"We are not here to rubber-stamp stuff. We are here to ask questions."
That was the message from commission chairwoman Anne Tolley yesterday after leading Tauranga City Council's first public meeting since the elected members were discharged from their duties.
Seated in the newly rearranged furniture, Tolley, and fellow commissioners Shadrach Rolleston, Stephen Selwood and Bill Wasley each took a moment to introduce themselves.
Councillor Larry Baldock and former councillor Terry Molloy were among the handful of people watching on from the public gallery.
The four commissioners unanimously voted to adopt the Long Term plan by July 30, a delay of a month to when it was originally expected. Community consultation will run from May 7 to June 7 before hearings and deliberations will be held.
The decision means the council will likely commit a statutory breach by doing so.
Council strategy and growth manager Christine Jones warned that despite the extension it would still require significant attention from each commissioner. She recommended the commissioners write to the Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta to inform her of the likely breach.
"I don't think any of us are afraid of hard work," Tolley said.
The commissioners then asked for explanations from the council's executive team, particularly regarding what efforts had been made to listen to residential concerns over works on No 1 Rd in Te Puke and how else the community had been considered in other projects such as the upgrade to Totara St.
Tolley said there were concerns regarding the communication between the council and the community.
Commissioner Stephen Selwood said: "We are very keen to hear what the community has to say. We have to make some big decisions in a relatively short amount of time."
After the meeting, Molloy said he was "very interested" to see how the meeting was handled.
"I think it's going to be very good for the city. Hopefully, it can get democracy back as soon as possible."
The commissioners are expected to be in their role until at least October 2022.
Molloy said he was impressed with Tolley, particularly the nature of her "insightful" questions. He said there was a wide range of knowledge and background in the team that would be "very good for the city over the next few years".
Speaking with the media after the meeting, the commissioners each identified the Long Term Plan as the biggest challenge they faced. The other key focus was ensuring the community were involved in their decisions or at least understood why key decisions were made.
As part of addressing this, the council voted in the meeting to cut the limited time limit for public submissions in the public forum parts of council meetings from 10 minutes per person to five minutes to enable more people to have their say. This will take effect from the next council meeting on March 8.
Tolley acknowledged a firm line of questioning of the executive team and referred to not "rubber-stamping" items.
"We've got to make some big decisions," she said. "The Long Term Plan is a really important plan for Tauranga so we need to understand what is happening on the ground.
"It's about having enough knowledge and understanding to make those high-level strategic decisions but also holding the management to account," she said.
"When you design multi-modal transport, it's not just lines on the paper. These are real people out there driving cars, driving trucks, walking or cycling or pushing prams, wheelchairs, etc. It needs to be able to meet all of their needs safely. That's part of the 'why' things happen ... that connects what the council is doing with the community's expectations."
Selwood said this was "critical".
"If we haven't done that early on then we are going to have a lot of debate and division.
"We could come in here and make some executive decisions as a bunch of people, cut and thrust, and get it sorted but the likelihood of that enduring beyond our term becomes problematic."
Selwood said that while an increase in rates could help address some of the city's issues, such as water utilities, they weren't the only option. The commission would be looking at all financial avenues.
Rolleston reiterated the need for community buy-in, saying the impact of their efforts needed longevity.
"We don't want to leave here and ultimately things revert to what they were. We want good leadership for our city in order to move our city forward."
Rolleston admitted it was "sad" that the city had reached a point where commissioners were needed.
"We shouldn't be here, to be honest," he said.
"If our community, our council, had been functioning in terms of leadership, strategic thinking ... while unfortunate ... we hope to bring what we can to move the city forward."
Wasley, who was director of planning and environment at the council from 1989 to 1995, said the commission role was a wonderful opportunity to "give life" to his most recent role as chairman of Smartgrowth.
He added: "We cannot achieve what we've been tasked with just as four commissioners or just as Tauranga city. We will need to think of others on the way through."