Incoming mayor Nick Smith plans to reset 'dysfunctional' Nelson council

6:57 pm on 10 October 2022
Nick Smith

Nick Smith says it is going to be a "big challenge to reset the council from what has been a pretty dysfunctional period". Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Nelson's new mayor Nick Smith is excited to be back in politics, leading his home town through the recovery of the devastating floods which saw hundreds of residents displaced and their homes damaged.

Smith was elected mayor with a comfortable lead of more than 10,300 votes, ahead of former councillor Matt Lawrey, who had just over 6000 votes when the preliminary results were announced.

The former National Party MP said through his 10-week campaign he had engaged with a diverse range of Nelsonians and it was clear there had been "quite a loss of confidence" in the council.

"The council has also had more than its fair share of governance issues that will make for some hard work ahead."

Alongside outgoing mayor Rachel Reese, chief executive Pat Dougherty is also not seeking another term and will finish in his role in December, while half of Nelson's councillors chose not to stand for re-election.

Three-term councillor Lawrey will not be returning to the council table after going all-in to contest the mayoralty.

Lawrey said he had spent "nine very rewarding years" as a city councillor and cited saving the Railway Reserve, pedestrianising upper Trafalgar St, planning a walkway and cycleway for the waterfront, increasing residential inner city development and improving both public and active transport as some of the achievements he was most proud of.

"You can get stuff done if you've got good ideas and you are prepared to stick your neck out and take some flak, in the end the good ideas will win.

"It can be easy to get a little bit disgruntled because it is hard to get things done and you do face all sorts of unexpected obstacles and often what might be a good idea initially does not get a warm reception from the public but a lot can be done through local government - it's really, really important."

Lawrey said while he would have loved to be elected mayor, he was looking forward to pursuing other projects, while spending more time with his family and hitting the region's mountain-biking trails.

Kahu PakiPaki

Kahu PakiPaki for the newly established Whakatū Māori ward. Photo: Supplied

With Smith, there will be six new faces around the council table this term: Aaron Stallard, Matty Anderson, and James Hodgson in the central ward, Campbell Rollo and Matthew Benge in the Stoke-Tāhunanui ward and Kahu PakiPaki in the newly established Whakatū Māori ward.

Smith said it would take time to change the culture around the council table, but also the relationship with staff and the community.

"It's going to be a big challenge to reset the council from what has been a pretty dysfunctional period, the last term has been particularly bad but some of the problems are quite deep-seated.

"I am quite realistic that is not an instant job, it is a job that is going to take years not weeks, but the job over the next few weeks is going to be setting the right foundations to be able to re-build confidence."

While he had nearly three decades of experience in central government, he said local government was different and he had some important learning to do.

He planned to seek support from friends Phil Goff and Lianne Dalziel who had also made the transition from Parliament into local body politics.

"I do have the benefit of a huge depth of ward experience within the Nelson community itself and will be drawing on that."

Smith said Nelson, like all councils, was feeling the financial pressure of high inflation and interest rates.

"There are no shortages of challenges between the immediate issues associated with the floods and landslides of August of which, right this week, we've got major issues to work through."

He said there were also a number of council buildings, namely Civic House and the Elma Turner Library that had infrastructure issues that needed to be addressed.

The business community, particularly the tourism and hospitality industries, had also suffered through the Covid-19 pandemic and their recovery needed to be supported, he said.

Smith had already met with council chief executive Pat Dougherty for a briefing on the most urgent issues facing Nelson and to ensure a smooth transition into his role.

The final election results are due to be announced on Thursday and Smith said he would meet with all elected members to build the team to lead Nelson through the next three years.

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