It's been six years since Kaipara residents last had the chance to vote in a district council. Alexandra Newlove spoke to candidate Greg Gent bout his pragmatic attitude to the mayoralty.

Local politics was never an ambition for Greg Gent.

But when 17 community members turned up at his Ruawai front door, asking him to help the depressingly indebted Kaipara District Council, the farmer and businessman considered it a "defining moment".

A bit of gentle prodding from wife Ann Flood sealed the deal.


"I was half thinking, how is this [election] going to go?" Mr Gent says. "Ann was saying if this goes back down a hole, you aren't allowed to complain if you didn't put your hand up and try and do something to try and stop it."

There will be no grand campaign promises or flashy billboards. Just a series of advertisements in the local paper, stating Mr Gent's aims and qualifications: Twenty years' governance experience including roles as chair of Northland Dairy and Kiwi Dairy companies, and deputy chair of Fonterra.

"I guess the one thing I think I can bring is experience around governance and this [the mayoral job] would be on the smaller end of what I've done," Mr Gent said. "My weakness would be around the community side. I've lived here all my life but I work away a fair bit... I do feel a bit removed from the community so I'll rely heavily on councillors for that part of it."

While he currently chairs Southern Cross Health Group and FMG, he says he would need to tone down his commitments outside Kaipara were he elected.

And if that happens, Mr Gent says people can look forward to a council that's well-run, takes care of the basics, trains up future leaders and reduces the $65 million debt behemoth - largely a result of the botched Mangawhai sewage scheme.

"I also would initiate some changes around how the money's run, which would be difficult for future councils to undo," Mr Gent says of Kaipara's return to democracy after its four-year stint under Government-appointment commissioners.

Mr Gent in fact led the three person review of KDC which resulted in the commissioner roles, after the elected council stood down.

"It was actually a sad experience if I'm truthful. Everywhere you looked there were issues... I knew it was going to define us for a long time because that debt was there, and still is.


"The opportunities for us aren't massive at the moment, it's just running the ship well, which is slightly boring, but important."

He said "good people out of their depth" caused the current problems. Preventing a repeat lies in strong leadership and good succession training.

"It's a $50 million business, employs over 100 staff and has massive complexity... Running big business through democracy is not easy. The outputs are social, but it still has to run commercially."