Tauranga City Council chief executive Marty Grenfell and mayor Tenby Powell. Photo / File A_160720gn03bop.JPG
By Samantha Motion
"Legacy issues", the pain of change and the behaviour of some elected members have been blamed for poor results in Tauranga City Council's latest report card from the community.
Tauranga residents' satisfaction with their council has plummeted to a six-year low, results of the Annual Residents Survey 2020 show.
Only about half (51 per cent) of the 645 respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the council.
That was a drop from two thirds (66 per cent) in 2019, which was a new low at the time, for the period since Key Research started doing the perceptions survey in 2015.
The highest satisfaction result the council has achieved in that period was 76 per cent in 2016.
This year, unhappy residents complained about rates, financial management, and a lack of faith and trust in the council and it's consultation efforts.
"Stop wasting ratepayers' money," said one survey commenter. "We do not have a bottomless pot to keep supplying you for example Phoenix carpark and beautifying Elizabeth St."
One person was "very disappointed in moving here": "Not the paradise it is portrayed as and seems to be getting worse as time goes on."
According to another: "I had hoped that things would improve significantly after last year's election. Unfortunately, it all just seems to be same old, same old."
Other opinions expressed included that the council was "inefficient" and "dysfunctional" and that mayor Tenby Powell was unfit for the role.
The survey was taken in three roughly month-long waves between November and May.
By then, there had been some incidents hinting at growing ructions between elected members, but the extent of the conflicts had yet to explode into the public view.
This happened in early June when a coup for the deputy mayor's position became public.
Escalating tensions and a 'please explain' from Central Government resulted in the council bringing in an independent team to review and monitor the elected members, at a potential cost of $350,000.
The survey also did not capture reaction to a major financial blow: the June decision to abandon the Harington St Transport Hub, build with $19m already spent, due to significant engineering issues.
There was little discussion when the results of the survey were presented in a meeting of the council's Finance, Audit and Risk Committee meeting on Tuesday.
Mayor Tenby Powell was not at the meeting. He told the Bay of Plenty Times he was in Auckland meeting with people in the marine sector.
He said the decline in satisfaction was a symptom of change and "a reflection of the community disquiet about the behaviours of ... some of the elected members".
"What the community is seeing here is cognitive dissonance ... Many, many people can see what we've achieved in 10 months. And yet, they can't rationalise it with the behaviour ... It's understandable."
In his view, the city had been held back for years by council indecision, a lack of willingness to address some issues and too little collaboration with other Government and local organisations, and he was elected to change that and get Tauranga moving.
He said the process of change was "hard yards" but he believed progress was happening.
"We are no longer a comfortable club, where it's okay to just talk and not act, and we've seen a lot of that previously. That's really the painful process of change that will benefit the city and our residents in the future."
Powell said he aimed to see a turnaround in the satisfaction levels by the end of this council term and was committed to making Tauranga a city residents were proud of.
"If we get a couple of black eyes along the way, as councillors, well so be it."
Council chief executive Marty Grenfell acknowledged the council had "work to do".
He said it was important the organisation had the trust of its elected members, community and partners, including central Government.
"The community satisfaction result in our latest survey highlights the fact that we have work to do in that respect."
Grenfell, who joined the council in 2018, put some blame on "legacy issues".
"We continue to deal with a number of high profile legacy issues that reflect poorly on the council's performance, and it's unfortunate that these impact on the reputation of the organisation today."
He was proud of the council's performance through Covid-19 and said it was addressing increasing demand on public services from rapid population growth.
"Despite a tough operating environment, we have built and are continuing to develop strong, capable leadership throughout the organisation and that is starting to pay dividends.
"It will take time, but the continual improvements we have been making will flow through into outcomes that meet our community's expectations and I'm confident that will be reflected in improved satisfaction findings in future," Grenfell said.
The results had some good news. Of the satisfied half of the respondents, a third were happy with everything and thought the council was doing a good job. The rest wanted changes.
The downward trend in satisfaction was largely driven by a drop in how respondents viewed the council's reputation.
The council's reputation declined from 58 last year to 50 this year, on a range of -50 to +150. This was "poor", according to a benchmark.
The biggest decrease was in the Te Papa - Welcome Bay and Otūmoetai – Bethlehem ward areas.
Satisfaction with core services such as water, roads, and rubbish, was 66 per cent down from 72 per cent last year.
The results have a margin of error of +/- 4 per cent at the 95 per cent confidence level.
Analysis of the survey data was weighted to align with Tauranga's demographics in the 2018 Census, specifically, age, gender, wards and ethnicity.
The full results and analysis are in the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, on the council's website.