There's a new head honcho at Tauranga City Council.
A former East Coast MP of almost 20 years and two-term deputy mayor of Napier City Council, Anne Tolley has been appointed by the Government to lead a commission that has replaced the elected mayor and councillors.
The other commissioners are Bill Wasley, Shadrach Rolleston and Stephen Selwood.
As Tolley began her second week on the job, Tolley sat down with reporter Samantha Motion for a Zoom interview.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
SM: What sparked your interest in this role? I thought you were retired?
AT: Well, I thought I was retired too. But look, it's a big challenge and it's an exciting one.
I think I understand the importance of Tauranga to the wider Bay of Plenty and also to New Zealand's economy. So it was just a huge opportunity that, on discussing it with my husband, I decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
SM: How will the commission work in terms of including the community in its decision-making?
AT: We have some statutory things we still have to abide by. The Act still applies to us, LGOIMA etc. But we want to be much more proactive.
We will be having council meetings, I think the first one is scheduled for February 22 [then] March 8. We will have public forums again.
As we start to look at that Long-Term Plan, we will certainly be looking at how we can work out in the community so the community understands the decisions we are having to make, why we're having to make them and what the benefits will be for them.
We certainly want to make it clear that we are open. I've said I'm happy to hold almost like constituency clinics to talk through issues.
Some people can't come to a full council meeting. They think that's pretty serious and intimidating.
They might want to come along and have a chat with me or one of the other commissioners on a one-to-one basis. We will make those opportunities available.
SM: How will you balance the views of, for example, the council executive or central government against any contrary views in the community?
AT: That's the line any politician walks. And we certainly are accountable to the Minister [of Local Government, Nanaia Mahuta]. But her terms of reference are pretty clear...
Part of our terms of references are to work to restore full local democracy for the elections next year.
It's very much on our minds that whatever we do has to be enduring, which means the community has to have ownership of it.
The onus is on us to make sure that we take the community with us.
SM: What do you say to people who are worried about a big rates rise?
AT: We are going to be as open and transparent as we possibly can about the challenges we're finding, and the challenges that we understand are out there in the community. There are big decisions to be made.
We have to come to terms with what things are [impacting] the day-to-day lives of people who live in Tauranga. What are today's problems? And then part of the long-term planning is: what are the problems ahead of us?
Once we come to terms with that, then we can have conversations with the community about how best to address those.
SM: It has been some years since you were in local government, what do you think has changed in that time?
AT: The basics of local government don't change, and that is: working with your community, making decisions, taking your community through what decisions need to be made, and why.
Some of the legal structures have changed, but if you're a good local politician you're in touch with your community, you work in an open and transparent way.
If you don't do that, then you find yourself de-elected very quickly.
SM: Being de-elected is not a risk for you, though.
AT: No, it is quite a unique position and that's why you don't want [a commission] in place for too long.
It's a tragedy for the city that we're in this position.
The Minister has made her decision and appointed the commission, and we've just got to get on and do the very best that we can and make sure we are able to lead through to those elections next year.
So make it as short as possible.
SM: What's your first week been like?
AT: We looked at the different staffing areas ... met a few of the staff and had some initial briefings with the executive.
We went away with a head full. The briefing papers we've had are pretty intense, but that's given us an opportunity to sit down and ask some questions.
The message we've been giving to the officials is we want the truth: we want the good, the bad and the ugly, because we need to make the decisions based on good evidence and the community is demanding nothing less. So don't try and parcel things up for us. We want to know the full picture.
Then we'll get on and do the job we've been appointed to do.
SM: What do you think mainly went wrong for Tauranga to end up in this position?
AT: I think there's a number of things. They're not easy decisions to make at any point in time, and the city has been growing very rapidly.
Some of the mechanisms in place are very clunky, because they're not just Tauranga's to make.
I think central government has to take some of the responsibility too, over many years and many different colours of government.
It's easy to sit in Wellington and talk about developing cities, but when you're living in a city that is growing as rapidly as Tauranga has grown, and a lot of the processes take a long time, from the initial planning to the actual delivery - and the cities change quite dramatically during that time.
This three-year term makes it very hard. I've always been a fan of both central and local government moving to a four-year term.
There are some hard decisions to make and, and rating has always been a very difficult issue.
With councillors, I'm always worried when people say, 'I'm going to get elected and keep the rates down' because no city, whether it's growing or not, can afford to stand still, and no one wants it to stand still.
SM: What do you think of the Government's growth agenda?
AT: It's vitally important to Tauranga because it is growing and will continue to grow.
I think there are some good opportunities for us.
Because we are the minister's creature, that gives us the ability to say to her, 'Well, you know, this is your agenda. This is what Tauranga needs: how do we work together to make that happen?'
SM: Who do you consider the commission's boss: the minister or the community?
AT: We report to the minister but ... if we are to make the Long-Term Plan enduring, it has to be owned by the community.
We have the responsibility of making the decisions, but we have to take the community with us. It's more a partnership with the community.
SM: Will the commission revisit decisions of the elected council, eg Māori ward, rubbish collections?
AT: I can't see us going back on those sorts of decisions, where a very clear process has been followed and a decision made.