From the Editor – December 2020

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It is with great pleasure and pride in the Bay that we bring you our annual Westpac Business Awards coverage for both Tauranga and Rotorua. We truly occupy an enviable position in New Zealand.

We have mostly decent weather, the best port in New Zealand and a supportive and collaborative business community that produces a wide range of products and services, from smart tech entrepreneurs to some of the country’s most accomplished manufacturers and exporters.

As I write this, the US is preparing for a presidential transition from Donald Trump – surely the least competent leader the country has ever endured – to Joe Biden, whose most redeeming characteristics at this point appear to be the old-fashioned virtues of practical experience and sanity.

Watching the outgoing president’s “strike force” of low-quality legal buffoons stumbling their way through a succession of failed challenges in their attempts to overturn the vote has been both fascinating and appalling.

Nothing so much summed up the past four years as Trump’s refusal for weeks to accord the incoming president the same courteous handover of power that he experienced himself at the end of the Obama presidency.

His decision to throw “strike force” member Sidney Powell under the bus was much in keeping with his behaviour throughout his presidency. Staff members could typically be lauded one week, fired the next. Even although admittedly Powell managed to, in one observer’s words, “separate herself from the pack with conspiracy theories that reached nonsensical new heights”, her real contribution to the transition debacle was as an example of why working for Trump was seldom a great career move.

It has been a very perplexing four years for all observers who welcome America’s return as a functioning western democracy, now better-equipped to help deal with the pandemic that is infecting the world.

While Tauranga politics hasn’t descended to quite such bizarre and vitriolic depths, Tenby Powell’s recent resignation and its repercussions, have not done the city any favours.

Many in the business community supported Powell, and had hopes that he would unplug what some see as a log jam in decision-making that has held up infrastructure development. It now seems clear that Powell’s approach has not been workable.

His supporters argue that, from the beginning, Powell was opposed by several other councillors – several of whom were failed mayoral candidates. There was also some residual resentment that Powell had been able to return to Tauranga after a long period of absence, and had received a clear local mandate for the mayoralty. That, suggest his backers, essentially doomed him because a majority of councillors worked to frustrate his plans from the outset.

Opponents, on the other hand, decried Powell as being high-handed and being naive in coming into the city and expecting a military style of leadership to work in a council in which he has only one vote and must at times encourage and conciliate.

We do not at the time of writing know which of several options the government will take with regard to the Tauranga City Council.

Council voted – with Powell’s casting vote – to request that the Minister of Local Government, Nanaia Mahuta, appoint a Crown Manager and Observer to assist the council to address the behavioural issues and underlying growth management problems.

The Council has adopted a range of recommendations proposed by the Review and Observer Team – which was scathing about the Mayor and council’s inability to work together. The aim is to address elected member behaviour and performance and assist in addressing the city’s underlying growth and development issues.

Powell said on resigning that Tauranga’s future as a city of strategic importance to New Zealand cannot be left to a small group of petty politicians who have a long track record of hindering, or even worse, stopping progress.

As it stands, a by-election will be held for both the mayoralty and the vacancy created by resignation in Pyes Pa/Otumoetai. However, that will depend upon the extent to which the Labour government wishes to become involved in the issue. Potential contenders such as Greg Brownless, who told me he plans to contest both elections, said it was impossible to make any decisions on the issue until the government reached a decision on whether or not it planned to appoint a manager.

It seems unlikely that the Single Transferable Vote structure adopted by council for the last election was a success, since by definition, the most popular candidates did not always win, but in some cases simply the least unpopular. As in most local body elections, electoral turnout is low.

It is unlikely to improve unless a new council emerges that shows itself as being more inclined to collaborate and maintain a more civil approach to establishing a workable plan for the city’s long term future prosperity.

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