Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo exits the Forum North’s 41-year-old council chamber for the last time. Photo / Michael Cunningham
More than four decades of Whangārei local government history has come to an end with the final council meeting in the city’s Forum North council chamber.
Eighteen councils, eight mayors, hundreds of members of the public, more than 5000 meetings and tens of thousands of decisions: these are the statistics of democracy as the council chamber reached the end of its time on Thursday as the symbolic bastion of local democracy for Whangārei.
The first meeting was held in the Forum North council chamber in 1982.
The Whangārei District Council’s (WDC) next governance meeting will be a council briefing at its new civic centre, the Te Iwitahi council chambers in Rust Avenue, on Wednesday.
Kensington’s controversial Northland rescue helicopter base was the focus of the final public council decision in the chamber, with councillors approving its council lease extension after the operation’s current decade-long lease expires on July 31.
Deputy Mayor Phil Halse said the chamber had played a key role in local democracy.
It had been a place of much debate, which was an important feature of democracy.
Halse said that was as it should always be. The council chamber was in fact the debating chamber, a mark of strong democracy.
Halse, who has been debating in the Forum North council chamber for 31 years, said he did not like the thought of such a place ever being simply a place for rubber stamping.
“There are a lot more meetings now than we used to have,” Halse said.
He spoke at a very low-key marking of the end of an era for the council chambers that came at the finish of the June 22 public meeting.
Halse said one big change over his time was the increased security needed to keep those carrying out council operations and governance safe.
New WDC councillor Phoenix Ruka said the closing karakia in the chambers.
He said Halse had been a councillor almost as long as he had been alive.
Ruka was a toddler when Halse became a councillor in 1992.
He said he had never dreamed, as a youngster running around on William Jones Dr in Whangārei’s Ōtangarei, that he would one day be a councillor.
It had been a privilege to be in the council chambers on behalf of the hapū of Whangārei and convey that back to the community, Ruka said.
WDC chief executive Simon Weston has been working in the council chambers since 1996.
He said the decisions made in the chamber had helped shape the district and the city.
“It’s sad to see the back of this chamber, but the new council chamber will fit the district just as well as this chamber has,” Weston said.
■ Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air