OPOTIKI’S seven mayoral candidates are bucking the “male, pale and stale” trend with a diverse range of ages, genders and ethnicities represented.

With two departing mayors, local body elections across the Eastern Bay are shaping up to be the most exciting yet.

Opotiki Mayor John Forbes and Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne have announced their retirement from local government and a slew of candidates have put their hands up to run.

Seven candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to vie for the top job in both districts.

In comparison, two are duelling for the top position at Kawerau District Council, long-time Mayor Malcom Campbell and newcomer Tracy Hill.

Three of Opotiki’s candidates and four of Whakatane’s have served on council before.
Massey University Master of Public Administration programme manager Doctor Andy Asquith said, typically, those who had been a councillor before were more effective as mayor.

“If an outsider becomes mayor without having first served as councillor, evidence shows that they are effectively side-lined for three years and are ineffective,” Dr Asquith said.

“We can see this in the extreme with the Horowhenua Mayor [Michael Feyen]. He has effectively been a dead weight ever since he was elected.

“If we go back through recent history, when Dick Hubbard was mayor of Auckland, he was an outsider and he told me that he was locked in an office in the basement for three years. Council effectively worked around him.”

Dr Asquith said one of the unfortunate side effects of the way local government was set up, was that it encouraged an older demographic. However, he has noted that in this year’s elections many young people are attempting to buck this trend.

The Eastern Bay is experiencing something of a youthquake, most noticeably seen with young candidates, Talei Bryant, 22, for Whakatane District Council and Whaiora Patrick, 25, for Kawerau District Council.

“There seems to be a rise this year of young female candidates across New Zealand, which should be encouraged,” Dr Asquith said.

“My aspiration is that more young people will engage in the elections as they are seeing someone that they can identify with. Quite often young people look at candidates and see male, pale and stale and a lot of the population don’t fit that demographic.

“But, if you see someone you can identify with, there’s a feeling of a common sharing of issues and understanding then you are more likely to vote for that.”

Dr Asquith said he would be interested to see whether the “youthquake” was a passing tide or if even more rangatahi would stand for council in the next election.

“This is a small step in trying to solve what is a complex and worrying issue,” he said.

“Local government, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world, appeals to a specific demographic and local government has been very bad at broadening that demographic; it is just accepted. Whereas, in reality, local government is about everybody.”

Although Opotiki District may not have too many young candidates standing, it is bucking the “male, pale and stale” trend.

Many ethnicities such as Maori, Pakeha and Chinese are represented, as well as male and female candidates.

Outgoing Mayor John Forbes said the most important qualities the new mayor could have is to care about the community and the people in it, have a long-term view as many facilities have a lifespan of 100 years or more, listen to the people and understand their concerns and the local economy.

“The mayor will need to work with the regional council and central government and have relationships with those organisations,” Mr Forbes said.

“They need to be in the job for a while to build those relationships; that’s not something you can walk into the job with.

“The mayor also needs to build relationships with the chief executive and councillors to be an effective team and to do the best for the community.

“The new mayor will need to get the new team together to work out what everyone is good at and what is important to those people and form a cohesive plan.”

Mr Forbes said the new mayor would also have to be patient, as many things took much longer to get done than people in the community might realise.

“We’ve been talking to the New Zealand Transport Agency for the past four years about cleaning our bridge, but they’ve only decided to do it now after the community got really upset about it,” Mr Forbes said.

While Opotiki is facing many challenges, Mr Forbes also believes there is a lot for the incoming council to look forward to.

The biggest challenge for the town is to have an economy that provides good jobs and pay packets for the town, which Mr Forbes believes can be done through providing opportunities in aquaculture and horticulture in the next 20 to 30 years.

“We also need to look at climate change and sea level rise, sometime in the next 30 years or so the community will have to make hard decisions in this space,” he said.

“Council will need to be mindful of that all the time.”

Overall, Mr Forbes said there were some good candidates for Opotiki residents to choose from and he was excited to see the outcome of the election.

The final nominations are in for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, with Eastern Bay of Plenty representatives set to stand unopposed.

Current serving regional councillors Douglas Leeder of Opotiki and Bill Clark of Whakatane have been nominated unopposed for the two vacancies for the Eastern Bay of Plenty constituency. Both served in the past triennium.

Les Keane (photo unavailable)

Mayoral candidates Opotiki

  •  Xiaoyu Chen
  • Alex Dobie
  • Peter Irving
  • Les Keane
  • Haki McRoberts
  • Louis Rapihana
  • Lyn Riesterer