ACT is joining a former mayor in calling for Tauranga’s commission to act in a “caretaker role”.
Greg Brownless, mayor from 2016-2019, has called on Local Government Minister Simeon Brown to amend the commission’s terms of reference.
“It’s unacceptable that the commission, acting under the instructions of the former minister [of local government], continues to make important decisions that should be made by community representatives chosen at an election,” he says.
“New minister, Simeon Brown, has the power to instruct the commission to act in a caretaker role only, to leave the Long Term Plan to decision-makers appointed by the community.”
In February 2021, Anne Tolley, Shadrach Rolleston, Stephen Selwood and Bill Wasley were appointed as commissioners to the Tauranga City Council by Nanaia Mahuta.
Local government minister at the time, Mahuta replaced the elected council with the commission because of “significance governance” issues.
She extended their term in April 2022 to provide “crucial continuity and stability” for Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty.
Tauranga will have an election in July, the first since 2019.
Former mayor Greg Brownless wants adoption of the long-term plan left until after the July election. File photo: SunLive.
Brownless says: “I believe the commissioners are attempting to entrench decisions and contracts for which they have no community mandate, and which will unfairly bind a new council, to be decided by voters in July.”
Some of the projects Brownless believed the commission had no community mandate for included Cameron Rd Stage Two, increases in user fees for sport facilities, closure of the Ōtūmoetai Pool to be replaced by a $122m aquatic centre at Memorial Park.
“Those decisions should be made by an elected council, a community council. It's no use pretending that this [the commission] is any form of democracy, because it isn’t.”
The 2024-30 draft Long-Term Plan was consulted on last year, with hearings to begin in February. The LTP sets out projects, spending, and projected rates for Tauranga for the next decade.
ACT’s local government spokesperson Cameron Luxton is backing Brownless’ stance.
“For too long, Nanaia Mahuta’s commissioners have been given free rein to commit ratepayers to major long-term spending projects,” he says in a statement.
Tauranga list MP, Luxton says the commissioners have "acted more like dictators than caretakers" as they commit hundreds of millions of dollars to projects like the city centre transformation.
Commissioners Shadrach Rolleston, Bill Wasley, Anne Tolley and Stephen Selwood. Photo: John Borren/SunLive.
A $306m civic precinct, Te Manawataki o Te Papa, is underway. It will provide a new library, museum and exhibition centre, and civic whare in Tauranga’s CBD.
“The city centre will look like chump change compared to the spending locked in under the coming Long-Term Plan."
The 10-year plan should be the role of elected leadership, who are held accountable every three years, he says.
“I’m asking the new Minister for Local Government to take steps to delay the Long-Term Plan and its associated contracts until after democratic leadership is established in July.”
However, Commission chair Tolley, says the commission’s terms of reference task it with making good decisions on behalf of the community, and with the development and adoption of the council’s 2024-34 LTP.
“In essence, we’ve been asked to redress the failings of past councils, with a focus on addressing a longstanding underinvestment in infrastructure and community facilities,” she says.
Luxton was a member of the National-led coalition Government, and would be aware of the channels he should use if he wished to amend Government policy, says Tolley.
Commission chair Anne Tolley said the commission was asked to redress the failings of past councils. Photo: John Borren/SunLive.
“He is of course welcome to his opinions, but we can assure the community and his government colleagues that the decisions made by the commission on behalf of Tauranga City have followed the democratic processes set out in legislation and, based on the weight of submissions and the unsolicited feedback we receive, have wide community support.”
The commission was duty bound to comply with the requirements of its terms of reference, she says.
“We are working closely with Minister Brown, on a wide range of matters of importance to the city. Any call for amendments to our terms of reference should be directed to the Minister.”
The Taxpayers’ Union also weighed in, issuing a statement.
Taxpayers’ Union policy adviser James Ross says unelected commissioners in Tauranga have spent years tossing around ratepayers’ money, knowing they won't be accountable to ratepayers.
Simeon Brown was approached for comment but didn’t respond in time for deadline.
LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.