John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Brownless joins race for Tauranga's top job

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The race for Tauranga's leadership has been thrown wide open with the entry of city philanthropist, international relief worker and businessman Greg Brownless.

"I like a challenge," Mr Brownless told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend in an exclusive interview on his decision to run for the mayoralty in October's elections.

The former deputy mayor has declared himself refreshed and ready after a six year absence from council politics when he opted to not seek re-election in 2010.

He said he thrived on challenges and after starting up another successful funeral business in Sydney, arrived home permanently this week.

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The 59-year-old said he was making an all or nothing bid to become the city's mayor. "I have done my time as a councillor, so I am not having a dollar each way by going for a seat on the council as well."

Mr Brownless, who was awarded a Queen's Service Medal in 2011 for services to the community, was running as an independent. "I am not seeking funding from anyone. I don't have any endorsements and I don't want any endorsements - I don't want to be beholden to anybody."

And despite spending most of his time in Sydney for the last three years, he insisted he never lost contact with local issues and returned to his Tauranga home several times a year.

He still devoted a lot of energy to the trust he set up after gifting his funeral business to the Tauranga community in 2007. More than $2 million of profits have so far been channelled back to community organisations through the Legacy Funeral Trust.

Mr Brownless' decision to gift the business was spurred by his involvement in the tragic aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami off Indonesia. He twice volunteered to go to Thailand to embalm the bodies of hundreds of victims.

The key to the success of his business venture in Australia - now being run by two other directors - was to provide a good service at a reasonable cost.

He said it was a philosophy that had served him well in life, and that he would take into the mayoralty.

Mr Brownless said his political style was to avoid confrontation. "I don't like conflict, I find that difficult. I try to work through the issues in a civil manner."

His communication skills, honed by many years of appearing in Tauranga stage shows, meant he was suited to the part of the mayor's job that involved getting out and about in the community.

Asked to characterise himself, he said he had a sense of quirkiness and humour. "But it does not mean I don't take things seriously, I do."

If elected, he would like to see the council return to the days when it held workshops that were open to the public, rather than three years of closed briefings. "Most stuff can be held in the open."

Mr Brownless said one of his priorities would be to help the upcoming generation get into their own homes, saying it needed a joint approach with central government.

Younger people were being priced out of the market.

As for the council's Civic Heart proposals, Mr Brownless said his major problem was that he did not know what people wanted. There was also a big difference between what people wanted and how much they were prepared to pay.

He questioned the wisdom of the funding option for a new council administration building that saw the council paying rent to an investor, rather than owning the building outright. "In the end ratepayers will pay, one way or the other."

Confirmed mayoral candidates were Greg Brownless, Kelvin Clout, Murray Guy, Max Mason, Doug Owens, Noel Peterson, Graeme Purches and John Robson.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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