Calls for Brown to curb commission's powers

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown. Photo: Samuel Rillstone/RNZ.

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown says he has no plans to limit the powers of Tauranga’s Government-appointed commission, despite growing calls to demote it to a “caretaker” role ahead of the city’s unusual election in July.

Last week, five Tauranga ratepayer and advocacy groups called on Brown to step in and prevent Tauranga City Council’s commission from committing ratepayers to what they believed were pricey “non-essential” projects, echoing requests by former Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless and Act Party list MP Cameron Luxton in January.

The commission - made up of chairwoman Anne Tolley, Shadrach Rolleston, Stephen Selwood, and Bill Wasley - was appointed to govern Tauranga City Council in February 2021 after former Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta discharged the elected council of its duties in December 2020.

The commission’s term was later extended until July 2024 to provide stability and deliver complex projects - preventing the city’s participation in the 2022 local body elections.

On July 20, Tauranga voters will have their first chance to elect representatives to their city council since 2019, and that group will serve New Zealand’s first four-year council term.

Last week, the Mount Maunganui Ratepayers, Residents and Retailers Association, the Pāpāmoa Ratepayers and Residents Association, the Grace Rd and Neighbourhood Residents Association, the Sustainable Bay of Plenty and Lobby for Good issued a joint statement urging Brown to direct the city’s commission to act in a “caretaker” role until July.

Lobby for Good director of public affairs Erika Harvey, who last year stood as the New Zealand First candidate for Tauranga, says she believes it's critical for a newly elected council to contribute to the city’s Long-Term Plan 2024-34, especially given changes post-public consultation.

Initially, the capital expenditure estimate included in the draft Long-Term Plan was $2.2 billion. However, this rose to $4.75b when the projected costs associated with changes to the Government’s Three Waters reforms were included after consultation.

The council has said it abided by the law and its approach, including consultation, was approved by Audit New Zealand.

The Long-Term Plan is still being finalised and is due to be adopted this month.

Harvey says without intervention from the minister, there is a risk the council might commit to long-term contracts.

In her view: “Such actions could significantly constrain the future council’s capacity to fund vital infrastructure projects. This scenario poses a substantial financial risk.”

Lobby for Good's Erika Harvey.

She believes delays to “essential infrastructure”, cuts to key transport projects, and “big spending plans for non-essential infrastructure” - including Te Manawataki o Te Papa - the civic centre project ($300 million-plus), a new stadium proposal ($220m+), and a $122m new aquatic centre at Memorial Park - show the need for change.

Glen Crowther, from Sustainable Bay of Plenty, says in his opinion the commission has decided to effectively use operating revenue - rates - to directly fund essential Three Waters capital infrastructure so it could “lock in... expensive non-essential projects”.

Crowther is concerned big financial decisions are being made without enough community support or input and without “the final say-so of an elected council”.

Tauranga City commissioners (from left) Shadrach Rolleston, Bill Wasley, Stephen Selwood and Anne Tolley.

He calls on the Government to signal it's listening by Brown instructing the commission to take on a caretaker role and ensure the new councillors could review and approve the Long-Term Plan.

Crowther says this is “crucial” for effective financial management and to “rebuild trust” between the city’s citizens and leaders.

“This isn’t just about following rules; it’s about making sure our city’s governance is transparent, inclusive and truly representative of those who live here.”

Sustainable Bay of Plenty's Glen Crowther. Photo / John Borren.

Brown told the Bay of Plenty Times he would not amend the commission’s role.

“Democracy will be restored to Tauranga with elections in July this year. At that point, the people will elect a council and the commission will end,” Brown says.

“I do not have any intention of changing the commission’s powers before the end of its term.”

Nominations for Tauranga’s election open on April 26. The election will be held on July 20.

The council and Tolley were approached for comment.

‘No community mandate’

In January, Brownless, who was mayor from 2016 to 2019, said he believed the commission could entrench decisions and contracts “for which they have no community mandate and which will unfairly bind a new council”.

Luxton backed Brownless’ call, saying the Long-Term Plan should be made by community representatives chosen at the election.

Tolley said in response at the time that the commission’s terms of reference specifically tasked it with making good decisions on behalf of the community and with the development and adoption of the council’s 2024-34 Long-Term Plan.

“In essence, we’ve been asked to redress the failings of past councils, with a focus on addressing a longstanding under-investment in infrastructure and community facilities,” Tolley said.

“That’s exactly what we are doing, and all of the key decisions we have and will make have involved full community consultation via LTP [Long-Term Plan] and LTP amendment processes.”

-Bay of Plenty Times.

You may also like....

21 comments

Massive debt levels

Posted on 03-04-2024 08:32 | By an_alias

They should be stopped, it is clear that the debt levels are out of control due directly to these 4 commissioner's.
How did they extend that debt to allow a GOVT LEVY ?
You call that GOOD DECISIONS for the community putting it under massive debt and 16% increase every single year in rates ?
They should be held personally accountable for this in my opinion.


Hmmm

Posted on 03-04-2024 10:43 | By Let's get real

These commissioners will eventually go, thankfully. But the backroom boys will all continue with their hands in the cookie jar.
We also need to identify those unelected wasters, that sign off these empire building projects to go out to consultants, engineers and architects and dismiss them immediately.
Hopefully the outcome from this highly destructive episode will result in GENUINE public consultation and interactions, BEFORE a single initiative is put to the afore mentioned leeches.
It's really very simple "As a ratepayer DO YOU WANT..." and then publish the actual results without amendments.
When we're told that we're getting a new museum at Gate Pa because 69 people want it, we're told that we can't build desperately needed new housing because that will upset the wealthy few, but we're going to get new extravagant council offices, what signal does that send to those paying the bills...?


They need to go

Posted on 03-04-2024 11:03 | By The Sage

Rates have increased 50% over the last few years. This is a crime. The Commissioners sit there getting paid $1800 a day while making costly decisions for the city and the rate payer foots the bill. Basketball Courts in the Warehouse building, a huge skate board park at the Mount benefit a SMALL part of the community and the rest of us pay for it. They are battling to save Otūmoetai pools . Priorities are all wrong and they are instigating things that any future council will have to continue and get the blame for.


Another 4 months. Here's my vision, but it is unlikely to happen...

Posted on 03-04-2024 12:03 | By morepork

We should be glad that Democracy is being restored. The only danger I see is that the new Council could be locked in to the Commission's decisions. The PM has expressed the same concern after ex-Mayor Greg Brownless raised it. As long as that is avoided, we should be good to go. The first step woud be to cancel some of Tolley's Follies and then look at what pressing infrastructure issues we can address with the saved money. Council could produce a list of items and decide what funds are in the pot. The community then votes online to prioritize the identified works. The available funds are allocated to the projects in accordance with the expressed priorities of the Community. Council works with the Community priorities to implement what is actually wanted by the Community, and to keep the other essentials ticking over. Everybody's happy, and Tauranga thrives.


council

Posted on 03-04-2024 13:25 | By dumbkof2

what tolly wants is what tolly will get. to hell with the ratepayers. put the rates up again. bugger off Tolly and co.


Let the people decide

Posted on 03-04-2024 13:36 | By Fernhill22

I think that if these big projects had gone to a referendum where ratepayers could decide where they want the money spent, I'm pretty sure that the overwhelming majority wouldn't want the money spent-on nice to have vanity projects like the Civic Precinct, Museum, or a new stadium. I agree with Moreporks vision that the council should be asking the community where they want their money spent and making this easy to obtain this feedback. If TCC sent out an online option for ratepayers to vote on these projects, they are then able to ascertain very quickly the feeling in the community. But please don't make the questions one-sided towards a determined outcome, people need to have the option to say yes or no to major projects that council are looking to commit ratepayer's funds to.


Say what, Tolls?

Posted on 03-04-2024 15:04 | By nerak

'Tolley said in response at the time that the commission’s terms of reference specifically tasked it with making good decisions on behalf of the community...' What community are you referring to? The wee bunnies behind your skirts? Sure as hell aint your everyday ratepayer.


Cut from the same cloth

Posted on 03-04-2024 15:13 | By nerak

Simeon Brown and Sam Uffindell, remember Sam? Where is he? These two are fast becoming seat warmers and showing no real thought or care in their roles. As morepork has said, even Simeon's boss, the PM, has expressed the concern of Greg Brownless that the new Council could be locked in to the Commission's decisions. Too many younger pollies should not be where they are, showing no real commitment to anything of value, or people.


The Master

Posted on 03-04-2024 16:42 | By Ian Stevenson

They needed to go before they arrived.

A independent review and legal opinion advises that they were illegally appointed at the start.

So all they have done is illegal as well.


The Master

Posted on 03-04-2024 16:45 | By Ian Stevenson

The Minister failing to act means that he is agreeing with the rampant spending and recklessness of TCC Commissioners.

Equally, he is agreeing that Billions in debt is just fine... unavoidably that means debt will increase by 4-6 times now. Can you afford the rates now? Are you getting value for $$ spent?

Tauranga already has a "Ghost-CBD", sooner or later there will be a "ghost-city" as well, no one will be able to afford to live here...


The Master

Posted on 03-04-2024 16:53 | By Ian Stevenson

The calls upon the Minister are long over due, the decisions being made are not infrastructure related (anything important is being delayed)... not core, non-important.

The failure of the Minister to act here [in the face of out of control and reckless spending etc] will only mean massive debt, costs, interest and so rates for decades to come.

The Councilors elected will be merely the custodians of the debt and the bringer of bad news, being massive rates rises just to pay the interest.


@nerak

Posted on 03-04-2024 17:50 | By Let's get real

I will absolutely NOT be voting for Uffindell or the other know-nothing on the National ticket next time around.
One only has to look around at the political party leaders to see what desperate straits the country is in and where is the future...? But then the former political showponies are showing their true worth now as well.... One wonders what or who is involved in the background and maybe in Bellamys'...
We have been lauded as one of the least corrupt nations in the world of course.


No to commissioners

Posted on 03-04-2024 18:01 | By Feruno

These commissioners were forced on Tauranga ratepayers, and like the government that we rejected/ousted, the commissioners should have stood down ( political appointments ). They have done irreparable damage to OUR area, and MUST be kept from making anymore BAD, or expensive decisions.


@ Let's get real

Posted on 03-04-2024 18:45 | By Yadick

Your first comment is great. I agree with you.


Listen to the Ratepayers

Posted on 03-04-2024 20:45 | By Come on TCC!

It's time to listen to those who fund these unwanted projects in the midst of a financial crisis!
If Simeon Brown doesn't want to listen either then we will remember come next election time!


Not disappointed

Posted on 03-04-2024 21:04 | By Kancho

But very angry that the minister sits on his hands as the damage continues while the commissioners remain . How many more projects will be signed into in the meantime committing us to pay for. I get it that it's our council employees are driving a lot of this and many of them need to go too as it's a bloated bureaucracy. The new council needs to do a lot of budgeting and house cleaning


Ministers

Posted on 04-04-2024 08:57 | By The Sage

So where is Sam Uffindel while all this is happening? Anyone know what Sam is doing for our city? How about his stance on rate payers house valuations going down while rates go up? Why is Simeon Brown in charge of this. He may be qualified in terms of education however what actual life experience does he have at age 32 to qualify his decisions?


@Ian Stevenson

Posted on 04-04-2024 16:26 | By morepork

"A independent review and legal opinion advises that they were illegally appointed at the start." Can you provide a source for this, Ian? If it is true, it could be pivotal to the future.


I'm glad to see ...

Posted on 04-04-2024 16:43 | By morepork

... that people are waking up and understanding that this Commission has done us few favours. I said on several occasions that if they had any moral integrity they would have resigned long ago. However, I'll be content if they just leave and we have the right to cancel some of the stupid vanity projects they dreamed up. Sam Uffindel should have raised his profile on a number of matters that posters here have pointed out. I believe he IS working for Tauranga, mostly lobbying and talking to people like Simeon Brown, but he should be more public. A least the need to remove the Commission has been recognized and may actually happen. (I'll believe it when I see it... Rumour has it Tolley already lobbied Simeon Brown to NOT curtail their power.) If you look at Simeon Brown's background it reads like a MAGA Republican. Hope it's coincidental.


@Fernhill22

Posted on 04-04-2024 16:59 | By morepork

Thank you for your support and your considerations on the primary role of Democracy in the governance of our City. The people COULD have a voice and it doesn't even require expensive referenda on every item. Online prioritization based on public using boxes on a Council Website, say once a year, would easily do it. And voting to cancel something before it starts should be a valid option. Now we just need to get another 130,000 people to weigh in on the same call... :-) Community prioritization has the benefit that at least people can engage with the process and even if your project's not top priority, at least you know it is in the mix and SOMETHING will be done towards furthering it. An annual public review of ALL projects can only be a GOOD THING!


Step up minister

Posted on 06-04-2024 12:58 | By Kancho

If you want support from me in the next elections you need to be decisive and wind back on the commissioners and stop any further actions that tie the new council hands. We need a dose of austerity too with a restructuring of council


Leave a Comment


You must be logged in to make a comment.