Challenging times ahead for Kaipara, says new mayor

By Alexandra Newlove

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Greg Gent
Greg Gent

While Whangarei's re-elected mayor boogied on her deck and supped bubbly with supporters, celebrations in the bordering district were much more muted as Greg Gent took up the Kaipara mayoralty.

Preliminary council election results released yesterday saw Ruawai farmer and businessman Mr Gent, with 4,799 votes, easily beating Mangawhai's Bruce Rogan's 1,256 votes.

It is a reasonably sombre return to democracy for the district, which has been under the control of Government-appointed commissioners since 2012, when the previous elected council stepped aside, realising they were out of their depth with KDC's spiralling debt, a result of the botched Mangawhai Sewage Scheme.

Mr Gent was resolute, rather than victorious yesterday, though said he was "very pleased" with the election outcome.

"I've got to be able to do this job and deliver against some considerable challenges," Mr Gent said.

"I would rather 'ra-ra' when we've made some real progress and are on equal footing with other councils in New Zealand. I would pop the champagne at that point."

Joining Mr Gent at the table will be councillors Libby Jones, Peter Wethey and Jonathan Larsen for Otamatea Ward; Andrew Wade and Karen Joyce-Paki for Dargaville; and Anna Curnow, Victoria De La Varis-Woodcock and Julie Geange for West Coast Central.

Principled rates rebel Mr Rogan became a household name in Kaipara with his tireless battle against the council in relation to illegally set rates following the scheme.

Mr Rogan had campaigned on sorting out "unfinished business", while Mr Gent said it was now time to look to the future, a future which included paying down the district's $65 million debt burden as quickly as possible while maintaining service levels and infrastructure.

"There's definitely the challenge of making something that's got problems into something we can be proud of," he said.

Mr Gent said the first order of business was getting councillors together "informally", learning about their vision for the district and working out what was actually achievable. He was also looking at getting the team some independent governance coaching.

"It's better [the training] is done by an independent third party. We don't want a team of Greg yes-people," Mr Gent said.

Mr Gent has more than 20 years' governance experience including as chairman of Northland Dairy and Kiwi Dairy companies, and deputy chairman of Fonterra.

He currently chairs Southern Cross Health Group and FMG but said prior to the election that he would be trimming back his commitments outside Kaipara.

- Northern Advocate

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