John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Max Mason, for Tauranga mayor

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Max Mason standing for mayoralty. Photo/John Borren
Max Mason standing for mayoralty. Photo/John Borren

The contest to find Tauranga's new mayor has ignited with the announcement that a man with up-close knowledge of council spending has decided to run for the city's leadership.

Max Mason, a business development specialist and ultra-distance hiker, has joined the growing list of definite and potential candidates wanting to fill the vacuum left by mayor Stuart Crosby's decision not to seek re-election in October.

Endorsements for Mr Mason's mayoral bid include the men behind the Civic Amenities Group which proposed to use a $35 million community bond to fund the planned new downtown Civic Centre.

They are Carrus Corp developer Paul Adams, valuation expert and company director Graeme Horsley and Sharp Tudhope Lawyers partner John Gordon.

Mr Mason supported construction of a museum as part of a new Civic Centre, saying it would help create the identity and sense of self that Tauranga needed.

Max Mason. Photo/Supplied
Max Mason. Photo/Supplied

"Identity is about celebrating the natural environment and our past. It is an important part of my thinking that we do not become a glorified suburb of Auckland. The way we do that is by having a strong sense of city and regional identity."

He gained his insider's perspective of the council during six years as a trouble-shooter doing a variety of jobs including setting up Tourism Bay of Plenty and the economic development agency Priority One.

It was his experience of starting and running businesses in Zimbabwe "on the smell of an oily rag" that gave him a special insight into what made the council tick.

"It exasperated me to see the wasteful spending in the six years I worked in the Tauranga Council ... I often got frustrated with the blind insistence on process."

He told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend that he was thrust from a small-business background into a council environment immersed in fat budgets and no sense of scarcity.

Mr Mason said his decision was driven by the belief that the challenges and opportunities of the future required a new and different type of leadership.

"We need to find fresh ideas to save money, be more efficient and get more bang for the ratepayer's buck.

"Regrettably, I don't see much new thinking coming out of the current elected members, or for that matter the courage to make tough decisions."

Quizzed on the disadvantage of never having experienced the rough and tumble of politics, Mr Mason said he was in the media spotlight a lot as chief executive of the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce.

"I was frequently in a position where I had to take a position on things and take criticism. Lessons learned from that transfer pretty well into politics."

He believed the best preparation for a good mayor was broad life experience and proven leadership in a variety of sectors and organisations."

Mr Mason said the time was coming when the council could no longer afford to think that its main sources of funding were rates and borrowing.

They had to look at the business community and alternatives like community bonds, public/private partnerships and forming genuine relationships with iwi and other non-council funders like TECT.

Read more: On the Record: Max Mason
Cover Story: Max's call of the wild

Legislation going through Parliament would provide incentives for more service-sharing between Bay councils and the use of other strategies like council-controlled organisations.

"Working together will require political leadership."

Mr Mason said council-controlled organisations offered ways to be more efficient and effective, with the key thing being that political representatives did not lose control.

Asked for his opinion on the current council's widespread use of confidential briefings to discuss issues before they appeared on meeting agendas, Mr Mason said that, as a general principle, he espoused greater openness.

"It is what works and what ratepayers think works for them - you have got to get the balance right."

He did not think that being endorsed by members of the Civic Amenities Group would damage his chances.

What he was saying as a mayoral candidate was what he had been saying since 2007. "It is the same guy, the same beliefs and the same issues for Tauranga.

Mr Mason will also stand for one of the Tauranga City Council's four at-large seats.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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