In the lead-up to this year's local body elections, the race for the mayor's seat of Western Bay of Plenty comes down to three very different contenders. Reporter Kiri Gillespie shares a coffee with current mayor Garry Webber to find out how his first tenure has been, why he thinks people should return him to the seat and how his influence as a young man helped shape a key part of the kiwifruit industry.
By 1960, Garry Webber's family-owned New Zealand's largest tomato greenhouse when they bought 1.6 ha of land at Matua.
The son of a fruit and produce auctioneer and orchard manager spent his early years hammering together wooden boxes for kiwifruit before helping design the cardboard boxes, and associated machinery, the industry then turned to.
Webber now lives in Ōmokoroa with wife Carole and spends spare time enjoying arts such as photography and woodworking.
But quirky factoids such as this tend not to get mentioned by the former cricket and soccer player, who is looking to retain his role as Western Bay of Plenty Mayor.
Webber, a father of two and grandfather of one, said he would like to be judged on his performance over time and preferred to talk about numbers, finance and policy - the "behind the scenes" stuff - rather than himself.
As Webber speaks to the Bay of Plenty Times, he picks figures from his brain like the average person recalls their home address. He rattles off how much the council spent on roading in the past 10 years ($338 million) and the huge decrease in council debt during his time (from $140m to $100m).
Perhaps the conversation is one to be expected from someone with a 30-year background as senior executive in the dairy industry, including seven years as chief executive of Alpine Dairy Products.
Webber was elected Mayor in 2016 after Ross Paterson stepped down. If successful, this will be his second term as Mayor and fourth as an elected member. He said he believed he was the right person, with the right set of skills, to look after and lead the region.
"It's about having someone who has business experience and knows how to run a large organisation and can show enough leadership to question if things are financially viable," he said.
When asked about the Western Bay's high rates - the highest in New Zealand - Webber said they were a "direct result of some decisions made in the past".
"There were some interesting decisions in the early 2000s where we built things and the philosophy was 'build it and they will come'. That may have been an okay sort of thought but also, a thought that 'growth funds growth', which is an urban myth."
Current ratepayers were now left paying for it. But Webber was adamant the reduction of debt went some way to amend this and the future was bright.
"Over my time, the debt has reduced from $140m to $100m. Not many councils in Australasia could say that. Our debt increases are 6.7 per cent, quite a few others are 10 per cent."
However, Webber was reluctant to single himself out for such successes over his past tenure.
"The mayor is just one of 12. It's 'what did the council do?' It's not me. It's a team but a team well-led."
Webber said the disconnect between local and central governments had been his biggest frustration during the past three years. He listed several occasions of lobbying Parliament for greater consideration regarding local infrastructure, often as part of a collective with other regional leaders, often led by him, he said.
Part of this includes Webber helping create an income-related rates subsidy for low-income earners in New Zealand.
"Western Bay led the challenge. I took that through to Local Government New Zealand to become something that was discussed with central government. Western Bay started that, but people don't know about it."
Webber's competition for the mayoral seat are seasoned councillor Margaret Murray-Benge and newcomer Stephen Fawcett.
He said it was important to have someone who knew how to understand and write policy and its implications, he said.
"It is a complex beast, but you need people with that sort of understanding," he said.
"I believe the ratepayers need people representing them who have the experience to do the sorts of things I've been talking about."
Western Bay's current councillors have been accused of being mostly pale, stale and male. There is just one woman (Murray-Benge) and the youngest is aged 57 (Don Thwaites).
Webber is keen to get new, young, blood on board and was encouraged by the several under 40s who spoke at a Te Puke candidate's meeting last week. "I would ideally like to see some of those people elected because it is representative of the community," Webber said.
"My view is you should not be able to stand for election if you're older than 75. You need some experience and some life skills, and if there's a mix of those younger people, over time, they should learn a few things."
However, when asked about his own age, Webber would not reveal it, saying his age was not relevant. His ability was.
"Elections are not about race, gender or age. It's about getting the right people with the right skills."
• Webber is contending the mayoralty alongside current councillor Margaret Murray-Benge and newcomer Stephen Fawcett.