Groundhog Day in Wanganui…Again

It’s Groundhog Day all over again in Wanganui.

I love living here but it pains me to see repeating patterns that make situations worse because of council’s refusal to accept anything other than the chosen narrative regardless of facts to the contrary. Perception management appears to be at the top of the agenda, yet the refusal to accept factual information or expert opinions from anyone who does not parrot the current narrative actually reinforces the perception that Whanganui is parochial and full of, to quote Chester Borrows, “whingers and grizzlers.”

I do not believe this to be true, but that certainly was the message broadcast to the nation on Thursday, 23rd July.

When I picked up my paper that morning and read the headline, I cringed. I was afraid for what the afternoon would bring. It turned out to be worse than I feared.

The essence of Borrows’ terms were broadcast to the nation by Duncan Garner as he shared with his Radio Live Drive audience the Chronicle’s front page article and councilor Ray Stevens’ suggestion of retaliation.

I was cringing all over again as I listened, so my apologies for not getting the exact quotes. But in a nutshell this is what Duncan said:

“We have been all over the country on our tour of the regions documenting the decline of CBDs and Wanganui is the only place to complain about it. I think Wanganui needs to get over itself.”

As for Stevens and his idea of retaliation, he simply said, “You need to grow up, mate.”

Duncan reminded listeners that two days earlier he had reported a fact: that there were 35 empty shops in Victoria Avenue. He commented that he is a journalist and part of the job includes reporting facts. Any potential “negative” image of our city that this projected was made far worse by the reaction to it.

As Kate Stewart pointed out last Saturday, the response from council staff and some local residents runs the risk of “alienating ourselves from those whose help we need most.”

“Surely we can’t be that immature and naïve.”

I hope not, but history has a stubborn way of repeating itself as we’ve seen most memorably with economist Shamubeel Eaqub, whose expert advice appears to have been rejected by council, and whose name is uttered with scorn and disapproval. Duncan is the new Shamubeel. It’s Groundhog Day all over again.

We all love reading Kate Stewart because she calls it like she sees it: “Relocating from one local site to another is not growth, it’s just movement, despite the positive spin that many have deluded themselves into believing.”

When councilors demand retaliation, it makes it seem like we don’t have the ability to self-reflect. When councilors claim to be “working proactively to sort the situation,” it make it seem like we don’t have dictionaries. After 35 shops (more like 50 as we’ve been told) it’s not being proactive, it’s being reactive. Claiming it’s proactive is simply untrue, and easy for commentators like Duncan Garner or Kim Hill to pick apart in front of a national audience.

The best example of being proactive in Whanganui over the last two years has been the community’s resistance to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Being proactive requires action before something happens, not afterward.

Among Kate Stewart’s observations last weekend were that outsiders tend to experience a backlash while locals who make the same observations are simply ignored. It would appear that snubbing is the preferred method of addressing community members who submit alternative narratives or innovative ideas. But just like overreaction to outsiders’ observations sets us back as a community, so does snubbing.

Although I find it humorous, I also find it incredibly sad. I can just imagine the lengths that council spin doctors (and our local MP) went to in order to paint Duncan Garner’s entire visit to our city with a negative brush, when in fact there was a very positive story about some joker’s warm, dry home in Castlecliff with a $27 power bill. Across the country, the segment was extremely well-received, and a short video posted on Duncan’s website and Facebook Page has the most “Likes” and “Shares” by a wide margin of any other post from his two-week tour of the regions.

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If you are a regular listener to Radio Live Drive you will know that Duncan: 1) welcomes all points of view on his programme; 2) always gives people credit for fronting even if he disagrees with them; 3) has no tolerance for spin; 4) supports the regions; 5) always ends an interview with, “Thanks for your time. I appreciate you coming on the programme.”

For these things alone I reckon he deserves respect.

Peace, Estwing