The youngest person ever elected to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council will not stand at the next election because of abuse and ageism.
Stacey Rose was elected unopposed in the 2019 local body election, when he was 19.
Rose, now 22, has become a member of Komiti Māori, Monitoring and Operations Committee, Public Transport Committee, Strategy and Policy Committee, Tauranga Moana Advisory Group, and has been actively involved in leading greater youth involvement with the council.
Rose admitted adjustment from his original career as a barber to that of regional councillor was challenging but "when it came to the crunch, I made the decision not to re-stand after having a whole lot of abuse".
"People need to understand that, moving forward, we really need to look at how we are treating one another and how we are treated as elected members as well. It's more than trying to develop a thick skin," Rose said.
"I've received messages, emails, and phone calls pretty much telling me to 'take a hike', 'you're too young', 'you shouldn't be there'. Others have said 'you should be doing things that people your age do like getting drunk, doing drugs', things like that.
"I've sat there and wondered 'why would you even say this stuff?', he said.
Some of the abuse came from members of the community but some also came from within the wider council organisation itself, he said.
Rose said he did not formally complain about the abuse and ageism he was experiencing because he believed it would eventually stop.
Rose was made to feel "that as a young person I shouldn't be in the chair I'm in".
"I know people speak about racism and Covid vaccinated and non-vaccinated issues but one of the biggest things here is ageism.
"We are being degraded and shot down for being too young."
Rose had long been passionate about getting more young people involved in local government and felt the change was starting to happen, albeit slowly.
"Being on council, there's been a lot of pressure to be more mature in terms of what I wear, the way I speak, the way I do things ... I feel I'm being forced into the old way of doing things.
"Actually, we need to change that mindset and move on to a new era," Rose said.
"I believe it was my job to start that kōrero here in Toi Moana [regional council] but not to continue."
Rose said he learned a lot of patience as a councillor. Issues such as Mount Maunganui's air quality and public transport were significant issues that could not be fixed in a six-month timeframe despite the desire for speedy results, he said.
The pressures of Covid-19 resulting in up to 15 different Zoom meetings a day and the high scrutiny of the role had also taken a toll, Rose said.
"There have been some real struggles with council.
"When you're thrown under the bus constantly about your age, your race being Māori but also being white Māori, it's hard."
Rose plans to mark his Māori heritage permanently with a mataora moko, a traditional face tattoo representing his Ngai Tahu, Ngati Mamoe, and Waitaha roots.
The tattoo will cover most of his face from the bridge of his nose and cheekbones down to his chin. It will be designed by Ngai Tahu kuia working with the tattooist and will depict Rose's whakapapa, he said.
"The first time I will see the design will be literally five to 10 minutes before the tattoo gun goes on my face," he said.
"I'm pumped. I'm excited. I'm really keen to get it done and to really make that journey in this part of my life."
Such a facial tattoo is traditionally considered sacred and revered among Māori. Usually, older men of great mana wear the mataora moko. Rose said he had obtained the blessing of his Ngai Tahu kaumātua, before he died, to receive his in February in Tauranga, rather than his ancestral whenua in the South Island.
"I've decided to be a bit more unorthodox by having it here simply because this is where my leadership sits, so does a lot of my mana."
Rose is also unusual as a councillor by sporting a mullet haircut, having lost a bet, and at just 22 years old carrying a carved tokotoko (walking stick) wherever he goes. The tokotoko was a gift from a tight group of friends, marking the high esteem they held Rose in, he said.
Asked what he would have done differently in his councillor role, Rose said he would not have held back so much in speaking his mind. He was "sad" to be leaving but felt it necessary.
"As a councillor, you should be unique, you should be your own person but also you have to represent your community. I believe I've done as good as I can but moving forward, it's going to be good to see what the next selection of councillors do."
Next year's elections are scheduled for October 8, after which Rose plans to travel overseas.
"I believe now is the time for me to be me, to be young and enjoy life while I can."
Local Government New Zealand president and fellow regional councillor Stuart Crosby said he had seen some of the abuse Rose received.
"I absolutely understand how Stacey feels. We spoke about it. You are marginalised," Crosby said.
Crosby was also the youngest councillor elected to the then Tauranga District Council in 1989.
"You feel that you're too young, you don't have the life experience, you can't contribute.
"My answer to that is that you bring something different to the table and Stacey brought a lot to the table. He was single-handedly responsible for strengthening our relationship with rangatahi. He pushed that ... He's made short-term, mid-term and long-term change."
Crosby said the general make-up of most councils tended to reflect the demographic of people who voted, meaning many councillors were in the 50- to 69-year age group. It was important to encourage more people to vote to help foster greater diversity, he said.
While there was a "shift in a positive direction" but it was happening at a "snail's pace", Crosby said.
Regional council chairman Doug Leeder said he was not aware of the abuse and Rose brought a different perspective to the table. But part of the challenge as a councillor was convincing others to agree with you.
"It doesn't matter if you're young or not."
Leeder said there would likely be "a significant shift" in the demographics of local government next year, as many mayors and councillors throughout New Zealand had already indicated they would step down.