John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Opinion: Interesting times ahead for new council

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Interesting times are ahead for Tauranga's new city council. Photo/file
Interesting times are ahead for Tauranga's new city council. Photo/file

Interesting times are ahead for Tauranga, with the election throwing up a council that has settled back into a glow of familiar faces.

Some people I have spoken to believe it was a conservative response by voters to a council that operated more like a board of directors - and in my opinion it's hard to disagree with that.

The practical impact of the election however is the re-emergence of some highly experienced politicians who have suffered the turbulence of past elections and won their way back into public favour.

In short, some members of the new broom of 2013 were struck a fatal blow last Saturday. The new balance of power will be unlikely to embrace what in my opinion was the former council's board of directors-style approach to governing Tauranga.

It is timely to reflect on the three councillors who failed to hold their seats. Bev Edlin's governance and business qualifications nearly filled a whole line of her candidate's profile; John Robson had a global career as a management consultant; and Matt Cowley was a former regional council policy analyst whose management-speak at meetings belied the image that he was the young voice on council.

They were part of the former council comprising seven new faces that earned a reputation for a management style in which issues were routinely examined behind closed doors, only emerging into the public domain for the final decisions.

The old council got so used to confidential briefings, even when it meant that, in my opinion, some important issues did not get sufficient public airing.

The most notable recent example was the decision to axe the Mount Main Beach New Year's Eve entertainment only the day before the recommended deadline for election papers to be posted. Concerns with the entertainments were discussed in a confidential briefing the previous week.

Another example of the public being caught offguard was the surprise decision to allow Matapihi's marae zones to tap into the Southern Pipeline, seemingly against previous councils' policies.

Happily it looks like the tide has turned. There are now five councillors left from the old guard who defended secret briefings, with at least one of those having opted for a more open approach.

The new council may have a more conservative look, but that will probably be where the comparison ends.

Whereas most of the previous council was determined to present a unified face to the public, the political skills of Larry Baldock and Terry Molloy now puts it in a totally different mould.

They have both served on former councils and will be a compelling force on the new council, with Mr Baldock particularly relishing the cut and thrust.

Add the straight-talking talents of Gail McIntosh and the political point-scoring abilities of Steve Morris, then Tauranga has a council that in my opinion will be more democratic, more informative and a lot more interesting.

And let's not forget the big contribution expected from the only newbie, Max Mason, together with the comfortable mandate handed to hugely experienced new mayor Greg Brownless.

Mr Brownless may not enjoy combative politics, but I get the feeling looking at the make-up of the new council that his patience might be tested at times.

Long-serving councillors Rick Curach, Bill Grainger and Catherine Stewart should form a reassuring rump for Mr Brownless, with second-termer Leanne Brown's bright personality rounding off the strong shape of the new council.

The intriguing question to be decided next month will be who Mr Brownless appoints as his deputy. Will it be Kelvin Clout, who triumphed in the at-large vote, assuming he wants a second term as deputy.

Or could Gail McIntosh be in the reckoning? Her fiscal strengths and no-nonsense attitude would, in my view, complement Mr Brownless' community focus.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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