"It's an illusion, then?" asked Cr Rick Curach on the fourth day of a Monday to Thursday paper war and interminable talkfest to dispose of the first stage of a three-year review of the city's official ten-year plan.
He was at the time seriously questioning a slight of hand 'economic strategy' outlined by Chief Executive Stephen Town. Nevertheless, his words neatly summed up my own feelings about this extremely expensive exercise, which required the production and distribution of reams of spreadsheets and the ongoing presence of highly paid top management and a back-up crew of about 20 or so support staff to explain what all those figures were intending to convey.
Incidentally, the CEO's slight of hand strategy called for much of the expected 'growth budget' to be moved out beyond the three-year band in a back to the future kind of gambit. I hesitate to blow the gaff on the idea as it just might achieve its stated objective of taking a load off cheque-writing ratepayers - I'll come back to it in a year or two if it doesn't work out!
I should, at this rather late stage in my life, mention that the idea of thinking ahead ten years, let alone trying to plan for it, provides a distinct fog of uselessness. In fact, for the greater part of my adult life I've managed to avoid altogether thinking that far ahead. I have therefore constantly remained happily unaware of what the future may hold. I realise that many (unhappy?) people consider this a reckless attitude.
But that doesn't stop me emphatically declaring that what councillors achieved over the four-days of crystal-ball-gazing at literally thousands of tiny figures on outsized spreadsheets is just as useless. But government decrees councils must do this. That is, create a new ten-year plan every three years. This alone must keep at least a hundred of the five hundred and fifty City Hall staffers in permanent work.
On Thursday afternoon Mayor Stuart Crosby brought the session to a close by successfully proposing that City Hall base its ten-year financial predictions on the basis of a one percent growth for the next three years. This was the only decision made during the entire review process.
I couldn't quite see why they couldn't have come to the same conclusion on the morning of the very first day. Still, I suppose the Cr David Stewart invented 111 prediction - one percent growth over the next three years - is as good a guess as anyone else's. At least it gave all the other councillors something to agree about, and therefore something to give them a feeling of achievement, a purpose in life, a reason for being . . .
As it is, it's Sunday morning and I'm at last regaining energy and sanity, a process helped by a Saturday of semi-physical agricultural effort which may or may not result in food upon the table in years to come. Nevertheless, I feel I achieved in that one day a hell of lot more on behalf of my future than our 11 elected representatives did over their four days of stargazing.
A surreal feature of the 24-hour marathon - give or take a few hours off from time to time to attend to scheduled committee meetings at which real-time decisions were made - was that from beginning to end it was conducted in "forum" mode. This is an informal process whereby councillors can pretty much ignore strict meeting procedure. In other words, they can butt in, drink coffee, make speeches, ask long-winded questions, fire bullets at the CEO, mumble profusely, nod off or talk to each other incessantly thereby making it impossible for others to hear what still others are saying.
Above all, resolutions are not be proposed or voted on while forum mode reigns.
At any time, in future real time, councillors can resolve to introduce money-munching project which aren't in the ten-year plan. Or they can simply ignore its contents when real time circumstances have rendered it redundant. It is not a budget. It is a guide only. It may be full of good ideas. Or, then again, it may be full of bad ideas.
What happened around the council table last week simply gave vague direction to City Hall staff about the size of planned expenditure they could include in a draft 10-year plan. City Hall will present this draft plan for councillors' consideration early next year. If they approve the plan, it will then 'go out' for 'public consultation'.
Some time in late June next year councillors will likely give it their formal approval. City Hall will then publish it at considerable expense. And lo! We will have a ten-year plan providing those who care to read it with some sort of idea of how the city will spend a billion or so to 'keep the city ticking over'. The triennial illusion will be complete.
This document will have little bearing on how much cash City Hall extracts in coming years from the 30,000 or so minority cheque-writing rate-paying residents in our presently 110,000-population city.
All of the above explains why paid reporters, who must actually earn their keep, tended to find more productive things to do throughout the week.