At a time when most Napier citizens want doggedly to maintain the status quo, the 2013 local body elections delivered the biggest makeover our council has seen since four councillors lost their seats in the 2004 election.
But despite the advent of a new mayor, new chief executive and five new councillors, it looks to me like ‘steady as she goes’ will be the order of the day.
New Mayor Bill Dalton first expressed an interest in the city’s highest office when we were both elected to council in 2007. A loyal supporter of the popular Arnott administration, and chair of the Finance and Audit Committee, Bill has been most visible and outspoken in leading the charge against amalgamation.
Over the last two years, he has done the hard yards going from one end of the region to the other defending Napier’s right to maintain its unique identity. His sizeable electoral win gives a clear mandate from the electorate on this and other issues he supports.
He now has around him a well-balanced mixture of new and experienced councillors, all of whom support Napier citizens’ right to choose their city’s future.
Other aspects of the council’s composition are of interest. While the number of women councillors has dropped from six out of 13 to five, NCC still has the highest proportion of women to men in any of the region’s new local bodies except for the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.
As well, Maraenui businesswoman Mere Nepia came within a few votes of becoming our first Māori councillor in her bid for a seat in the Nelson Park ward.
The five newcomers add value to the council by bringing on board new skills, experience and enthusiasm. They include: businessman, JP and school principal Roy Sye; Mark Hamilton, owner/manager of Alexander Construction; accountant Kirsten Wise of Black and White Accounting; Graeme Taylor, general manager of the Napier District Masonic Trust; and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council employee Annette Brosnan, who also adds a youthful outlook, being in her 20s.
They complement re-elected councillors Michelle Pyke, a long-time effective advocate for low and no-income citizens; former cop-turned-businessman Keith Price; well-known retailer and JP Tony Jeffrey; Ahuriri businessman and Major Projects chair Mark Herbert; Rob Lutter, JP, Manager of Napier Alzheimers Society; Faye White, a medical practice manager; and myself, former schoolteacher and occasional journalist.
We all worked collegially well together in our previous terms of office, so hopefully can set a positive tone for collaboration to help the new council gel.
The overall lower voter turnout has been the subject of much soul-searching throughout New Zealand, with blame being shared amongst the confusing voting system, too much reading, too many choices, voters not knowing any candidates, voter ignorance and laziness. Although we can proudly say we bucked the trend in Napier, with the overall turnout going up from 2010’s 44.88% to 47.24%, it is still below well the half-way mark.
However, the re-election of all standing incumbents (apart from John “Bertie” Cocking, who ran an all-or-nothing campaign for the Mayoralty) suggests to me that Napier likes their council and has confidence in their councillors.
The fiscally sound platform built in the Arnott years has given us a strong base to deliver ‘more of the same’, but with the fresh look a new council, mayor and chief executive will bring.
Although amalgamation might have provided a rallying cry for the Napier election, and a defining question often asked of me when I was door-knocking, it is not the only important issue.
The need for further exploration of shared services with other territorial authorities was a recurring theme throughout the campaign and I hope will be explored further by the new council.
Infrastructure-related questions came up again and again in the campaign: the sale or retention of council’s leasehold land; the erosion at Westshore beach, our many earthquake-prone buildings, and the revitalisation of the parade (including the removal of trucks) were popular topics.
There is no doubt that Napier’s pathways, cafes, Ahuriri, Art Deco architecture, and the beautification of the Marine Parade make it a stunning destination. But we could do with more visitors, businesses and employed residents to keep the city buoyant. The need for job-producing economic development in and around the city was raised by many as a major concern that needs to be urgently addressed.
Social issues are of particular concern to me. Although they are not council’s core business, youth unemployment, affordable housing, our ageing population, Mäori aspirations, empty state houses, alcohol and drug abuse, and the growing gap between the rich and the poor all affect the security of our lovely city.
I believe that improving the wellbeing of our least privileged citizens will improve the wellbeing of the city as a whole.
With our first council meeting two weeks away as this goes to press, it is hard to predict how all these issues will be tackled. Different approaches may be taken with having a new chief executive, mayor, councillors and revamped council committees providing fresh input.
A comprehensive induction programme of sessions covering everything from conflict of interest, tourism services, and a bus tour of council facilities is timetabled in for both new and returning councillors over the month of November. This will give us all a better understanding of the way our city works and a solid base for our deliberations.
In my mind, the only way we can move forward and tackle our city’s business is having our council actively working together as a team; trusting, valuing and listening to each other, so we can then engage with all our people to break down any barriers that divide us.
Community engagement is similarly critical to our effectiveness as a council in the term ahead.
“But I don’t know anybody, how can I vote for people I don’t know?” … was a recurring comment I heard on the hustings, which reflects unfavourably on our visibility as councillors out in the communities we serve. I believe that better use of the ward system, and improved communication with Napier’s citizens using all means and media will make us more visible and increase the community’s confidence and engagement in our decision-making.
While Mayor Bill comes from a sharebroker background, he has put aside his desire to travel and holiday in his retirement, instead to serve the citizens of Napier. A people person, he talks about an inclusive council, about sharing the load, and communicating openly with his colleagues and the public.
In my opinion we have the right people, with the right attitude, in place to tackle the challenging job we have ahead.
Maxine Boag was re-elected in October to serve a third term on the Napier City Council for the Nelson Park ward.