So here we are just days to go before our voting papers arrive in the mail. Many of us have been here many times before. Many haven’t. How many of us have found our voting papers buried beneath a pile of other papers a couple of weeks after the polling has finished? “Ah well, I didn’t know who any of those people were anyway” is a sentiment I’ve heard plenty; I have said it myself.
This time though feels different here in the Tairawhiti. I even have this feeling in my gut, which I’m going to call excitement and I realise some of you won’t believe it because I’m referring to local politics.. but it’s true.
I’m excited about these forthcoming elections because of the number, diversity and relative youth of the candidates standing for council this time around, many for their first time. I’m also excited for those mayoral chains, which are going to get to experience a new set of shoulders after 18 years!
These are also crucial, critical times; a time in which ‘disruption’ to the status quo, is quickly becoming the new ‘status quo’. If we remain true to our coastie-time cruise, our slow-moving, slow-changing ways, we will not weather well the rising waters of change. The number of new candidates putting their hands up this time around tells me that they feel this and recognise that the time has come to step out from behind ourselves and be the change.
So I am optimistic about these elections. I am hopeful about Meredith Akuhata-Brown’s efforts to engage more voters in a broader demographic than the 48% of eligible voters who voted last time around, 89% of whom were over 70 years old (!), and yes, it might just be my own encouraging little echo chamber but it does feel like a more engaged constituency this time around.
What I have been ruminating on is the nature of the information that we the voters have to guide us when it comes to ticking those boxes. Today we have more means of getting to know our candidates than we’ve had in the past, with a significant number of candidates actively engaging with us through social media. Some of this can be pretty insightful, at the very least we can get a sense of how they occupy and carry themselves in public spaces.
But unless we are lucky enough to know the candidates as people, (or have been dutifully collecting intel through the Council livestream), all we really have to go on when making our choices, is what the respective candidates say, as opposed to who and how they are as people.
I would argue that when it comes to someone’s ability to be an effective advocate, decision-maker and community leader, the way that person relates, communicates, navigates differences in opinion or conflict, how they problem-solve or approach challenge, are some of the biggest indicators. The issues they are aligned with are only a part of the equation.
Which is why I would like to talk here about one of the candidates whom I have had the immense pleasure of getting to know recently, someone who I do believe has the traits as well as the skills to help lead our community through these challenging times to a much more inspired future. She is perhaps the biggest excitement factor for me in the upcoming elections and I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a few of the reasons why (all the while trying very hard to not to gush).
The Hopeful Strategist
Glenis comes to us from a thirty-year long career in the public sector where she rose to the role of Chief Executive of the Māori Language Commission. As a twenty-something Glenis was working for the Department of Social Welfare when the privatisation of government services began in earnest. She is well-aware of the ill-effects of a system that creates policy and structure at a distance from the people they are meant to serve. “I have poured my heart and soul into a system that was missing the most essential thing, which is human connection”.
With Glenis in Council our community would benefit from that broad strategic thinking, that understanding of the connection between systems and the people within them. Some of her key strengths are in strategy and co-design; her ability to align organisational intent with the needs and aspirations of the people it serves.
Unity in Diversity
Glenis is one of the most palpably unifying forces I have personally ever met, something also clearly recognised by the board of Te Hā Trust, making her the ideal person to navigate our community through next month’s commemorations as the General Manager of Te Hā. As the daughter to a Pakeha father and Maori mother she is aware of the ‘incredible insight’ this has given her as to the interplay between Maori and Pakeha worlds and worldviews.
This understanding manifests as a gentle compassion, allowing Glenis to sit with anyone from any walk of life, to hear them, find the point of connection, meet them there and take that as a starting point.
“We’re trying to position what’s happening in October as the beginning of something important. It is about bridging our communities, about standing together”.
Glenis believes that before we can achieve anything else as a region, we have to address the deprivation levels in our community. In the Gisborne region, 77% of Maori live in the highest bracket of deprivation – up the Coast this rises to 91%. “I fail to see how we can drive an economic development strategy for our region if we’re not addressing deprivation”. This is invisible to many of us going about our days in beautiful Gisborne. But this fact doesn’t deter Glenis, who believes that New Zealanders have this shared value of fairness “everyone expects that everyone in our community gets a fair deal, it’s just that most people don’t understand what the lived experience is for many in our community”.
Glenis believes that Council is in a perfect position to co-ordinate a whole of community focus on lifting our community through innovation and collaboration “I think we have all the ingredients, we just haven’t got them working together effectively”.
I believe that our community has everything to gain by having Glenis, with her skills, her strategic thinking, her multi-faceted understanding of the forces that have brought us to this juncture; her awhi, mana and grace, help lead our whole community into a truly brighter future as a councillor on the Gisborne District Council and on the District Health Board.
I urge anyone who isn’t familiar with Glenis to look her up, get to know her mahi, which is prolific from the grass-roots through to the high level. And if you happen to bump into her yourself, be sure to say hi so you can see for yourself what I’m talking about.
I realise that there’s a distinct awkwardness when it comes to talking about who you’re going to vote for in a public space but if there’s someone running in these elections that YOU really believe in, then please write and tell us why at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four weeks ago Ross Meurant introduced himself to the Gisborne public with advertisements in the Gisborne Herald carrying the headline “I’ve bin thinking…” in which he announced his intentions to run for the Gisborne Mayoralty.
What follows here is the third in our series of conversations with our mayoral candidates for the upcoming elections. Carol posed the same series of questions to all three with the intention of getting to know a little bit about the people behind the ‘Candidates’. As Ross does not actually live in Gisborne he emailed his responses to Carol’s questions, which Carol had previously put to our other two mayoral candidates Meredith and Rehette over some cups of tea at her place. Ross’s response follows below.
We hope that these conversations have offered up a couple of nuggets of insight, adding to your understanding of who these three people are, how they see the world and their place within it, and what they might have to offer us, their constituents, if they were elected to the role of Mayor of Gisborne.
Carol: Who is the greatest personal influence as you embark on this election campaign
Ross: No one. My own life’s education and experience (mistakes and success) give me the confidence to look to myself.
However, my own philosophy reflects two philosophers: Machiavelli and Jeremy Bentham. Machiavelli insisted that good fortune was the result of hard work (winning lotto the exception). Bentham said that public policy should deliver the greatest good to the greatest number.
I subscribe to both these philosophies.
I have also endeavour to adhere to Edmund Burke, who said: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Carol: Tell me something about yourself that might surprise other people.
Ross: I am a direct descendant of Chief Te Tumi-o-the-range (sp) (Correction: Chief Te Tuhi-o-te-rangi) of Ngatia Mahuta and thereby King Te Whero of Tainui.
Carol: Name one person, dead or alive, that you’d like to walk on the beach and have a korero/conversation with.
Ross: My (deceased) maternal grandmother: Dalice Olsen nee Brady.
P.S. This disclosure denotes Irish and Norwegian pedigree on one side. The paternal side is French and Maori.
Carol: What is the trait you most dislike in yourself….
Ross: I am advised that I have exceptional drive and zest and sometimes this enthusiasm can be a little daunting for people who have a lower threshold for research & decision making. This is not so much a matter of disliking this trait, but of the need to be mindful of others.
Carol: How do you relax?
Ross: I do the gym three times a week. I play the piano accordion. I read extensively. I enjoy to ride horse to hounds and will acquire myself a hunter steed should I win the mayoralty.
Carol:Your task is to write the Job Description for Mayor of Gisborne. What are your 3 most important KPIs and how could their delivery be measured?
Provide Leadership in managing the multi-faceted decision-making process of Council and the community inputs that impact on policy decisions by Council. This includes input from expertise within the bureaucracy and special interest groups.
Improving transport infrastructure is a priority.
– Another air transport provider will see reduced air fares and increased visitors which in turn enhances local business.
– Re-opening rail will provide competitive freight rates for horticulture, farmers and logging. Lower freight rates mean increased revenue for local business which can be applied to expansion which in turn creates more jobs. In turn, this this means more taxation revenue for Central Government which might be spent on health and education. Rail will reduce log truck plunder of the roads, making them safe and which ameliorates increases in rates for maintain and improve the rates. Less tong (sp) haul trucks provides environment benefits.
Promote the region at Central Government level, seeking assistance where appropriate.
I am sure the measure of my performance will be well reported by the local media.
Carol: Young people are becoming more vocal with their concerns about the future impact of climate change. Do you think the council has a role in responding to them?
Ross: Council has a major role to play in reducing adverse environmental effects. Identifying the most deleterious impacts on the environment: from carbon emissions to endangering bees: from protection of birdlife to sustainable fisheries policy, is a duty and priority. Providing our own effective high-end technology rubbish collection/recycle/recomposite facility, is on my agenda.
If Meredith Akuhata-Brown was to believe the many people who have told her what she should or shouldn’t be saying, doing or asking over the past six years, she ‘isn’t the kind of person who should be running for Mayor’. Luckily, she doesn’t believe those people – the kind of people who have become all too comfortable in a system that, as we can see (if we let ourselves), hasn’t worked out that well for a very large proportion of our community or for our environment.
That isn’t to say that Meredith doesn’t listen however; to the contrary, she is all about The People. She does the reading, she has the kōrero and she is very good at asking the questions that people don’t necessarily want to hear.
Meredith is famed for her verbosity; a natural storyteller who speaks from her heart. Her responses to Carol’s five questions are to the contrary, remarkably concise. Meredith is quite proud of that fact.
Carol: Who is your greatest personal influence as you embark on this election campaign?
Meredith: My mother, Marewakiterangi (Maria) Waimaria. She was a fighter. Her life, particularly when she was raising her small children, was extremely difficult yet she endured in ways that I have come to admire and to be inspired by.
Carol: Tell me something about yourself that might surprise other people.
Meredith: I have a love for music across a wide spectrum. I was raised on classical music and opera and I love that music to this day. I played cornet in the Salvation Army Band and double bass in the high school orchestra.
Carol: Name one person, dead or alive, who you’d like to walk on the beach and have a korero/conversation with.
Meredith:Princess Te Puia.I am only just beginning to get a handle on how she lived her life and I’m hungry to learn more. Also children. I love to sit down with the kids at Kaiti School and listen to what they’ve got to say, what’s on their minds. Its very grounding for me.
Carol: The trait I most dislike in myself is….
Meredith:Verbosity! I know I sometimes say many more words than I need to before I nail the point of my conversation – I’m working on it.
Carol: How do you relax?
Meredith:Walking, listening to music, reading books. I read a lot. Mostly non-fiction and most likely to be related to social justice issues. On holiday I can binge on criminology which has always fascinated me.
Carol: Young people are becoming more vocal with their concerns about the future impact of climate change. Does the Council have a role in responding to this?
Meredith: Absolutely and definitely. Council has a significant role in their future in relation to natural resources, infrastructure, the kind of community they will raise their families in and grow old in. We MUST engage with them and pay genuine attention to what they are saying.
Carol: Your task is to write the Job Description for Mayor of Gisborne. What are your 3 most important Key Performance Indicators and how could they be measured?
KPI 1. Leading excellent communication to enhance community engagement.
Citizen survey (both paper-based and online) demonstrates that more people understand the role of mayor and council and its relevance to their world.
Increasing voter turnout indicates improved relevance of local government to the citizens we serve.
KPI 2: Ability to Influence through attention to relationships
External – there is evidence of enhanced relationships with central government resulting in optimisation of investment in the region especially in relation to infrastructure development projects such as rail. We need to advocate for contracts to be with local service providers as much as possible.
Inter-regional collaboration, especially with similar- sized councils is evidenced by enhanced learning from successful initiatives of other councils.
Internal – We know more about who is in our community through relationships with organisations like the Multicultural Tairawhiti Council, youth groups etc.
We clearly articulate our vision for the region to the extent that everyday citizens are having conversations which reflect that people know what that vision is and what’s going on to achieve it.
KPI 3: Enhanced citizen happiness
Evidence based methodology is used to track and enhance the overall happiness of the people who live here.