Local leaders struggle for public recognition

By Kiri Gillespie

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Local body elections are just weeks away but few Tauranga and Western Bay people could name who our leaders are in a survey this week.


A Bay of Plenty Times Weekend survey of 100 people picked randomly from the Tauranga phone book found many did not know who are the Bay's mayors, regional council chair, health board boss and city councillors.


No one could name Sally Webb as Bay of Plenty District Health Board chairwoman.


Only 11 people named John Cronin as Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman and just 12 people knew Ross Paterson was Western Bay of Plenty District mayor.


Stuart Crosby was named by 71 people but that meant 29 did not know he was Tauranga's mayor.


The four local bodies these people lead are responsible for making major decisions that affect people's lives and manage millions of dollars of assets and public money.


Mr Paterson said he was not surprised at his poor results and voter participation in elections could be better, he said.


''It shows we slip under the radar until once every three years or if there's something the community is really not happy with,'' Mr Paterson said.


Mr Cronin said the low recognition of his role was a ''good thing'' because he preferred to keep a low profile.


''I guess it would be nice to think we are better known but at the end of the day you get more known if you are doing things that people don't like.''


Mr Crosby said his results were positive but the council was overrun by middle-aged white men, including himself. If more people took care to know who they were voting for and why, residents could have better representation and help steer the direction of the city.


''Generally, it's really critical that people want to, and do, vote and really take care to understand the people they are voting for. What (influence) their ambitions may have on them and also on their city as a whole.''


When people were asked if they could name one city councillor, Murray Guy, Tony Christiansen and Bill Faulkner stood out from the rest.


But no one named Rick Curach, who responded: ''I'm surprised. It obviously shows my profile is fairly low. That might be because my name is probably difficult to recall.''


Mr Guy, who is active on social media, said public profile was critical for local government and something Tauranga City Council lagged in.


''We don't put much importance on it, in that the community are aware of who we are, what we are and what we do,'' he said.


''It's very difficult for lay members of the community to really assess what we, as a council, are doing on their behalf.''


Tauranga MP Simon Bridges was amused four people named him as a councillor and another thought he was the health board chairman.


''I suppose it's good that they knew I was in politics and don't think I'm some sort of used-car salesman or game show host,'' Mr Bridges said.


Health Minister Tony Ryall was also named as the board's chair and he said people probably got confused between the two health roles.


Mrs Webb, the health board chairwoman, was not surprised or disappointed no one knew who she was because the board's focus was on the specialists providing health care.


''I like it to be the people who provide the services who get the publicity.''


Local body election voting begins in October and Bay of Plenty Times media will be providing full coverage of the lead-up and the election itself.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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