook up a feed after taking what isn't theirs from 'our' doorstep." The person described the conversations as "a cringe fest."]
[Another committee member described some committee members as "unable to grasp anything beyond their self-interest." Complaining about the number of motorhomes who used the reserve carpark, they said words to the effect "I paid over a million for my sea view. These motorhomes get theirs for free."]
[The carpark used to give as many as twenty motorhomes a parking space with a sea view. With the new parking configuration, only one can have a view as any of the four additional allowed motorhomes' view is blocked by the others.]
[Such a parking configuration is less appealing than other carparks along the waterfront. As a result, the lack of passive surveillance that the motorhomes provides invites anti-social behaviour.]
Due to the motorhome carpark configuration, it is less desirable and the less-utilised space invites anti-social behaviour, such as burnouts.
[This attitude is mirrored by the comments in an article where residents opposed a shelter on the reserve:
“You hear music, you hear laughter. Then there’s an argument. First two people arguing, then four people arguing. Then there’s a fight and glass getting broken. Then there are cars screeching off up the street,” he said.
Another objector complained the shelter would be an eyesore designed for an Australian bush setting, not a beach setting surrounded by multi-million dollar homes.
Objectors were further dismayed after approaching an 18-year-old woman who declined to join the protest against the shelter. She said: “We love gazebos, make sure it has ashtrays.” ]
[Another committee member described the culture of the committee as "a fiefdom for sure."]
The latest ‘pet project’ is rolling bans of dogs from the beach to “protect wildlife.” There is no evidence to support it. There have been no reported attacks by dogs of protected wildlife. The only attacks on wildlife over the past five years have been by cats.
Yet, these bored Boomers actively encourages local “bird lovers” who get closer to the endangered species than any dog or dogowner.
The godwits frequent the northern end of the beach. Despite this, when a public toilet was to be replaced at the southern end, a godwit-themed mural was attached with a caption littered in typos and grammatical errors. Even the topic – shorebirds – was spelt two different ways.
A twelve-year-old could have written a better caption to this mural.
Anyway, getting back to the trap.
The rat trap
On May 3 was the SBRRA Annual General Meeting. Mark Dinniss was stepping down as chair. So, I thought I would run for a committee position to see how corrupted the organisation had become.
I was not disappointed.
Prior to the meeting, I asked a small group to attend the meeting. One of the group told one of the Sunburst Avenue clique to let them know of my plans.
I also let it be known that I was interested in getting a particular stalled beach reserve project moving again.
So far, so good.
At the AGM, everyone sat in their places. And then we watched the show.
Mark Dinniss nominated the new chairman, who was appointed unopposed. The secretary was appointed unopposed. The new treasurer was appointed unopposed.
[Prior to the AGM, Mark Dinniss tried to "shoulder tap" particular people to fill positions. One person declined as they didn't want their "strings pulled".]
Then came the four vacant committee positions. One name (who was already on the committee) was put forward. Then a second. Then, after a pause, a third name was nominated and seconded. Then, after a considerable pause, a friend suggested that I be nominated.
Mark Dinniss stood up and asked whether I was a member. I confirmed that I had been a member for seven years as my household had been a member for 15 years.
Dinniss then questioned my motives for running as he said that I “had been actively working against the association for years.” The way he spoke came across as very rehearsed.
Mark Dinniss was completely out of order and he was trying to poison the ballot. He was no longer the chair, yet sat at the head table, and no other candidate was challenged in this way.
Obviously, I was shocked. Considering all the things I have seen in politics, I didn’t anticipate such a brazenly corrupt attempt to undermine a democratic process.
To maintain a degree of decorum, I didn’t challenge such a slanderous attack. Instead, I explained that I was active in many successful community initiatives (Fix Hill Street Now, the Matakana War Memorial, and ProtectRockPoolSeaLife to name a few) and could make a positive contribution.
Already, however, the damage was done.
Then, out of nowhere, someone was nominated who wasn’t present. No written nomination was received. The husband, who was present, didn't nominate his wife. The nomination was promptly seconded by one of Mark Dinniss’ mates.
Mark Dinniss then asked whether a secret ballot should be called for. Voting papers were handed out, collected, and a JP counted the votes outside in the corridor.
While the candidates stood at the front of the room in silence, Mark Dinniss then explained that the absent nominee “had been committee member”, “was an active member of the community”, and “could make a real contribution.”
Mark Dinniss (who no longer held any position) went outside to ‘help.’ I sat in the back row and we all saw Mark Dinniss ‘double checking’ the votes. We couldn’t believe it.
Then the votes came in. I came in last with six votes – missing out by two votes.
Before the end of the meeting, the stalled project, which was not on the meeting agenda, was mentioned by Mark Dinniss. The project, according to the Committee, was stalled due to the withdrawal of several 'sponsors.' I checked. This is not true. The stalling is purely the Committee's self interest.
After the meeting, to my surprise more than six people approached me to say that they voted for me. The secretary apologised for how long it took to count the votes. Mark Dinniss walked past me later with a smug grin.
Several people who attended the AGM approached me to express their disgust at how Mark Dinniss conducted himself. They said that Mark and his cronies are just "protecting their patch" or "feathering their nest."
When people asked me what I thought of it all, I just said that I suggested to a friend to nominate me as I wanted to see the lengths that Mark Dinniss and his cronies would go. Afterall, I donate my time, skills, and money to more worthwhile community projects.
[Someone has since suggested that it was best for the committee that I was "in the tent" rather than out. Based on the horror stories I have received, I dodged a bullet.]
The biggest loser from the way the SBRRA conducts itself is the community. When a small group of people claiming to represent a largely apathetic or discouraged population behave so dishonorably, officials don't take them seriously. This is demonstrated by the disproportionately low level of attention the area receives from council funding and infrastructure organisations.
Receiving so little attention, the small minds in the small community bicker amongst themselves, spitefully deteriorating each others' way of life.
I look forward to the AGM’s minutes. It will be interesting to see whether the secretary records Mark Dinniss’ conduct accurately as, no doubt, if they don’t they will be challenged at the next meeting.
I could have challenged Mark Dinniss about his track record. I stand by mine and you can read evidence of it here on this website. That doesn't require an official information request.