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Candidates answer key questions

Ratepayers voiced their displeasure at rising rates. PHOTOS/FILE
South Wairarapa District Council Mayoralty

Local election voting papers are out, and South Wairarapa’s mayoral candidates are eagerly seeking support from the community. Local Democracy Reporter EMILY IRELAND got candid with the candidates.

If there is one thing you want voters to know about you, what is it?

Alex Beijen

The success I have had building a team of councillors that can make good decisions, with robust debate and good information. It’s not an easy job, but we did it, with the odd exception.

Martin Connelly

I have had a lot of experience, at a very senior level, of regulatory and legislative processes. Such processes are the unexciting but critical mainstay of a successful council. Long-term planning, rate setting, and zoning are all examples of processes. If these are done well, a council runs smoothly.

Daphne Geisler

I have never achieved anything alone. I have worked in large and small groups, I build on ideas, and I question and debate issues to reach a solution. While the mayor has a singular role, my success and the success of council and the district will depend on a strong cohesive team.

Brenda West

It is my strength of will. No matter how many times I was challenged by council, I endured it, fought it, and continued to represent my district’s voice and didn’t stop asking questions.

What are your top three priorities in the role?

Alex Beijen

Climate change mitigation through waste minimalisation, build an effective team of councillors, and represent South Wairarapa at regional and government level to ensure our interests are heard – including continuing a very vocal protest about the Three Waters proposed structure.

Martin Connelly

Responsible financial management; making sure ratepayers can afford the council’s spending plans. Greatly improved customer service; a council that treats people with respect, and makes it easy for them to get to the services they need. Climate change and the environment; providing local leadership in the face of climate change.

Daphne Geisler

Guide and build a strong cohesive council that encourages, challenges, and respects, all contributions, with skills to make sound, justifiable, good decisions. Build strong relationships and partnerships across central government, local councils, tangata whenua, rural and urban businesses, community groups, and individuals. Listen and deliver better communications.

Brenda West

Build a trusting and working relationship with the council. Getting to know and work with all elected and committee members. Rapidly build team members’ knowledge on governance and local government. It’s important to know what our responsibilities are and smart ways to work with them.

What initiative would you like to facilitate as an elected member?

Alex Beijen

Amalgamation with Carterton during the next triennium – should they desire it.

This would result in cost savings over time, but also give consistency of approach to planning, amenities and funding decisions.

We already share library services, roading contracts and other soft areas of operations, and this is a logical progression to debate merging before government legislates on our behalf.

Martin Connelly

Having a council that promotes the special nature and characters of the three towns in South Wairarapa, plus the rural communities. I envisage a greater role for community boards and a council that takes the ideas and proposals of local residents much more seriously.

Daphne Geisler

Mayor and councillors become more accessible, responsive and better communicators. Solutions are delivered with the community instead of to the community. To hold our meetings across the district and open up more channels for connection. To freely share information and have face to face conversations about the issues.

Brenda West

Full visibility on capital projects, basic information, priority, start date, expected end date, initial cost, end cost, where the ratepayer money has been spent, why?

Infrastructure continues to be a big issue in South Wairarapa.
What is the biggest challenge or stumbling block facing your town and how will you work to address this as an elected representative?

Alex Beijen

The biggest challenge is getting information out to people that the council is in great shape and doing good work in the community. In an environment of internet warriors and just plain grumpy people they don’t realise the massive gains council has made the past three years. We have increased our comms capability to help, but there is still work to be done.

Martin Connelly

Our current council has destroyed a lot of trust and goodwill from our residents. I have several initiatives to address this. These include: introducing “Plain English” standards for all council communication, doing a makeover of how “customer-service” processes work, and making council information much more readily accessible.

Daphne Geisler

I worry that sometimes the district is disconnected. I would like to reduce the “silos”. While celebrating the differences of urban and rural, the unique character of towns and individual communities, I will work to understand and respect all areas and consider the needs and success of the whole district.

Brenda West

There are many big challenges that face our district. The elephant in the room is Three Waters. We have not actively asked our community what they want – but it’s a hard ask as information is not available – what [if any] are the cost-effective alternatives?

If you could overturn one past governance decision, what would it be?

Alex Beijen

The number of council land sales across the district to subsidise rates – especially Governors Green, which was a significant decision and should have been consulted on with the public [3/4/2002 Moved Mayor Reid, seconded Cr Mike Gray] and has left the South Wairarapa District Council with few parcels of land when the community needs more green space.

Martin Connelly

The chain-sawing of the protected elm trees. The 30 per cent rates rise had a much worse impact on many more people, than the loss of the trees. But a responsible council would have reversed the rates fiasco. The trees are lost forever.

Daphne Geisler

The decision to not meet early with the public to discuss their concerns about the rates increase in 2021. I understand errors in math, errors in documentation, errors in communication, errors in judgement, and can forgive most. I don’t understand not fronting up to the community in a timely manner.

Brenda West

I wouldn’t overturn any past governance decision – what I would like to see moving forward is, to ensure that we have robust checks, we could have a forensic analyst review LTP or annual plan before committing to it.

Responses were only edited for clarity or to reduce word count as specified in instructions to candidates.

This is the third in a six-part series. – NZLDR

  • Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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