Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Opotiki mayor approaches rival about cost savings of not running

John Forbes says he approached Les Keane to test if his campaign was serious. Photo / File
John Forbes says he approached Les Keane to test if his campaign was serious. Photo / File

One of New Zealand's longest-standing mayors went to a rival candidate's home in his mayoral car and told him the region could save $50,000 if he continued in office unopposed.

Mayoral candidate Les Keane says incumbent Opotiki mayor John Forbes knocked on his door this week to discuss Keane's decision to challenge him for the mayoralty - and there would be no need for a costly local body election if no one opposed him for a sixth term.

When approached by the Herald on Sunday yesterday, Forbes admitted he used the mayoral car to pay a visit to Keane's house on Thursday, and he went there specifically to discuss Keane's candidacy.

Forbes denies requesting Keane stand down, but admitted his approach made the $50,000 cost to ratepayers clear if Keane were didn't pull out of the race.

"I said to him, if you withdraw your nomination, we could save a lot of money on the election," Forbes said.

"It costs about $50,000 - which is about one per cent of our rates - to have an election and if he wasn't committed to it, we could save money."

Forbes said his approach was to test if Keane's campaign was serious.

"Out of the blue he's decided to stand for the mayoralty I went out to see if he was serious or not, because he's never attended a meeting or expressed any interest in that.

"When he said he was serious, I wished him the best of luck and shook his hand."

Both men said they've known each other for around 30 years and have previously done business together.

But Keane said despite their history, Forbes' approach made him feel guilty for using his democratic right to stand.

"He said the reason I am asking you is we can save $50,000. It made me feel terrible."

Forbes said at the last minute before nominations closed this week, a third candidate also threw their hat into the ring - but he would not be asking the same question of them because the election was clear to go ahead.

"If Les is standing, the cost is the cost now," Forbes said.

Earlier this year Forbes also suggested there wasn't a need for an election because the region was tracking well under his leadership. Forbes said those comments were "a bit of fun" and believes he has the support of voters.

"I got asked by the newspaper, it was a bit of fun, well, I thought it was," he said.

"I will be really surprised if there's any change in the mayoralty or the council make up. There's enormous support from the community for what the council is doing."

Forbes said he welcomed people the democratic process and for people to stand against him, saying "that's what it's about."

- NZ Herald

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