Zero or halved rates for over-65s, financial austerity and a new disability policy were all ideas floated at a Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers campaign launch on Monday night.
The event, held at Springfield Golf Club, launched the mayoralty campaign of current councillor Reynold Macpherson, as well as five other councillor candidates' campaigns – John Chetty, Brendan Davis, Robert Lee and Rawiri Tekowhai, and independent rural ward candidate Karen Barker.
Lee said Macpherson was the "sharpest knife in the drawer".
Taking the stage with an almost 40-minute speech, Macpherson promised to enact "deep change" at the district council, comparing it to a "deep clean".
"The choice we offer is between more of the same, or deep change.
"Deep change has to be led by a person with decades of specialist experience in organisational reform, otherwise it won't happen."
Born and raised on a dairy farm near Kaitaia, he said his father was raised by a step-mother of Ngāi Takoto whakapapa, and his extended family was Dalmatian and Dutch.
"We are all shades of brown ... we are all one family."
He had "learned leadership the hard way" in the army, and he was "invited here to Rotorua to fix Waiariki [Toi Ohomai]." He said $1 million of debt in that organisation was settled and a million-dollar profit was invested back into the Nursing School.
Macpherson said Rotorua had "become [his] tūrangawaewae".
"My point of difference, as a mayoral candidate, is expertise in fixing sick organisations."
He said Rotorua Access Group should be invited to help develop a council disability policy and implementation plan for elected members to consider.
Macpherson also believed all elected members should be involved in the appointment and annual performance review of the chief executive, whoever might be in that role.
He said people felt "powerless" about moves towards co-governance, rates rises, council spending, the reserves proposal, and the "homeless industry" in Rotorua.
"[The] council's financial strategy must include austerity measures.
"This theme of powerlessness ... is translating into positive political pushback.
"This is the practical solution we offer. We'll fix [the] council and we'll fix Rotorua."
The event was hosted by Lee, who came on to the stage to the sound of Big Yellow Taxi by Counting Crows.
He told those assembled he had been "dragged off the couch" for his passion to save the golf course from the Westbrook Sports Precinct proposal and said he believed closed-door council workshops were "secret squirrel stuff".
"[Closed-door council workshops] shouldn't be happening in the way that they are."
He believed Te Tatau o Te Arawa should not be part of the workshops and said if he were elected he would invite a new council to "consider whether or not the Te Arawa partnership is in fact a lawful partnership".
Councillor candidate Brendan Davis said he was passionate about fighting against Three Waters reform and believed rates should be capped.
"If I had a choice, but I don't, because we have a budget ... people over 65 really should not have to pay rates, or have half or reduced rates.
"They cannot pay for these sky-high rates."
If elected, he would "work hard" for constituents.
"I am honest. I believe in openness and accountability."
Councillor candidate John Chetty said his presence on the stage was "unlikely" as the son of farmers from Nadi, who "fell in love" with Rotorua on a visit in summer 1988.
"We are ready to take the council in a fundamentally new direction.
"You can be the new majority ... who can lead the city out of long political darkness.
"You are the senior citizens, the ratepayers, the people of Rotorua and the residents who are tired of the division."
He wanted people to feel "safe and happy" when moving around the city.
"We will restore Rotorua. We will restore our moral standing."
Councillor candidate Rawiri Tekowhai said he believed in democracy and "one person, one vote" and opposed "secret meetings" and Three Waters reform.
He also wanted to see emergency housing in motels addressed.
"There's no money in healing, but there's plenty of money in keeping people dependent on [the] Ministry of Social Development and the motels."
Karen Barker, who was running in the rural ward, also spoke at the launch, and said while she was an independent candidate she had "great respect" for what the group stood for.
She wanted to see better funding for rural issues, particularly rural roads and "genuine consultation and transparency".
She also wanted to "slow down the spending big time" and slow down – or stop – Three Waters reform, which she believed would take power away from locals.
"Let's make Rotorua a great place to live in again."
Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers-endorsed Bay of Plenty Regional Council candidate Mark Gould was also invited to the stage by Lee but was not present.
• Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air.