Change gets the thumbs up in Taranaki
Drastic change for councilMATT RILKOFF
Change was the chant and change is what happened.
New Plymouth voters have overwhelmingly thrown their weight behind a new mayor and a radically different council.
Gone is one-term mayor and professional politician Harry Duynhoven, whose 7677 votes were less than half of the 16,883 mayoral challenger Andrew Judd secured.
Gone, too, are council veterans Phil Quinney, Lance Girling-Butcher and Sherril George in an election that brought eight new faces to the table.
Drastic change was New Plymouth's alone in the weekend's local body election.
South Taranaki overwhelmingly stuck with Mayor Ross Dunlop and dumped just two councillors - Michael Self and Patea's Te Aroha Hohaia.
In Stratford Neil Volzke has a third term as mayor while all councillors seeking re-election got their wish. The two new councillors are police officer Jono Erwood and former councillor and one-time mayoral candidate Graham Kelly.
Despite several high-profile candidates vying for spots on the Taranaki Regional Council, none was successful and the council table remains unchanged.
Like virtually everyone else, Mr Judd was surprised by his emphatic victory.
"To be honest I wasn't expecting such a large majority so I feel it's a strong mandate for the change we had been campaigning on," he said.
That mandate is far from obvious, because Mr Judd campaigned on transparency, accountability and honesty, values that can often reside in the eye of the beholder.
On Saturday he deftly avoided being pinned down on details of issues his council may tackle.
"My style is that we work unified together," he said. "We've equally been elected so let's decide together what those priorities are."
One of the first will have to be the council's $212 million Perpetual Investment Fund and its significant investment in Tasmanian dairy farms, which last month Mr Judd slammed as the "worst deal in council history".
He'll have support in this from new councillors Grant Coward, Len Houwers, Keith Allum, Murray Chong, Richard Handley and Gordon Brown, who all campaigned in some part on "sorting out" the fund.
Though Mr Judd isn't saying who he has in mind for deputy mayor, it would be difficult for him to go past 21-year council veteran Heather Dodunski.
With so many new faces around the table her fairness, efficiency and knowledge of standing orders could be just the backup he needs in what will be a council packed with egos.
Yesterday Ms Dodunski shied away from pushing any harder for the job than she already has.
"All I would say is that I indicated before the election that I was keen to be considered for the job and that hasn't changed," she said.
Former New Plymouth Police detective Grant Coward was the bolter among council candidates with 11,054 votes, making him the highest-polling candidate behind Mr Judd
Yesterday he said his focus for the coming three years would be on ensuring a unified council, following a financially prudent path and "sorting out" the council's financial situation.
"For me personally it's going to be challenging and I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and doing some hard work," he said.
Also new on the council will be New Plymouth Grey Power's longtime council watchdog, Keith Allum, who joined Len Houwers as the only successful members of the five-strong "Change" group.
Despite voters rejecting most of the group, Mr Allum was confident they could fulfil their promises around spending and concentrating on core services.
"I think it's a matter of trying to make a more efficient council. It certainly won't be boring. It will be a more professional use of ratepayer money," he said.
Throughout the election much was made of the somewhat simplified idea that council was split 9-6 between spenders and savers.
That perceived imbalance has now gone the other way entirely. Mr Judd, Shaun Biesiek, John McLeod and Craig McFarlane were all part of the original cost-cutting "razor gang" and have all been returned.
In campaign rhetoric at least they have allies in Mr Houwers, Mr Allum, Mr Brown, Mr Chong, Mr Coward, Mr Handley and most likely Inglewood's Richard Jordan.
Perhaps the greatest challenge this new council will face therefore is ensuring the community they represent doesn't stagnate under the weight of their untested promises.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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