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How much power should Tauranga's commissioners have?

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Thu, 4 Apr 2024, 7:43am
Photo / Tauranga City Council
Photo / Tauranga City Council

How much power should Tauranga's commissioners have?

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Thu, 4 Apr 2024, 7:43am

Tauranga commission chairwoman Anne Tolley has revealed she would prefer a “hybrid” local governance model as democracy sometimes “fails”. 

It comes as the Tauranga City Council prepares for its local body election in July, which will bring the Government-appointed commission’s term to an end. 

Tolley told Newstalk ZB host Mike Hosking this morning there could be skill “gaps” in elected councils and the appointment of people to work with councillors in the future could help address this. 

The interview follows the Bay of Plenty Times report that Local Government Minister Simeon Brown ruled out making any changes to the commission’s role, despite increased calls from local ratepayer groups to have it demoted to a “caretaker” status.  

Five Tauranga ratepayer and advocacy groups called on Brown to step in and prevent Tauranga City council’s Government-appointed commission from committing ratepayers to what they believed were pricey “non-essential” projects, echoing similar requests in January. 

Tauranga City Council commission chairwoman Anne Tolley. Photo / Alex CairnsTauranga City Council commission chairwoman Anne Tolley. Photo / Alex Cairns 

Hosking asked Tolley whether she felt the “angst” and whether there had been much “agitation”. 

“Well, there’s angst of different sorts,” Tolley said. 

“There’s angst in the community that the elections are coming up, the city’s on the move and we’re going to go backwards because all of the old guard are preparing themselves to be reelected, so there’s various angst but the city’s in good heart. There’s a lot of reconstruction happening and things are moving and, I think you know, people are feeling pretty good.” 

Hosking referred to the previous council, giving his view that, from the outside, it seemed was “dysfunctional” and “a mess”. He said it appeared the city had “moved forward” because the commission “just got on with it”. 

Tolley agreed, saying “that was our job”. 

The commission – made up of Tolley, Shadrach Rolleston, Stephen Selwood, and Bill Wasley – was appointed to govern Tauranga City Council in February 2021 after former Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta discharged the elected council of its duties in December 2020.   

The commission’s term was later extended until July 2024 to provide stability and deliver complex projects - preventing the city’s participation in the 2022 local body elections. 

On July 20, Tauranga voters will have their first chance to elect representatives to their city council since 2019, and that group will serve New Zealand’s first four-year council term. 

In February, the Bay of Plenty Times revealed the commission had called for a Crown observer to be appointed to the city council after the election, but was denied by then-Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty. 

Tolley told Hosking she believed in democracy but, at times, it failed. 

Newstalk ZB host Mike Hosking. Photo / Michael CraigNewstalk ZB host Mike Hosking. Photo / Michael Craig 

Hosking said the commission “appears to have worked” and questioned how Tauranga could bring that kind of governance model into effect again “without killing democracy. 

“I think, personally, I quite like a hybrid model where you have some elected and then you are able to appoint some skilled people. 

“You know, you assess who’s been elected and what gaps there are … It can be a big job in a city, in a metro city.” 

Tauranga has a population of 162,000 and is growing rapidly. 

“It’s a big complex beast for council and, so, you know, it takes special sort of people to be able to run it,” Tolley said. 

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown. Photo / Michael CraigLocal Government Minister Simeon Brown. Photo / Michael Craig 

Tolley said the council or local government minister could potentially make such decisions. 

She also said she was delighted the new council would have four years before the next elections, instead of the standard three. 

Hosking said there appeared, outwardly at least, there were a lot of councils around New Zealand that were “fairly dysfunctional”. 

Tolley agreed. 

“Sometimes they are. 

Tauranga City commissioners: L-R Shadrach Rolleston, Bill Wasley, Stephen Selwood, Anne Tolley. Photos / FileTauranga City commissioners: L-R Shadrach Rolleston, Bill Wasley, Stephen Selwood, Anne Tolley. Photos / File 

“There’s a lot more than just the dysfunction of councils and the whole process around consultation can be hijacked by small groups of people who don’t want things to happen. 

“Most people who make submissions you know, formal submissions to council, are generally people who don’t want something to happen and so you end up playing a numbers game. Many, many councils and councillors when they are consulting make an effort to get out and talk to a whole range of people. 

“We’ve done that as commissions because if you just rely on the submission process, you end up with more negative than positive, and that’s not really where your community is.” 

Nominations for Tauranga’s election open on April 26. The election will be held on July 20. 

Kiri Gillespie is an assistant news director and a senior journalist for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post, specialising in local politics and city issues. She was a finalist for the Voyager Media Awards Regional Journalist of the Year in 2021. 


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