Michael Feyen: NZ's most outrageous mayor? video

Horowhenua's new mayor Michael Feyen doesn't consider himself outspoken.
Warwick Smith

Horowhenua's new mayor Michael Feyen doesn't consider himself outspoken.

From policeman, to pioneer, politician and now provocateur, Horowhenua's renegade new mayor splits opinion every time he opens his mouth.

Just two weeks since slipping on the mayoral chains, former reality TV star Michael Feyen has become a one-man headline machine.

He's refusing to be sworn into the district's top role in his own council's headquarters, claiming the structure could crumble around him should an earthquake strike. Engineers reports suggest otherwise, although Feyen disputes their findings.

The Feyen family in their Pioneer House garb. From left, Stefan, Janice, Michael, Annika and Jessie.

The Feyen family in their Pioneer House garb. From left, Stefan, Janice, Michael, Annika and Jessie.

And, he says, a plan to move Foxton's war memorial 10 metres along the road could cause "civil disorder" on an unprecedented scale.

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Supporters are applauding the radical new face of an often sleepy district for standing up to the Establishment.

David Unwin/Stuff

The public react to new Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen refusing to work in the Horowhenua District Council building.

Opponents wonder who they've been lumbered with for the next three years.

Feyen secured the mayoralty of Horowhenua from incumbent Brendan Duffy, who ruled with an iron fist for 12 years. 

Feyen has never been a stranger to controversy, or to seeking higher office.

Horowhenua was the third region he'd tried to rule, having previously run for mayor of Palmerston North and Tararua.

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He also briefly flirted with the idea of running in the Manawatu district by-election in 2011.

A former policeman, adult Massey University student and social work graduate who went on to run an events company, Feyen hit the big time in 2001.

He and his family starred in Pioneer House, a reality TV show that cast the Feyens back in time 100 years.

For 10 weeks, they lived their lives as New Zealanders did in the early 1900s.

The family said goodbye to all their modern appliances. They had no electricity, refrigeration or television, and cooking and water-heating was done on a coal range.

When he ran for the Palmerston North mayoralty in 2004, Feyen said the show gave him excellent contacts around the country.

"It's a good legacy. But I come to this job with no baggage. I don't belong to any organisations. I don't belong to any old boys' network. I'm not weighed down by anything."

That initial bid was unsuccessful, but Feyen's political career took off in 2007. He withdrew from the mayoral race but won a spot on on the Palmerston North City Council, saying new leadership was pointless unless there was change around the council table.

During the campaign he spoke out against plans for further wind farms on the hills overlooking the city, saying: "Manawatu is fast becoming the environmental dumping ground for the Government".

Winning a seat for Takaro, his time at the council table included a proposal to shift Palmerston North Airport to Ohakea, in 2008.

Later that year, his fellow councillors declined him a $532,000 training tour in Australia.

In 2010, he backed Palmylink – a $50m gondola idea to transport people from central Palmerston North to Massey University in nine minutes.

Often out of step with his colleagues and disruptive around the council table, he was a one-term wonder. He stepped aside from Palmerston North politics and instead stood unsuccessfully for mayor of Tararua in 2010.

Three years later, he gained a spot on the Horowhenua District Council, where, again, he was often a lone voice against the rest. However, his advocacy for and commitment to his adopted hometown of Foxton and local environmental issues cannot be questioned.

His rhetoric has never demurred either. In the 2004 Palmerston North mayoralty race, he accused incumbent Mark Bell-Booth of running a "dictatorship". More than a decade later, he's still not averse to using such strong language.

Stuff asked Feyen, when he was announced as Horowhenua's new mayor, if he felt he was outspoken or controversial.

"Nah, not at all. That's just a headline for a paper. What is outspoken? That you ask a question? You are somehow an activist or a raving looney? I'm not outspoken.

"I love people asking questions. I like asking questions. I like offering alternatives," he said.

"I'm always straight to the point when I talk, but I am never that harsh when talking in a council environment.

"People want change here. They want some input into their own destinies. Central Government would rather that we are all lackeys and ants. I want Horowhenua people to stand up proud."

Outrageous mayoral moments from around the country

1. Len Brown (Auckland)

October 2013: Had an affair with Bevan Chuang, who was a council advisory board member, and wrote a letter of recommendation for her.

2. Tim Shadbolt (Southland)

December 2015: Shadbolt defended the council spending $120,000 on Christmas lights, which included sending four council staff to China to choose the lights.

3. Michael Laws (Whanganui)

March 2010: Laws ordered his council to tear down signs put up by the New Zealand Transport Agency that advise travellers they were approaching "Whanganui" - with the H. "This has been a deliberate and provocative act by New Zealand Land Transport and undertaken with not the slightest discussion with ourselves, " he said.

4. Peter Tennent (New Plymouth)

June 2010: Lost his driver's licence after being caught driving at 142 kilometres an hour in his high-performance Porsche. 

5. Celia Wade-Brown (Wellington)

November 2010: Cycled to Wellington Airport to greet then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton at 4.55am. 

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 - Stuff

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