‘Yes’ by de­fault de­ci­sion leads to heated dis­cus­sion

Hamilton News - - Front Page - Tom Rowland

If you failed to tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when asked if you sup­port nine spe­cific coun­cil com­mu­nity pro­jects, your re­sponse is be­ing counted as a ‘yes’ by de­fault.

This has given more than 7000 ‘yes’ votes to the pro­jects in Hamil­ton City Coun­cil’s 10-Year Plan pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion doc­u­ment even though the sub­mit­ters did not tick any boxes.

This led to some heated dis­cus­sion when a coun­cil staff anal­y­sis of the record 2190 sub­mis­sions was pre­sented to coun­cil­lors on Tues­day.

Coun­cil­lors were made aware that if a sub­mit­ter did not vote ‘no’ for a com­mu­nity project such as the Cen­tral City park then their an­swer was con­sid­ered a yes, even if they had not ticked yes.

Only 242 sub­mit­ters ac­tu­ally ticked ‘yes’ to the nine pro­jects listed in the 10-Year Plan.

Coun­cil­lor An­gela O’leary was con­cerned there was no mes­sage in­form­ing peo­ple that fail­ure to tick ei­ther box would be taken as a ‘yes’ vote.

“I don’t think when we went out with this ques­tion that this was im­plicit,” Ms O’leary said.

“To be sta­tis­ti­cally cor­rect and to have some in­tegrity in the ques­tion you can re­ally only add weight to those who ticked yes to all nine pro­jects.”

In the anal­y­sis re­port a bar graph shows how many peo­ple ticked yes or no and an­other sep­a­rate bar shows those whose votes were counted as a ‘yes’ by de­fault (For ex­am­ple, 925 “not ticked im­ply­ing yes” for the Cen­tral City park).

Coun­cil­lor Leo Tooman said it was very dan­ger­ous to as­sume what peo­ple wanted.

“Just be­cause you as­sume some­thing doesn’t mean they have said it. It is very dan­ger­ous,” Mr Tooman said.

City chief ex­ec­u­tive Richard Briggs agreed with O’leary and Tooman and told coun­cil­lors to dis­re­gard the graph.

Ms O’leary in a per­sonal state­ment is­sued af­ter the brief­ing said the over­all anal­y­sis re­port was se­ri­ously flawed.

“The ratepay­ers of Hamil­ton have over­whelm­ingly re­jected the mayor’s bud­get and they have done this by ab­stain­ing from an­swer­ing pre­scribed ques­tions.

“That does not mean that you get to then in­ter­pret the ab­sence of a no for a yes vote,” Ms O’leary said.

“I can tell you that from read­ing sub­mis­sions one by one there is an over­whelm­ing re­jec­tion against the mayor’s Cen­tral City Park as an ex­am­ple, and yet the sta­tis­ti­cal data shows huge sup­port for the project in the ab­sence of ‘no’ votes.”

In the anal­y­sis, cer­tain pro­jects that were not sup­ported by the coun­cil’s draft 10-year plan such as the li­brary net­work plan and the orig­i­nal river plan have more sup­port from the pub­lic than the nine pro­jects listed.

Coun­cil­lors were also in­formed that just un­der 20 per cent of writ­ten sub­mis­sions to the 10-year plan had not been an­a­lysed by coun­cil staff.

They were told that 727 writ­ten sub­mis­sions were in the form of hard copy sub­mis­sion forms and emails or let­ters.

Of th­ese, coun­cil staff had not tried to in­cor­po­rate the 416 emails or let­ters into the sta­tis­ti­cal re­port and have only in­cluded them in the non-an­swered forms.

Coun­cil gen­eral man­ager strat­egy and com­mu­ni­ca­tion Sean Hickey told coun­cil­lors elected mem­bers will be left to in­ter­pret mes­sages that are not 100 per cent clear.

“If some­one has said I think we should do op­tion three, then we have in­cluded that in op­tion three, but if some­one has said I like the idea of op­tion three, then we have not in­ter­preted that into the sta­tis­tics,” Mr Hickey said.

Some coun­cil­lors were con­cerned at that task but Coun­cil­lor Dave Macpher­son said one of the big­gest ar­gu­ments in the past has been staff’s in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the com­ments and that coun­cil­lors were back­ing staff into a no-win situation.

I don’t think when we went out with this ques­tion that this was im­plicit. Coun­cil­lor An­gela O’leary

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