It’s a simple, procedural, postal by-election to fill a vacancy at Tauranga City Council, but three weeks out from the close of voting, there has been a heated exchange of words and ideas.
The debate was fueled by sitting council member Steve Morris, who used his Weekend Sun newspaper column to fire shots at three of the candidates and express his preference for another.
And in drawing return fire, he’s been variously described as “inept”, “inappropriate” and “arrogant”.
In his column, Cr Morris says he doesn’t tell people who to vote for when they ask. “I tell them who I am voting for and why.” He says we’re spoilt for choice, with 20 candidates in all, and he processes it by eliminating those he can’t support.
The ones he named were Bill Faulkner, Tony Christiansen and Doug Owens. “It’s nothing personal,” said Cr Morris in his column.
He couldn’t support Doug Owens because of “his support for wards based on ancestry.” He would agree with Bill Faulkner much of the time, but “after three decades on council, it’s perhaps time for a change.”
He also said: “Going on past records, I think Tony Christiansen would support the status quo, but with a 40 per cent rise in the rates forecast, I don’t want the status quo.”
Doug Owens says as a sitting councillor, Steve Morris is drawing a long bow if he thinks that trying to influence the public vote is acceptable. “It’s not,” says Doug, “and perhaps the Mayor might have a quiet word with him and explain that his elected position should not be compromised by self-indulgence.”
Doug says it shames him that he has been used by Cr Morris to play the race card. “My comments have always been based on facts. And as I was top of the Morris list, perhaps he is simply dreading having me in chamber challenging his ineptitude and dumbness.”
Tony Christiansen called Cr Morris’ column “an abuse of privilege” and believes his conduct is “questionable and inappropriate”.
He says he’s offended by Cr Morris’ arrogance in suggesting he knows what he would and would not support when he hasn’t spoken to him in six years. “People relate to me on many things and status quo isn’t generally what I am known for,” says Tony. “I would not support a 40 per cent increase in rates.”
Bill Faulkner says Cr Morris must think he, Tony and Doug are frontrunners having singled them out. “Perhaps I should be flattered,” says Bill. But he suggested the councillor should have done his research before bursting into print. “As for my 24 years on council, a bit of hard-headed experience and solid opposition wouldn’t go astray.”
He says Cr Morris’ vision is taking ratepayers into more debt and out of control rates increases. “I have always stood for council to stick to the basics – roads, rates and rubbish,” adds Bill.
“And that’s why Steve and his ilk won’t want me on council. The big spenders and big projects won’t get any support from me.”
In his column, Cr Morris plumped for former city councillor John Robson to fill the vacancy. “Last term we saw lower rates increases and lower debt while still delivering core infrastructure – thanks in no small part to the international business experience he bought to the table,” he said.
So that’s how he’s voting.
Tony Christiansen says Cr Morris’ use of his newspaper column to endorse a by-election candidate and undermine others is “an abuse of privilege and bordering on misrepresentation as an endorsement from city council”.
The by-election is taking place to fill the position left vacant by the death of Cr Gail McIntosh.
Voting papers are being distributed from Monday, April 9, and voting closes on Tuesday, May 1 at 12pm. Votes should be posted by Friday, April 27.