The 2019 Local Government elections are shaping up to be more interesting than usual.

With the retirement of Napier Mayor Bill Dalton, the contest there is wide open and I'm told that a large field of candidates is expected.

Mayor Dalton will be a hard act to follow. One of the very few civic leaders to be elected unopposed in 2016, he has done a very good job for Napier and earned a relaxed retirement.

A surprising number of New Zealand's mayors that were elected or re-elected in the last local elections were identified with the Labour Party.


The mayors of our two biggest cities, Phil Goff in Auckland and Lianne Dalziel in Christchurch, are former Labour ministers and the Wellington Mayor, Justin Lester, ran as an official Labour candidate.

This phenomenon is not limited to the big cities – Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall was a Labour Party candidate for the parliamentary electorate with the same name.

With economic growth in virtually every corner of New Zealand, there are bound to be some interesting issues arising in this year's campaigns.

Jim Boult, the mayor of the Queenstown Lakes District Council, will be promoting a vote on a "local visitor levy" to fund the infrastructure that is under heavy pressure from the huge and burgeoning tourist industry in the region.

In any given years there are 34 international visitors for every resident.

With fewer than 25,000 ratepayers the costs for the local roads and the water and sewerage systems are unaffordable.

Boult will easily win re-election if the locals I spoke to on a recent visit are right and the problems the QLDC faces are reflected in many areas.

Ultimately Boult's levy, like Auckland's "bed tax", would have to be authorised by central government but a strong vote in the mayor's proposed referendum will focus government ministers on the problems of funding local government.


One issue arising in Auckland that I happily bear some degree of responsibility for concerns the electric scooters that can be rented in that city and in Christchurch, Dunedin, Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt.

Towards the middle of last year, an Australian friend called to ask if I would advise Lime Scooter, an international electric scooter hire company, on how to get started in New Zealand.

I did some basic research, finding that this kind of service, (much like the internet-based Uber Taxi service), was springing up everywhere and that Lime, though one of the biggest operators, was by no means the only one.

Commentary I read on such services was generally highly favourable in terms of getting cars off the roads and moving public transport users "the first and last mile" to and from their trains, buses and ferries.

The business model is fascinating and makes the most of online facilities. Scooter users download an application to their smart phones which shows where the available machines are located and it is used to hire the scooter for a one-off fee and a time-based charge.

The scooters are collected up every night by contractors known as "juicers" who recharge their batteries and deploy them for the following morning.

A little research demonstrated that there was nothing to stop anyone renting out electric scooters in New Zealand in the same way as there was nothing to stop the Uber operation. My advice, however, to the Lime people was that an approach to local councils or the appropriate council-controlled entities was the polite way to go about a launch in this country.

Officials at Auckland Transport and the Christchurch City Council were keen for a trial, had the delegated authority to okay them, and by October half of the urban population of the country had access to Lime Scooters and were using them in numbers that created international records.

Then it got interesting!

I copped a deranged personal attack from a politics academic who accused me of some sort of secretive behaviour, even though I'd taken some pride in what had been achieved and happily announced my involvement with Lime on National Radio's highest rating programme.

Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere then came out in opposition to the electric scooter service, despite its huge popularity.

I'd be surprised if Tamihere were to beat Goff and I'm utterly staggered that his handlers - such seasoned campaigners as Matt McCarten and Michelle Boag - would let him make an enemy of an organisation with hundreds of thousands of its supporters' email addresses.

With the head-long development in what is called micro-mobility reflected by, but not limited to these battery-powered scooters, local politicians will be having headaches around such basic questions as footpath usage.

There are 1000 Lime Scooters in Auckland matched by an equal but rapidly growing number of privately-owned scooters.

This is a trend that is not going away.

*Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.