In the coming weeks the Northern Advocate profiles candidates contesting the region’s three mayoralties. Lindy Laird spoke to a Whangarei challenger, Ash Holwell, about his aspirations for the city.

For a man fresh into local body politics, taking a stab at both the Whangarei mayoralty and the Okara seat could be an effective profile-raising exercise if it fails as a quick launch into civic power.

"Power" is probably not the right word to use in reference to Ash Holwell's designs, though.

He would remind elected representatives that the very concept of power can be anti-democratic and anti-community.

Then again, he points out, in terms of having the power to bring about effective, positive community change, New Zealand's local councils have minimal clout compared to other western democracies: here it's only a 90 per cent central government to a 10 per cent local body power-to-spend public money ratio.


On the local level, local body politicians often forgot they were primarily there to speak for the people who voted them in, not to become mouthpieces for the authority to which they had been elected, Mr Holwell said.

And too often, they did not demographically represent their ward.

He gets frustrated that the word "ratepayer" is used as a one-size-fits-all term when it excludes a large number of people who don't and might never own their own property.

Sure, they paid rates by proxy through their rents, or family's or workplace rates, but the language excluded them. It raised the question: how many other ways were this demographic excluded from the decision-making that shaped their district's future?

That's one of the "conversations" Mr Holwell and his fellow mayoral candidate, Matt Keene, in the TogetherTahi team want to have out in the community.

"Councils around the world are shifting from being service providers to being organisations that help communities create their own neighbourhoods, city centres and districts.

"We need a system that is outcome-based rather than process-based."

And outcomes should be based on "effectiveness rather than efficiencies".

Councillors or mayors did not have to be experts in business, public policy, legislation or other niche areas, Mr Holwell said.

There needed to be clear demarcation between governance and management, "but we've got a whole ticket at the moment who don't seem to understand those different roles".

Mr Holwell recognises actions get bogged down as "governance" focuses on processes and the monitoring of correct implementation (the management) of policy, but ask: where is all the creative thinking, the fresh ideas and, to borrow a well-coined phrase, sense of place?

"I dream of a Whangarei that dreams of being itself," he said.

"I believe [in] a sustainable future which looks after everyone who lives here, allows young people, Maori and other under-represented groups to have a voice."

Your chance to meet the candidates:

Want to make an informed voting decision? Of course you do - so get along to a local "meet the candidate" meeting and mingle with the candidates. Voting papers will start arriving from September 16 to 21 - here is where to go, to help make your decision.

* Tuesday, September 13, 7pm: Ruatangata Hall, mayoral candidates and Hikurangi-Coastal ward candidates, plus regional council candidates for the Coastal North constituency.

* Wednesday, September 14, 6.30pm: Onerahi Community Assn (OCA) meeting for mayoral and Okara ward candidates.

* Friday, September 16, 7pm: Ruakaka Parish Residents and Ratepayers Association - Meet the Candidates Evening. Candidates invited are Whangarei mayoralty candidates, Bream Bay Ward candidates and Northland Regional Council Southern Coastal District candidates.

* Saturday, September 17, 2pm: Ngunguru Hall - Coastal WDC and NRC candidates.

* Tuesday, September 20, 6pm: Forum North Expo Hall. Meet the Whangarei mayoral candidates.

* Friday, September 23, 7pm: Meet Whangarei Mayor; Mangakahia and Maungatapere Ward; and Northland Regional Council Coastal South constituency candidates at Mangakahia Sports Complex, Mangakahia Rd, Poroti.