Santa and the Grinch

What a week. Some sad sacks really do have a nerve. Santa got the sack. Our Santa! I use the possessive endearingly because I had a sudden rush of motherliness  towards this Santa, the five-tonne, 18-metre heavyweight of Auckland’s festive season who has been scaring delighted children for the past 54 years.

santa09Voted creepiest Christmas ornament in the world in 2011 due to his winking eye and politically incorrect come hither wagging finger, Auckland’s Santa was abruptly cast into permanent cold storage by the Heart of the City – misnomer I know.

This retail business group said it could no longer afford to contribute to the $180,000 fee to erect Our Santa and his reindeer onto his corner perch on Whitcoull’s veranda.

Heart of the City, which likes to use the acronym HotCity –another misnomer I know – is in hot water – not a misnomer. Its long-term CEO, none other than its founding and only CEO, was sacked recently after he was charged with a barrage of alleged tax evasion and false invoicing offences relating to his tenure in the hot seat.

But who got it in the proverbial as the victim of this outrage? Our Santa. His legions of flabbergasted fans were stirred into action. The SOS to save our Santa was out. There was no holding back. Their derisive cries were loudly broadcast on every social media channel and every airwave.

How dare the powers that be give our Santa the boot.

He’s our very own Christmas icon. In fact, apart from the gorgeousness of Smith and Caughey’s wondrous storybook Christmas windows, he’s really our only public Christmas decoration. New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, boasts that the show never stops, but when it comes to Christmas, the show never starts. Forget a forest of fairy lights and twinkling stars spreading glad tidings and joy within the heart of the city precinct. Parsimony reigns.

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Auckland City at Christmas – feel the joy!

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Christmas in Kuala Lumpur, capital city of Moslem Malaysia. You can feel the joy!

But hark. The people’s voices were heard and lo, within hours, out of the blue, a miracle occurred on main street. The local casino group chipped in with $50,000 and local property developer, Mansons, said it would foot the remainder. Hooray! Santa is to be resurrected.

The Grinch is gone. Power to the people. Not quite. We have the Vector factor.

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Michael Stiassny

Apparently we Aucklanders have to realise that uninterrupted power, as in constant electricity supply, is not a right. Power cuts are a part of life and Aucklanders should get used to it.

So said Michael Stiassny, the powerful chairman of Auckland’s publicly listed monopoly electricity supplier, Vector, majority owned by hundreds of thousands of little people through a consumer trust. And it was we little people who bore the brunt of prolonged cuts following a fire at a substation that knocked out power to 85,000 customers over several days.

Always ready to court controversy and raise hackles, Mr Stiassny and his chief executive Simon McKenzie were grilled about this latest outage at Vector’s no-press-allowed annual meeting.

They couldn’t say what caused the fire that caused the outage that caused inconvenience and anger among the masses.

They couldn’t discuss compensation for households and businesses left without power, but they could say that the company and customers could not afford a gold-plated network. That quickly soared in the next breath to customers having to be willing to pay for a platinum network – platinum being the colour of Mr Stiassny’s and his business minded Board’s credit cards – if power was to be guaranteed to all the people all of the time.

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But there was no shying away from praising themselves for a marvellous job of telling people via their own smartphone AP, Twitter, FB, web and ad infinitum channels that there was a power failure in certain areas and providing an estimate of when services might be expected to resume. Really, really good but really, really self-serving if you have flat batteries. Just goes to show that you never learn much from hearing yourself speak.

Mr Stiassny, described as a “go to fix it man” and “laconic liquidator” whose home in seaside St Heliers lost power during the blackout, said “power outages were a part of life and people should get used to it and plan for them”. Michael knew something. He was well prepared.

images (4)The accountant and indefatigable Boy Scout said he had partial power from investing in a Vector solar panel and battery package. Lucky you. Vector no longer offers this fabulous package Michael. Perhaps you could talk to your people again?

And Michael was able to tell the media that he was hardly inconvenienced during the blackout. He was able to run a small fridge, his son had a television to watch the NRL league final and the family had a barbecue, but he got told off by his wife for opening the freezer.

As noted by the Prime Minister, this power outage was a “freak” occurrence and there would be a full inquiry as is always the case following these incidents.

231014HOSSPLBROMHEADHe was at that point speaking in his capacity as Prime Minister.

Some time later the Prime Minister, in a tricky manoeuvre to dodge a question he didn’t like, said a conversation with poisonous Whaleoil blogger, Cameron Slater was not in his capacity as Prime Minister.

We were left a bit confused about his capacity generally, but in an Edward de Bono moment, he clarified.

“I wear a number of hats obviously, one as the leader of the National Party, one as Prime Minister of New Zealand and one as a citizen,” said John Key, explaining that which capacity he was acting in was determined by “the context around what I think I was doing”.

So this “freak” incident should not be a blight on Vector’s name for all eternity then. The utility should have a reputation as a high performing, ever increasing dividend paying monopoly, working within the constraints of a tight regulatory pricing framework to earn respectable profits and achieve a 99.8% reliability record “to keep the lights on, the gas flowing and providing many other essential services crucial to New Zealand’s economic success”.

Right? Nothing can be as unpalatable to arrogant people as to be met with scorn where they expected an unqualified admission of superiority – and with such a powerful record I can see why Vector feels unappreciated. But there’s just one word that springs to mind when I think of Vector– arrogant.

It’s unlikely they’ll ever be loved, even liked, but despite their foot in mouth PR, Vector is a creditable company providing an essential service that we take for granted. We’re all just a bit taken aback by being told so bluntly that electricity in the 21st century in a city that aims to be the most liveable in the world is no longer a given, but a privilege you will have to pay more for.

I thought Vector could do with a bit of a hand and some down home advice from little me, in my capacity as a customer and shareholder so they could tilt their hat at a better angle.

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly.”