Fifteen minutes with Tenby

The new Mayor of Tauranga Tenby Powell is hoping to introduce a few changes early in his first term.

He’s hardly had time to slip those buffed designer shoes under the desk in the Mayoral Chamber.

And already he’s thinking they may not belong there.

“Yes, I am thinking a new city hall,” says Tenby Powell, still Mayor-in-waiting, on the job and glugging his first coffee of the day while en route to his first meeting of the day.

The new town hall is not an extravagant notion, nor because he wants to build a monument to his, as yet, unsworn administration. It’s a business consideration.

“I just don’t believe city hall should be where it is.” In Willow Street above the bus stops.

“It is prime real estate for something like a hotel.” He understands people will say you wouldn’t want to take 600 employees out of the CBD where retailers depend on them.

“But imagine a four or five star hotel with thousands and thousands of people coming through per annum.” And spilling out onto eat street, into the art gallery, onto The Strand and the rest of the CBD to spend all those valuable tourist dollars.

And he’s a great believer in bringing people together. “The council has people spread around three or more buildings and we have an opportunity to address that.” He’s rattling the Mayoral chains before he’s even sworn in. “City hall should be up in the Avenues and accessible to the people.”

Tenby Powell hasn’t even officially started his job as Mayor of the country’s fifth biggest city and third fastest growing regional economies and he feels like he’s drowning. “I have gone 24 days and now straight into post-election thinking. I thought I might have time to gather my wits but that’s not remotely happening.” Because people want to get going on stuff and they need Tenby alongside.

He’s already met with Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber, the Chair of the Regional Council Doug Leeder and their chief executives. Tenby stands for greater regional co-operation.

“Smart growth which is critical for the region as a whole. It’s all around roading and transportation and housing as well. We must plan to accommodate growth which is going to come regardless.”

And he gets metaphorical to make his point, likening the regional economy to a wagon wheel. The wheel hub is Tauranga City and the spokes are the Regional Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council, including our surrounding cities, Whakatane, Rotorua and even Hamilton. But if the hub implodes or doesn’t function, the whole wheel collapses. “And if we don’t plan we collapse.”

Where does Tenby Powell stand on some of the issues facing Tauranga” Here’s a taster.

The begging ban – “As former chair of the Government’s Small Business Council  I am first to say you  can’t have people sleeping in a retail shop owner’s doorway at 8.30. Let’s be very clear. But at the same time passing a bylaw sweeping the homeless out of the city isn’t.” He says Tauranga has more NGOs addressing this problem than anywhere in New Zealand. So he will call this expertise together to formulate a plan.

Mauao base track – “I am meeting with the Iwi. I want to get the right people together to come up with a conclusion on how to get the base track repaired expediently. I want it open by summer so we need to get cracking.”

The Elms – “I need a bit of time to understand this one. But to be honest the council has flip-flopped all over the place. I will meet the interested parties and we will make a decision.”

The city’s cycling fraternity has a new friend in His Worship – yet to be sworn in of course. “I am a cyclist but frankly that’s a bit daunting in Tauranga. There’s not much leeway offered cyclists here and that’s part of the culture change I think we need to go through and create safe cycle ways.” Otherwise it’s a great city to cycle – flat and mostly temperate.

And while the new Mayor was formulating his first 100 days plan – a benchmark period to measure the success of someone in public office – the council’s chief executive Marty Grenfell gave him a copy of the Harvard Business School textbook called ‘The First 90 days’.

“I have spent early mornings and late evenings trying to read a chapter and it’s really helpful.”

But already the chief executive has given the mayor a 10 per cent budget cut. “He’s a high caliber chief executive and I am sure he and I will make a great team. I know that already.”