“I work bloody hard.”
If one measured by work ethic alone, Lawrence Yule would have an insurmountable lead in his bid for re-election as mayor of Hastings.
Lawrence says he devotes 50 hours a week to his job as mayor, excluding time spent on his duties as president of Local Government NZ (we’ll come back to that). And, as someone who gets around to many public meetings and events myself, and faithfully reads the mayor’s regular activity reports to his Council, I see the evidence of that.
Lawrence Yule works capably and doggedly on Council business and the projects he believes in. Grant him that.
But of course, measuring anyone as a candidate for re-election requires more than counting his time sheets … the real issues are values, accomplishments, mistakes, sensibilities, missed opportunities and future plans.
Further, any evaluation needs to occur in a rather critical context – who is the alternative?!
So, here we are, roughly three months out from Election Day (9 October, but voting papers mail on 17 September), and it’s time to begin looking into how the Hastings mayoral race might shape up. Who are the leading candidates (announced or rumoured) and what might they offer us?
I’ve interviewed Mayor Yule and his most likely and formidable opponents. Here are some initial impressions.
As I write, only two individuals have explicitly declared their candidacies – Lawrence Yule and Simon Nixon. After three terms as mayor, Lawrence needs no further introduction.
Simon Nixon is a self-employed video and television producer. He is a board member of HB Wine Country Tourism Assn and a trustee of Runway Hawke’s Bay Trust. He has been a marketing and planning manager in several NZ companies, as well as an orchardist.
Simon’s chief notoriety comes from his years of fervent advocacy for expanding the regional airport … something he argues our local elected leaders did not push aggressively enough. That advocacy, and his articulation of “waste and inefficiency” issues, won him 7147 votes in his 2007 campaign for mayor (against Yule’s 11,117).
Incidentally, Simon indicates he will “probably” run for a Council seat as well, “probably” from the Hastings ward.
Three others have indicated their possible interest in running for mayor – Wayne Bradshaw, Des Ratima and Murray Douglas. Each is, as they say, weighing their political options.
Wayne Bradshaw is a Hastings Councillor representing the Havelock North ward, and chairs the Council’s Finance & Monitoring Committee. An accountant by training, Wayne has operated a variety of local businesses, including Wine Country Lodge and Bradshaw Estate Winery. He serves on the boards of the Havelock North Business Association and Rugby League Hawke’s Bay, and is adviser to Flaxmere’s Te Aranga Marae.
Wayne has developed a reputation as a budget scrutineer, constantly questioning spending priorities and practices of the Hastings Council. He successfully pressured HDC to set a target for 5% in efficiency savings over the past year, a goal that was achieved by HDC staff.
Des Ratima, the “mayor” of Whakatu, chairs the HDC/Maori Joint Committee of the Hastings Council, and is chair of the Te Aranga Marae in Flaxmere. He is a community worker and ex-soldier.
Des is a strong proponent of empowering the marae as the focalpoint of Maori social, economic and political development. In his vision, marae should be driving activities like job training and health care.
Murray Douglas is CEO of the Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce. A town planner and economic policy analyst by trade, he’s had a long career in local government and business, having been CEO respectively of the City of Sydney, City of Moonee Valley in Victoria, City of Dunedin and the Waikato Regional Council. He also served for eight years as CEO of Dunedin Holdings, which has interests in electricity, forestry, transport, works contracting and finance.
Murray has a strong interest in the arts, including as a former member of Creative New Zealand Board, and is currently chair of Opera HB. He operates a summer fruit orchard and is treasurer of HB Tree Crops association, reflecting his interest in diversification into new crops, such as figs.
As chief advocate for the HB Chamber, Murray has been a steady critic of councils’ spending practices and fiscal stewardship.
[Note: Abiding by Chamber ground rules, Murray is the only potential mayoral candidate to decline an interview with BayBuzz. Apparently some Chamber board members frown at the prospect of Murray running afoul of Mayor Yule, and thereby jeopardizing the Chamber’s access and effectiveness as a lobbying group. A pity.]
This article doesn’t attempt to critically examine the views of the candidates in great depth. That will come in later editions of BayBuzz Digest as the candidate line-up becomes official. Here we’re simply presenting a “preview” of the issues most likely to be debated during the campaign.
For better or worse, Lawrence Yule has a nine-year record as mayor that sets the stage for the campaign. I asked Lawrence to talk about his top achievements over the last term, as well as his mistakes and future priorities.
For top achievements, he mentions: 1) slowing down the Air Quality Standards implementation, which he argues will save the Hastings households millions and reduce limitations on industrial expansion; 2) the Regional Sports Park (none of his possible opponents supported the RSP proposal); and 3) progressing development of regional planning, such as the HPUDS regional review, and a combined District Plan.
As for mistakes? “I’ve made the odd mistake along the way. And probably the biggest political mistake I made was the way I originally thought we should resolve Ocean Beach, and I think I was punished for that in the last election. But that’s now behind us.”
And what should we expect going forward?
Lawrence’s priorities are: 1) continuing forward with the sports park (“I’m not certain whether the velodrome decision will be made before or after the election,” he says); 2) making the case for amalgamation (“If you sat down with a blank piece of paper, you wouldn’t run things like this”); 3) progressing an aquatics strategy and related facilities improvements; 4) continuing what he calls “ground zero” work in Flaxmere (“I think this work is making a real difference in the community”); and 5) contending with regional planning and funding for sport (“We’re too fragmented at the moment and we need to do a lot, lot more … we need to get our head out of the sand, decide what we need, and decide who’s going to fund what”).
That’s Lawrence’s view of the agenda. And as Mayor, with guaranteed access to media and daily presence in community events, he has heaps of opportunity to drive campaign debate around the issues and opportunities he chooses over the coming months. But what else might be on the table?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here, for example, are some excerpts from Lawrence Yule’s first mayoral campaign brochure in 2001:
“A council must not risk ratepayers’ money on high risk projects. It must limit rate increases to that which is sustainable by the wider community.”
“I will … maintain strict financial management of Splash Planet … and sell the Hastings Holiday Park and use the capital to repay civic debt.”
“I would like to see Hastings promoted as a retirement capital … The development of retirement villages is big business. Council should aim to meet the special needs of the retired community.”
These original promises illustrate the core “problem” that Yule’s erstwhile opponents see in his performance over three terms – an over-willingness to spend, especially on what some call “monuments”, and an insufficient determination to protect the pocketbooks of average ratepayers.
His opponents will note big spending on projects like the sports park and Opera House, the un-ending substantial losses from enterprises like Splash Planet, and the irony that HDC recently rejected precisely the sort of retirement village that the Mayor seemed to be promoting nine years ago.
Referring to criticism of big projects like the Opera House and sports park, Mayor Yule says: “I see these as an essential part of our infrastructure … if someone didn’t take the lead, they wouldn’t get done.” He continued: “I have no big project for the next term” other than seeing through the sports park development. Hastings’ one big remaining need, as he sees it, is a high quality hotel in the city centre, but that’s something for private developers to do.
For some of the Mayor’s opponents, the pocketbook issue appears to be the only issue.
Simon Nixon delights in reeling off examples of Council waste, inefficiency, over-use of consultants, blossoming debt, large amounts spent on initiatives that never got off the ground (Ocean Beach, Northern Arterial Road). He talks about the need for a defining issue, and his, as he puts it, is “Money, wasting money! We’re building up an accumulation of things that lose money.”
Wayne Bradshaw – with more information and more accurate understanding of the numbers than Nixon – has chipped away for three years at exactly the same issues. “A proposal to spend $20,000 or $30,000 will come up and councillors will vote to spend it like water.” Noting that our growth is expected to come from traditionally low income parts of the population, he added: “Much more spending discipline is our #1 need.” And Murray Douglas, having reviewed every annual plan and LTCCP in detail for the Chamber, adds to the Greek chorus decrying fuzzy financial assumptions, missed opportunities for efficiencies and shared services amongst councils, and poor planning.
When it comes to critiquing the fiscal performance and direction of the Mayor and his Council, these three individuals are singing from the same songbook. One would be hard-pressed to find any significant points of differentiation.
If pocketbook concerns prove to be uppermost in voters’ minds in October, any of these three would be positioned to capture the ratepayer “protest vote.” Of course Lawrence would be happiest if they all ran, as they would merely divide the protest vote and cancel one another out.
Chinese Water Torture
Some campaigns are driven and decided by a single game-changing issue or event … a grievous personal gaffe or impropriety, exposed corruption, a spectacular policy back-fire. And if any of these occurred during the reign of Lawrence Yule, one would expect his opponents to bore in and exploit that failure.
But listening to Yule’s potential opponents, this does not appear to be likely. None of the Mayor’s adversaries claims to have a “silver bullet” that would carry the day.
Instead, in one way or another, each points to an accumulation of mistaken policies or missed opportunities as they view his record. Their conversations turn back again and again to claims of political opportunism (“he follows the wind”), inability to fix lingering “problems” (like Splash Planet), missed opportunities (like shared services), or a perceived penchant for projects favoured by the community’s elite.
Listening to them, the “Chinese water torture” image comes to mind – it’s the steady drip, drip, drip on the forehead that drives you crazy.
What Wayne discovered was a “lot of ignored issues around the Council table, such as footpaths, halls, swimming pools … an accumulation of issues that needed to be addressed in a practical way.”
Counters Lawrence: “People will judge my nine years and say, ‘Yep, he’s done this, this, this, and we don’t like that, but overall he’s done a pretty good job’, versus someone else who will say they’ll do it this way, and that’ll be the judgment that people make. I don’t know how that’s going to go, and I don’t take that support for granted. I’ll stand by my record.”
But from Wayne’s perspective, Mayor Yule’s greatest political vulnerability is “length of service. Sometimes it comes down to people just want a change. The longer you’re there, the more you might think you’re mayor as a matter of right, rather than privilege.” Wayne favors a two-term limit for mayor.
One man’s self-aggrandizement or personal ambition is another man’s vision.
My own political sense is that it is insufficient to counter a positive vision with a purely negative critique (unless you have the silver bullet). One candidate offers Camelot; the other complains it will require too many consultants; another that it’s time to get “back to the basics.” Camelot usually wins.
Lawrence Yule is very clear about his ambitions for a next term. “I’ve tried to set myself up in every term to do something that I think is valuable to the community … that people will look back and say, ‘as well as fixing footpaths and chairing meetings and having teas, there actually was a focus,’ … and my focus will be trying to come up with a structure that makes Hawke’s Bay as effective and efficient as it can be … this is about Hawke’s Bay competing against the rest of New Zealand and the world.”
At this early stage in the campaign, with the exception of Des Ratima, I haven’t heard the Mayor’s potential opponents articulate much resembling a vision for the District. They are still sharpening their critiques (in the event they run) and haven’t progressed to the “vision thing.” And, of course, they’re entitled to make a political calculation that it’s premature to reveal their positive plans for the District.
That said, there are some cloudy concepts taking shape.
Simon Nixon says he “wants to look around the corner … and get a proper look into the future.” He talks of a fifty-year time horizon with substantial economic and environmental challenge, and the need to justify major council projects within that framework. He cites cycling infrastructure as something that fits this foresighted approach. He sees the visitor industry as the area of our local economy we can most affect for growth and better incomes. And he advocates serious upgrading of EIT to help uplift our labour resource.
Wayne Bradshaw talks about revitalizing volunteerism, better supporting and utilizing community organizations to meet local needs, and developing a “new model” to underpin sport activity in the region. And: “We need to build a foundation for economic development in the district,” he says, if we expect to be able to pay for Opera Houses and sports parks. That would include initiatives like transforming the A&P show grounds into a much more economically productive events centre.
But perhaps Des Ratima, at this point, expresses the most holistic vision – centered around relationships, the environment, and cultural richness – that would motivate his campaign and his term as mayor.
Playing with Hastings’ new slogan, Des says he wants to “put the heartbeat into the heart of Hawke’s Bay.”
His view is that Mayor Yule doesn’t get excited about much other than the sports park, which Des believes will not meet the needs of the Maori community (“We just need to get them on pushbikes,” he says), while giving low priority to far more important needs and changes that are coming.
“There’s a new dawn coming with the advent of treaty settlements and with plans to amalgamate that will require different skills to maximize the opportunity for all parties … We really need to begin to understand better how we should be relating to one another … We need to strengthen the cohesion of our entire community, particularly in view of the Maori economic gains that are associated with treaty settlements affecting Hastings.”
Given this vision, it’s not surprising that if elected mayor, Des would conduct the first meeting or hui of the new Council at his marae.
Remarkably, to me at least, Des Ratima is the only mayoral candidate who actually initiates conversation about the environment. He ticks off a number of environmental issues, like water, where he believes the core principle must be restoring natural balance. “Often on environmental issues,” he notes, “it is the Maori argument that wins the day, but everybody benefits.”
All the rest, including Mayor Yule, will respond to a question about the environment, but even then with little palpable passion or conviction. Responds Simon: “Yeah, I do have environmental concerns; it’s hard I guess to define them. I tend to see them in economic terms.” Wayne talks about water when asked for an environmental issue.
The final element of Des’ “heartbeat” vision is to amplify the role cultural tourism should play as a key attraction for visitors to Hastings … “Hastings has the cultural stories people want; we just haven’t been very good at telling them.”
Which brings us to perhaps the most subjective aspect of assessing the mayoral candidates … leadership capability and style.
Let’s define “leadership” as a demonstrated ability to project confidence, forge consensus and cooperation in contentious situations, articulate compelling goals and strategies, take prudent risks, and inspire others to follow.
Arguably, one runs for mayor to lead. Comments Simon: “The agenda is driven by the mayor. If you change the council, but not the mayoralty, nothing will change.”
Likewise Wayne: “The agenda is set by the mayor. There’s a lot of work that goes on before it gets to the Council table between management and the mayor. Unless you’re in that position to set the agenda and then set some proactive ways of achieving what you want to, you can’t do it from around the Council table, you’ve got to do it from the mayor’s chair.”
Lawrence Yule likes to project an image of leadership. And it’s fair to say that he strongly champions the initiatives he favors, working to build support.
These have tended to be “bricks & mortar” projects – Pettigrew-Green Arena, the HB Opera House, the sports park. Regarding these, the Mayor says: “I would like people to look back in fifty years time and say ‘these are amazing facilities and whoever thought about that did a really good job, because it’s made a difference to our lives’. And yes I’ve got to push, to reach out, incur some controversy, but nothing that’s ever done of any significance doesn’t have that attached.”
However, his critics say that the more committed Lawrence is to achieving his goal, the less respectful he is of transparency and due process. The Mayor responds: “People will judge me by the results.” In this regard, we discussed the Higgins sports park non-tendered contract controversy, which I suggested might be a political problem. “No, not a problem,” was his short and confident response. Each of his possible opponents is sharply critical of the Higgins deal, as evidence of bad judgment, at the least. “A disgusting performance … it’s one small step from this to something more underhand,” says Simon.
Others say that the Mayor doesn’t really lead on contentious issues … he reads the prevailing winds and then sails with them. This is how, for example, Des characterizes Mayor Yule’s involvement in Flaxmere’s probation centre controversy … a late arriver, not a leader. Simon would say the same about the Mayor’s evolving stance on Haumoana/Te Awanga restoration. Others say that the Mayor’s most significant political gift is his ability to make people think that he supports their cause or position, when the reality too often proves different. Claims Simon: “Lawrence is a great one for implying promises to people, but failing to deliver.”
And still others say that leadership requires total commitment to one job, that of mayor, while Lawrence has competing priorities and distracting demands as President of Local Government NZ. To this point Lawrence responds, “I am the Mayor first. The community needs a full-time mayor and I deliver that.”
That said, “I’m only now becoming aware of the significance of relationships that I have and the ability to make things happen here, which if I wasn’t President of LGNZ would be far more difficult … The ratepayers are doing very well out of the contacts that I have and the relationships I have with Ministers now.” He gave Hastings’ promising velodrome prospects and the delay in clean air implementation as examples.
Counters Simon: “What have we got out of government? A prison! … Lawrence is cultivating his next move in the scheme of things and that is compromising his actions and thinking on issues that are important to Hastings and Hawke’s Bay. I think there are times you have to piss the Prime Minister off.”
Lawrence’s term at LGNZ ends July 2011 and he says he hasn’t made a decision on seeking the post again.
What about the leadership qualities of the Mayor’s potential opponents?
Although, granted, Simon Nixon has strongly advocated for airport expansion, that doesn’t necessarily constitute leadership capability.
As the most recent candidate to oppose Mayor Yule, Simon is a natural “lightening rod” for protest voters, but he has made no effort to channel that constituency into involvement or action. Over the past three years, he has been invisible on policy and governance matters, other than occasionally firing a salvo in the media. He has not participated in the “give and take” around the very issues on which he would now propose to “lead” us.
If he is a leader, as opposed to a gadfly, we haven’t seen it demonstrated yet.
Wayne Bradshaw is considerably more substantial than a “gadfly,” but also still needs to do more to establish his leadership capabilities. Time after time I’ve heard people say, “It’s terrific to have Wayne on the Council raising hell the way he does, and maybe that’s the best role for him.” My advice to Wayne would be … sharpen with your mayoral vision and start field-testing it. And tell us some of your leadership stories.
Murray Douglas is a curious case. He’s possessed of intellectual firepower and deeply relevant experience, which equips him to provide clear thinking and direction in many policy and governance debates. And as head of a constituency group populated with other strong personalities, doers and thinkers, one would expect that considerable leadership skills are required to herd the cats, forge consensus, etc.
But at the same time, he seems to generate mixed response – mostly regarding style – within his core business constituency. Maybe it just goes with the territory … to make an omelet, break an egg.
Arguably, for somewhat differing reasons, each of these three needs to show us their passionate followers.
That brings us to Des Ratima. To him, leadership is critical. He discusses Lawrence in Churchillian terms … “Maybe Lawrence is a man for war, but not for peace.” He’s good for building things, comments Des, “but he has little idea of the complexities of really dealing with our people and this will be extremely important over the next three to six years.”
Mayor Yule, in Des’ view, “has difficulty relating with the middle to lower income people.” Where his administration has reached out to poorer communities, “it’s been a reaction to pressure rather than desire.” And in Flaxmere, Des comments, “the good changes that are happening are coming from within the community … Lawrence is the beneficiary of those changes, not the leader of them.”
And what about Des himself? As noted earlier, Des plays a variety of leadership roles for his local community (Whakatu), his marae and the HDC/Maori Joint Committee … all of these seem to represent the “reward” for commitment, work effort, and an ability to inspire others. And he is determined to play a leadership role in making the transition to greater Maori empowerment in the region through treaty settlements a win/win situation. Arguably he’s the most proven community leader amongst the mayoral challengers.
So there you have it … a first pass at the Hastings mayoral candidates. Nominations officially open on 23 July and close on 20 August. So watch this space for further analysis of the official candidates and their campaigns.
Meantime, you can get a head start and indicate your mayoral candidate preference right now! You might influence who stands, or who does not. Go to www.baybuzz.co.nz and vote there.