It probably says something about the man.
When most council candidates were anxiously gnawing their nails, waiting for the STV algorithm to crunch the numbers on election weekend, one young contender with the unlikely name of Jako was at work, charity work. Jako, pronounced ‘yar-ko’, Jako Abrie.
“I was inducting new volunteers to Under the Stars-Homeless in Tauranga when I got a call from an unknown number. I declined it.” Could have been bad career move because it was Tauranga City Council CEO Marty Grenfell ringing to congratulate him – Jako had made it on to council.
But the homeless came first.
“Our hard done by residents” as he calls the homeless, and this “complex issue with no easy solutions”, will remain a priority for the Under the Stars trustee and new councillor.
It’s Jako Abrie’s main driver, what made him choose to run. After all the trust can do the little things, but the council has much bigger levers.
“The begging ban was not a good use of money – particularly going into a judicial review when you’ve had legal advice that you will more than likely lose the judicial review. You’re donating money to lawyers to fight a cause that's not winnable.”
So the first step, he suggests, would be at the very least watering that bylaw down and redirecting the money for a better purpose. “I’d really like to see that money being used to support our local homeless sector, whatever the council can do to support our sector that’s beneficial.”
Incidentally New Zealand has the highest rate of homelessness in the OECD and the proportion of homeless people here is five times worse than in the USA.
‘Jako’ may be an attention grabber name here in Tauranga but is apparently not an uncommon name in Bloemfontein, capital of South Africa’s Free State where the fledgling Tauranga City councillor was born 30 years ago. He arrived in Auckland aged eight and moved to Tauranga two years later.
“Not sure whether my name has been a help or a hindrance. Previously I have been given advice to include my photo on CVs because otherwise people may look at my name, think I am a foreigner and not interview me.” The name obviously resonated with voters in the Otumoetai-Pyes Pa ward.
He bought with him from Bloemfontein a passion for rugby. He still has it – a passion rather than talent.
“I played casually and the pinnacle of my career was being selected for the Western Bay under 20s.” But he did his shoulder in and never got to wear the jersey. Jako Abrie was better in the classroom.
He has a Bachelor of Engineering Degree with honours, also a Master of Engineering Management degree with honours, and he is a chartered professional engineer. “I just like learning,” he says.
And he’s very good at learning. He’s been working towards a Masters in Professional Accounting and Finance. But that’s now on hold. The only textbook he will be poring over will be the Tauranga City Council standing orders – a substantial and tedious tome on the council procedures.
He likes learning and he tends to read authors most people haven’t heard of. Like Kierkegaard and Immanuel Kant – the influential Prussian German philosopher and his doctrine of transcendental idealism.
“Dostoevsky and The Idiot resonate quite closely with me. He asks the question whether a good person can survive in a cruel world. And I see quite a few pitfalls ahead of me, politics can be mean.”
Abrie presents as a charming man, mellow and laid back. “I am quite typically introverted.” But the cut and thrust of local body politics should steel him.
The council will become a full-time role for Jako Abrie so “I am transitioning out of my current role as strategic asset manager at Trustpower”. He will finish up there on January 30 next year, just in time to start cutting his teeth on council business.
Jako Abrie has already sought wise counsel from more senior heads, like Stuart Crosbie.
“Start slow, listen and understand. Form a coherent plan so when you bring something to the table it’s well thought through and won’t immediately be thrown out by some wily politicians trying to out-manoeuver me in those first few months.”
He was excited to be elected and excited about what lies ahead. “Yes, excitement and cognitive dissonance.”