John Newland was "barely aware" of the Hawke's Bay Power Consumers' Trust when he stepped down from his role as Farmlands chief executive in 2006.

The trust owns Unison on behalf of electricity account holders in Napier and Hastings. Unison owns the electricity lines in Hastings, Napier, Rotorua and Taupo and has several subsidiary companies.

After being elected to the trust nine years ago, fellow trustees voted Mr Newland chairman.

He said the trust's main objective was the appointment of directors to Unison and he took the chairmanship reins with a clear objective for Unison.

"My key objectives were to establish a better process for appointing directors and to increase diversity: lower the age, get a wider range of perspectives and a more comprehensive skill set," he said.


"Most of them had been directors since Unison was set up and it was time for some rejuvenation - it was pretty much old, male and stale and the process for appointing directors was not particularly robust.

"That has been a key focus and in my nine years the whole board has been replaced."

A succession plan made it clear to directors when they were expected to retire.

Last to go was recently-retired Unison chairman Kevin Atkinson, whom Mr Newland nominated to run in the current trust election.

"Trustees need a strong commercial perspective but the reality is democracy does not deliver skills," Mr Newland said.

It is Mr Atkinson's political skills that have been in demand, after declaring an interest in consulting with the consumer-owners of Unison about diverting profit into community projects. Currently the trust diverts profit into placing overhead cables underground, subsidising home insulation and electric blanket testing.

The three incumbents on the trust - Diana Kirton, Helen Francis and Ken Gilligan - have banded together under the mantra "Your Cheque - Your Choice" as an alternative to the five's alleged "pet projects".

Ms Kirton has refuted allegations of hypocrisy over accusing the five of planning "pet projects" when incumbent trustees diverted Unison profits to projects only trustees chose, because the incumbent projects involved electricity so benefited consumer-owners.

A campaign statement by Ms Francis that the five intended "to take the full dividend away from our consumers", was interpreted by some on social media as meaning there would be no cash dividend paid to the trust's consumer-owners.

Ms Francis told Hawke's Bay Today it was not misleading.

"If I had meant the whole dividend I would have said whole or entire," she said.

The five's community projects, if approved by consumer-owners, will likely be funded from profits sourced from Unison's non-grid, non-government-controlled businesses.

Should the five be elected and all profit diversions rejected by consumer-owners it would result in a bigger dividend cheque. This year's dividend of $250 went to almost 60,000 electricity account holders. Last year the cheque was for $200 and 10 years ago it was for $100.

Future Unison profit-growth prospects are strong, especially from Unison's Auckland transformer company ETEL, purchased in 2009. Last year ETEL bought a transformer company in Indonesia.

The potential in Indonesia, the fourth most populated country in the world, is substantial and because Indonesia is an ASEAN nation the company has access to the developing markets of the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. There is scope for Unison to export its integrated-fibre innovations for electricity delivery.

The five also promise to review payments to trustees - $22,000 per person plus compensation for about 15 meetings a year.

The five are Mr Atkinson, former Napier MP and Cabinet minister Chris Tremain, paediatrician and former children's commissioner Russell Wills, former Napier mayor Barbara Arnott and former pharmacist Peter Dunkerley.

Muddying the waters is that five trust candidates are on the board of the Hawke's Bay District Health Board. Trust incumbents Diana Kirton and Helen Francis are going head-to-head with Ms Arnott, Mr Dunkerley and health board chairman Kevin Atkinson.

Ms Francis was recently reprimanded by Mr Atkinson for sending election campaign emails to Hawke's Bay District Health Board addresses and apologised to recipients and board members.

"I thought all email addresses I used were private ones and I also thought the code of conduct only applied to DHB elections," she said.

"Both of these were errors on my part."

Mr Atkinson said it was "entirely appropriate" he reprimanded Ms Francis, despite his conflict of interest because he was her trust election opponent.

"I don't see any problem at all," he said.

"I'm chairman of the board and it was a breach of our code of conduct."

Mr Newland said the division amongst candidates had raised the profile of the trust.

"The candidates have been more proactive and I would expect a higher level of turnout this time."

As of Thursday 19.3 per cent of consumer-owners had voted compared with 17.2 per cent for the same period at the last election three years ago.

He was not surprised at the division, saying "there was a mood for things to be done a bit different".

He has no plans to run in any future trustee election. He said the trust deed stipulates only three consecutive terms be served by trustees and any more time on the trust was "never the intention of the document".

"If you have done nine years then it is time to step aside for someone else."

If Mr Gilligan is re-elected and completes his term he would have served 18 years as trustee. Ms Kirton was trustee for three three-year terms and stood down before elected for the current term.

Also running for the five trustee positions are: retiring Napier Port CEO Garth Cowie, insurance broker Bill Reilly, accountant Giles Pearson, former Hawke's Bay regional councillor Liz Remmerswaal and consultant electrical engineer and former trustee John Geoghegan.

Hawke's Bay Power Consumers' Trust voting

*13 candidates for five trust positions.

*Voters are Napier or Hastings electricity customers.

*Trustees represent above customers which own Unison.

*Unison owns electricity lines and several other companies.

*A First Past the Post triennial election.

*Three incumbents.

*Postal, online or ballot box voting.

*Polling place is BWR 111 Avenue Rd East, Hastings.

*Voting closes at 5pm on October 2.

*All inquiries, phone 0800 922 822.