'Alarm bells' ring in Napier council while other mayoral races go uncontested

12:36 pm on 30 August 2022

The local government elections in Hawke's Bay are in two different worlds - with some set to be a tough race and others a foregone conclusion.

Looking out over Hawke's Bay from Te Mata Peak, where two mayoral elections will be contested and two others won't be.

Looking out over Hawke's Bay from Te Mata Peak, where two mayoral elections will be contested and two others won't be. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Two mayors have been able to glide through to new terms uncontested, while a bun fight is shaping up for the Napier and Wairoa mayoralties.

New faces across the council table are guaranteed in Napier and Hastings, while Central Hawke's Bay and Wairoa could see exactly the same line-up after the election.

Napier is where much of the battle could be played out.

Incumbent Kirsten Wise is going for a second term at the top.

Wise says she has put effort into improving how the council works - especially alongside its staff.

"What I'm very proud of is working on our council culture. We heard loud and clear in the elections that the community wanted to see some changes in our culture, so that's been a huge focus this term."

Napier mayor Kirsten Wise Photo:

That was despite the chief executive, who was employed under her watch, leaving along with many of the executive team.

That prompted first-term councillor Nigel Simpson to run against her.

"We're seeing of steady stream of senior staff and middle management leaving the organisation, which really starts to ring alarm bells about how comfortable and confident they feel in decisions that are being made at the council table," Simpson said.

He gave the example of plans for a new pool which were stuck on the drawing board - costing money and leaving staff frustrated.

"Staff went and had to do a whole lot of work around how will they maintain the out of date, falling apart Onekawa [aquatic] centre when there was a proposal on the table to build a new one."

First-term councillor Nigel Simpson is running for mayor of Napier, claiming council decisions are "ringing alarm bells" for staff.

First-term councillor Nigel Simpson is running for mayor of Napier, claiming council decisions are "ringing alarm bells" for staff. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Kirsten Wise admitted there had not been much movement on the new pool this term - saying the pandemic and a huge flooding event had slowed the project.

"Well it hasn't progressed particularly far and the reason being it's an incredibly contentious issue for our community and we want to ensure that we actually go out and engage and consult on that as best as we possibly can," she said.

The third mayoral candidate, John Smith, did not reply to a request for comment - but he ran to be Napier's MP in 2020, claiming Covid was a conspiracy and climate change was not real.

Up in Wairoa, five people are running for mayor. Craig Little is going for his fourth term.

Benita Cairns, a former councillor, is running against him, saying rates increases have been too high.

"There is a benchmark of affordability and the council are actually going over that benchmark, in a community that's already living on low incomes," she said.

Murray Olsen, who is also running for mayor, believed a lot of changes were needed.

"I think a lot of people in the town and the whole district aren't represented very well by the council. There's a lot that could be done to tidy up infrastructure in the town," Olsen said.

Wairoa lighthouse.

Five people are running to be mayor of Wairoa, the isolated district between Napier and Gisborne. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Craig Little disputed those allegations.

"I will challenge anyone that says we haven't put money into infrastructure around town. When I came on board we had manholes popping, infiltration of water into our sewerage system, we couldn't cope in a storm. That has all changed now."

The other two candidates, one of whom was a senior manager at the council and recently controversially resigned from his job, did not reply to requests for comment.

Further south in Hastings and Central Hawke's Bay, mayors Sandra Hazlehurst and Alex Walker have been re-elected unopposed.

"I was really looking forward to the opportunity to have that debate publicly but in saying that, also, it's nice to feel that there is enough confidence in me for me to just get on with the job," Walker said.

Hastings' Hazlehurst said it was a "strange place to be."

"But what I'm doing is getting on with the job and we've got a big plan to deliver for our community and to be able to not be interrupted with an election and just carry on with my work has been pretty amazing."

  • Local body nominee numbers still low as elections approach
  • Māhia resident upset at council over privacy breach
  • Ousted Waikato Regional Council chairperson withdraws legal action
  • Final push for local council nominations
  • Last-minute scramble sees every seat filled on Ruapehu, Whanganui, Rangitīkei and Horizons councils