Tauranga election shake-up: Ex-mayors Tenby Powell, Greg Brownless at odds over new representation model

Tauranga’s last two mayors are at odds over whether a new ward-based council election model is right for the city.

In a meeting yesterday, Tauranga City Council’s four commissioners decided the city would adopt a new representation model with nine elected councillors and a mayor.

All voters could have a say over who got the top job but each councillor would be elected from a ward, with one Māori ward and eight geographic wards.

The move is a reduction from the existing 11-member mixed model, with the mayor and four councillors elected ‘at-large’ and six councillors elected from three broad geographic wards.

Each of the new wards represents between 15,300 and 18,050 people.

The Māori ward will be called Te Awanui and its representative will be elected by voters on the Māori electoral roll.

The geographic wards, elected by voters on the general roll, will be called: Mauao/Mount Maunganui, Arataki, Pāpāmoa, Welcome Bay, Matua-Otūmoetai, Bethlehem, Te Papa and Tauriko.

The model attracted opposition during community consultation, with concerns it would give voters less say.

At the meeting, democracy services manager Coral Hair said half of the submissions supported the model, with 49 per cent against and one undecided.

Hair said of representation frameworks in general that there was “really no one-size-fits-all model” and each community was different.

Hair said from the submissions there was a perception that the mixed model contributed to the dysfunction of Tauranga’s council last year, which led to the Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta replacing elected members with appointed commissioners.

Some submissions, however, said personalities were responsible, not the model.

After the meeting, former Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell, who resigned mid-term last year, said the commission’s decision was “pragmatic”.

“I’m absolutely thrilled this has come to pass,” he said.

“At least the city has a chance of moving forward, provided the right people run; people with a progressive attitude.”

Powell said having the mayor’s role as the only at-large candidate would help prevent a repeat of the council’s implosion last year.

After months of bitter feuds among elected members – particularly involving Powell and unsuccessful mayoral candidates – Powell resigned and called for commissioners to be appointed.

Powell agreed with comments made by an independent observation team brought in to assess the council that the “race for the mayoralty” kept going during his term.

Powell’s predecessor Greg Brownless told the Bay of Plenty Times he did not believe the new model would help empower future mayors.

He said he also worked alongside councillors who were failed mayoral candidates but did not experience the same issues as Powell.

Brownless said he believed voters would be upset that they would have fewer votes and “less of a say” in this new model.

“I don’t think it’s what people want. I think most people would expect to have a choice in at least half of their councillors.”

At the meeting, commission chairwoman Anne Tolley said the commission needed to note “that this city is in a peculiar position having commissioners and that has, to a large extent, guided our thinking through this review.”

Tauranga experienced a “crisis of leadership” and the review helped to ensure the city could return to an effective and efficient council, she said.

The decision empowered the future mayor to create the strong leadership the city needed by being the only position all voters had a say in, she said.

“This city’s leader is a critical role.”

More and smaller wards would give more effective representation for the wider community, she said.

Between September 3 and October 4, the council received 141 submissions on the review, which Tolley said was disturbing.

“When you look at the demographic, it’s from a very narrow demographic of the city.”

“When you look at the number of people under the age of 50 taking part in the process, it’s minimal, which is just a tragedy. I find that really concerning.”

There was a “silent majority” who accessed the review information but did not make a submission, so it was hard to know if they were happy with the status quo or not, she said.

Commissioner Stephen Selwood said it was a shame not hearing “that wider voice” and most of the concerns were raised about the chosen model could be mitigated.

“This creates a fantastic opportunity for the mayor, when elected, to provide clear leadership.

“The city has had a void in leadership and has been divided for too long.”

Concerns raised about the ward system by submitters included that it would lead to lower quality candidates, people would have less of a say and that it could encourage parochialism.

Selwood said these concerns could be mitigated.

Results of a pre-engagement survey from July 16 to August 13 showed 392 people preferred to choose any candidate across the city, compared to 254 people who preferred a mix of ward-elected and at large-elected candidates. Another 154 people preferred to choose only the candidates from their ward.

The new model will be in place for six years (two election cycles) or until the next review.

It would also underpin the structure for the next local body elections.

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