Tauranga people “ignored” by former representation

Commission chair Anne Tolley. Photo: John Borren/SunLive.

Tauranga City Council’s current proposal for representation at the next election will address an “historic failure” to represent all communities of the city.

Representation was hotly debated in the Local Government Commission’s hearing of appeals and objections to the proposal on Wednesday.

Tauranga City Council commissioners presented the final proposal of a single member wards model, that included eight elected councillors from eight geographical wards, one elected from the Māori ward, and a mayor.

The proposed general wards are Mauao/Mount Maunganui, Arataki, Pāpāmoa, Welcome Bay, Matua-Ōtūmoetai, Bethlehem, Tauriko and Te Papa. The Māori ward, Te Awanui, will cover the entire city and the mayor will be elected at large.

This means everyone will get two votes, one for their ward and one for the mayor, those on the Māori electoral role will vote for the Māori ward councillor.

Commission chair Anne Tolley says the final proposal, based on the principal of geographic representation, is simpler and “encourages greater representation between councillors and community groups”.

“Historic failure to ensure that there was representation from across the city has led to community frustration,” she says.

During long term plan engagement, the commission heard from communities who “felt they’d been ignored by previous councils,” says Tolley.

“There was a strong message coming from some suburbs, such as Welcome Bay, that the community felt ignored and forgotten by the previous representation.”

Prior to the commission being appointed by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, the city had a model of 10 councillors and a mayor. There were 3 general wards with two positions available in each, four at large positions and the mayor

Tolley told Local government Commissioners: “The proposed arrangement allowed the ward councillors to effectively represent the views of people in their electoral area”.

“The general wards are smaller in geographic size and population than the current three general wards,” says Tolley.

“The proposal recognises that the concept of community of interest relates to the fundamental role of local government as community government.

“It recognises there are distinct communities within the Tauranga community which are quite widespread,” she says.

The hearing heard from several appellants, including former mayor Greg Brownless and John Robson, who was one of the councillors replaced by the commission.

Most submitters wanted to retain at least some of the at large councillor positions and others preferred the status quo.

Their reasoning was at large councillors will provide better representation under the single transferrable voting system.

Both Brownless and Robson claimed the current proposal was a reaction to a perceived issue with the previous council, where the race for the mayoralty didn’t end when the election was finalised.

In December 2020, Mahuta deposed the council after issues with governance and in-fighting between councillors.

First time councillor Jako Abrie resigned in October 2020, calling for the commission to be appointed. This was followed by mayor Tenby Powell a month later, who was also serving in local government for the first time.

Mahuta appointed the four-person commission, which began in February 2021.

Previously elected councillor John Robson in 2017. File image: SunLive.

Robson says: “I fear ... that what people are trying to do is to put something in place to address the results or the perceived results of the previous election”.

He says the last election was the city’s first under the STV system and it gave “a range of voices around the table”.

In Robson's opinion “an experienced mayor will have relished the challenge and I believe brought together an enormously powerful team”, says Robson.

In his view, “unfortunately, the election didn’t bless us as a city with an experienced mayor".

“I think we've got to avoid falling into the trap of fighting the previous war.”

“We've got to look forward in a pure and principled way and look at how we get real diversity around the table,” he says.

Former mayor Greg Brownless. File image/SunLive.

Brownless, who was mayor from 2016 to 2019, took the opportunity to take aim at the commissioners.

“It was interesting to see the Commissioners claiming they’ve demonstrated good governance,” he says.

“Certainly, the commission hasn’t been characterised by diversity of opinion that you will get in a normal elected council.”

He raised the point that an even number of elected representatives will rely heavily on the need for a mayor’s casting vote, and this can be decided by a council when it is elected.

Commissioner Bill Wasley addressed this in the commissioners’ right of reply.

He says if the council made no provision for a casting vote it will make the role of the mayor more important to “avoid a situation where there is a stand-off”, and no decision is able to be made.

“It does focus the role of the mayor and that person’s ability to work with the team and hopefully overcome that potential stand-off.”

Commissioner Stephen Selwood says they chose to make the mayoral role the only at large position to “elevate the mana of the role”.

During the right of reply, Tolley told to the Local Government Commissioners a lot of the appellants they heard from prefer the status quo.

“Most of them do not accept, that there was any need for the Minister to appoint a commission,” she says.

“Underlying all of that is a desire to get democracy back as quickly as possible because they didn't need the commission in the first place.”

Tauranga City commissioners have recommended to Mahuta that local government elections be delayed by a year, instead of taking place on October 8, 2022.

In the most recent report from commissioners to the Minister, commissioners suggest community engagement has seen concerns raised that a return to elected officials could again see “dysfunctional governance” impacting council effectiveness.

Local Democracy reporting understands Mahuta is expected to decide on this within the week.

Those that brought up the issue of returning Tauranga to democracy, were advised by Local Government Commission Chair Brendan Duffy that the purpose of the hearing was to discuss the city’s representation.

The Local Government Commission’s decision on representation must be made by April 11, 2022.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.




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9 Comments

@Let's_Get_Real

Posted on 11-03-2022 17:26 | By morepork

I share your dismay at the shortage of suitable candidates although I believe that some of the previous candidates were suffering from lack of experience rather than total incompetence. The old story: you can’t get a job if you have no experience, and you can’t GET experience unless they give you a job. This means that candidates need certain qualities like: intelligence, application, ethics, honesty, empathy, kindness, fair mindedness, being slow to anger and quick to listen, but, no place for foolish pride, greed, egotism, and loud, bullying humiliation. Life and Business experience are also good, but a keen mind and willingness to learn can compensate if these are not available. We have 180,000 people and I know these qualities exist, because I’ve met them. I would encourage such people to step up, especially if they have not considered it before. Now is a good time.

Hmmm

Posted on 10-03-2022 20:21 | By Let's get real

Not particularly surprising that Welcome Bay felt ignored by their councillor. I was never impressed by him, or for that matter, the former mayor that was often missing in action or had other commitments. The problem is and will always be, attracting people who have the experience and qualities needed to manage a large business equitably, without fear or favour. Finding qualified, experienced candidates is difficult enough in business around the country, hence the regrettably poor quality of candidates for local government that ratepayers are asked to choose between. It seems that any bozo can take a chance on election into council chambers and some of them (particularly those fortunate enough to appear early in the list of candidates) get elected. It’s upsetting that not all future councillors will be subjected to the same scrutiny from all of the ratepayers in the community.

Tauranga bad governance

Posted on 10-03-2022 15:38 | By olemanriver

Can we list the past failures of the elected council? The concrete park, the failed housing development bailout, the given away bad planning parking building, the perennial drought every rainstorm season, the failed downtown beautification, the license and expansion of 3 satellite malls while downtown dries up, the sweetheart farmers building deal, the low low commercial rates and the high high residential rates, the constant infighting, etc. et al. That council had all the signs of incompetence and corruption. Our streets are unsafe to bicycle and our bike paths are largely unconnected. Connecting Memorial park to downtown on a bay walk blocked for 25years. Keep the appointed council.

ignored

Posted on 10-03-2022 14:31 | By wilton4@xtra.co.nz

ignored by commissioners more like it

Ha, whatever

Posted on 10-03-2022 13:37 | By an_alias

You might want to remind yourself Tolley what democracy is actually. It represents the views of the community not YOUR minority views. This is an absolute travesty. Some wealthy individuals are not getting what they want so we need to go to dictatorship.

There's a Surprise

Posted on 10-03-2022 11:51 | By Avman

The commission would like to see themselves stay on instead of the return of democracy. Colour me surprised.

@ Scoop

Posted on 10-03-2022 10:37 | By Accountable

You are a way off the mark. Robson was the most productive and academically suited person on the previous Council. His financial and managerial expertise is well above the requirements of being a councillor. The council would make good and sensible progress if every candidate was of the calibre of John Robson.

Current council ignores people.

Posted on 10-03-2022 09:03 | By jed

Look at the ludicrousness of the Maunganui road changes. They’ve stuffed up the area around Blake park... Goodness knows why Cameron road works are taking so long. Brendon Bisley is about to shutdown Links again...Those bus lanes on Links are an abomination. If Bisley worked for Rome’s city council he’d shutdown the entire city traffic network.

No wonder people want the status quo to remain

Posted on 10-03-2022 08:28 | By Scoop

Former Councillor Robson is a prime example why many want the Commisioners to remain in control at Tauranga City Council. You would have thought he would have learned a lesson from being ousted but no, he just can't resist at taking shots at others , blaming then for the position that we are in instead of looking in the mirror and seeing who are the real culprits.

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