Tauranga council commission request for hybrid model turned down again

5:11 pm on 18 April 2024
Former National party MP Anne Tolley believes the city's biggest challenges are also its biggest opportunities.

Anne Tolley, chairperson of the commission leading Tauranga's council, along with other commissioners had asked for a law change to allow a hybrid of appointed commissioners and elected councillors after the July election. Photo: Giles Dexter/RNZ

A request by the commission leading Tauranga's council to create a hybrid of commissioners and councillors at the city's next local body election has been rejected.

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown has also rejected the commission's recommendation that a Crown observer be put in place at the council.

It comes after the government-appointed commission, led by Anne Tolley, made three attempts for commissioners or an observer to monitor the new council once elected in July.

The commission has been in charge of the council since early 2021 after its councillors were sacked for dysfunction in December 2022.

In December last year, the four commissioners wrote to Brown asking for a law change to allow a hybrid of appointed commissioners and elected councillors after the July election, with a commissioner as chair of the council.

In the letter to the minister, Tolley - as commission chairperson - together with commissioners Bill Wasley, Shadrach Rooeston and Stephen Selwood, said it was vital the council maintain the city's growth momentum and without commission oversight this could be damaged.

They referenced a letter to the previous local government minister, Kieran McAnulty, in April last year, asking that a Crown monitor be installed at the council after this year's election, which was also rejected.

"The commission noted that there is serious concern amongst our key strategic and community partners that the progress the city has made over the last two-plus years could be undone if the commitment needed to address Tauranga's identified issues is not maintained," they wrote.

"And that a return to a fully-elected, new and inexperienced council could result in dysfunctionality similar to that experienced prior to the commission's appointment."

Minister Simeon Brown at post-cab

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown has rejected the commission's recommendation that a Crown observer be put in place at the council. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

They said there was a need for consistent leadership while the city transitioned back to democratic governance and advocated for a law change to allow the 60/40 - majority councillors - hybrid model through until 2025.

The commission hired consultant Martin Jenkins to provide independent advice on the transition, with his report recommending either the hybrid structure or a fully elected council with a Crown observer. The report cost $32,817 plus GST.

The commission reiterated its recommendation for a Crown observer in another letter to Brown last week.

But Brown told RNZ democratic representation would return to Tauranga this year after the election on 20 July.

"The people of Tauranga have been clear that they want to see a return to a fully elected and democratically accountable council. I am pleased to confirm that this will happen at the upcoming election in July."

He said the commission's term would end at that point, and he had "no intention of changing their terms of reference prior to the completion of their appointment".

"I want to confirm to the people of Tauranga, and the commission, that there will be no hybrid model of governance following the July election. Nor will there be Crown observers. Tauranga will return to being a full democracy."

Former Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said a hybrid model would have denied ratepayers a truly democratic process.

"This is just a further insult to the people of this city saying that you're not capable of choosing your own representatives and I simply counter that. That's just unacceptable in any democracy."

Greg Brownless, Mayor of Tauranga City, speaks to media about the new recycling plans

Former Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless raised concerns about the salaries of the four part-time commissioners at the council. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Brownless raised concern at the cost of the four part-time commissioners, with Tolley paid $1800 per day and commissioners $1500.

Between July last year and February this year, the four commissioners claimed a total of just under $521,000 in salary and expenses. The costs were on par with the cost of a full council.

As part of those costs Tolley, who did 100 days of work in that time, and Selwood, were given $750 each per week to pay for them to live in Tauranga.

Tolley was currently in Japan as part of a council sister city delegation to mark the 30th anniversary and renewal of a sister city agreement with Hitachi, and was unavailable to comment.

A council spokesperson said she would be back at her desk next week, but by the end of her term as commission chairperson, she would again be overseas and any costs at that time other than for days worked would cease.

Brown encouraged residents who cared about the future of Tauranga and the challenges it faced in infrastructure, housing, economic growth and productivity to stand for election.

The new councillors would be able to assume their full responsibilities in a four-year term which would take the council through to 2028 to realign with local body elections around the country.

Brownless, who was ousted from the mayoralty by Tenby Powell in 2019, said he was unsure if he would stand again.

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