Kapiti voters dump sitting mayorBy Roger Childs
KIN continues its ‘awards’ series by looking at the biggest story of the year for most residents on the Kapiti Coast. It’s the unexpected — and unpredicted — drama of the sudden end of Jenny Rowan’s mayoralty.
Campaigning on a proven record…
I am privileged to have been your mayor for the last six years and I’m standing again to offer proven leadership… Jenny Rowan
From 2007 to 2013, the Kapiti Coast District Council oversaw some major infrastructure changes in the area. The Council also made key decisions which will impact on the lives of all citizens. However some of these policies attracted vigorous opposition.
In the 2013 local body election, Mayor Rowan campaigned on her record of getting things done and improving facilities:
- the airport development
- the new Aquatic Centre
- the new Civic Centre
- water supply solutions
- 24/7 Ambulance coverage
- introduction of kerbside recycling
- a modern landfill
- purchase of land for new sports fields.
Unquestionably an impressive record, so why did Rowan end up coming third in the mayoral race when most pundits picked her as a shoo-in?
A ramp, a new building and water meters
- The row over the Aquatic Centre ramp for the disabled need not have happened. There was initially an undertaking that this would go ahead and be ready for the opening. But then the Council said it would be expensive, needed to be made overseas and there would be a delay. Local groups and national bodies were up in arms and the success of getting the main facility operational was pushed into the background.
- The new Civic Centre is very impressive, but there was widespread feeling in the community that the Council had not been up front about the full extent of what was called a “refurbishment”. It was generally accepted that KCDC needed better facilities, but in the end the project was much more extensive and expensive than had been communicated.
- Water supply solutions cover a wide range of policies including purchasing land for a new dam, developing a Waikanae River recharge scheme, ensuring reliable water supply in the foreseeable future and installing water meters. This last issue created the most opposition. A large petition was rejected by the mayor as being ill-informed, a reaction which incensed the anti-meters lobby.
- The Proposed District Plan was also very contentious and the well organised anti-Rowan lobby, The Kapiti Coastal Ratepayers United, made this a major feature of their advertising and campaigning.
There was also widespread opposition to some of the findings of the Shand Report which led to council-approved hazard lines being “drawn” on local maps and entered on beach property LIM data. The lines were described by a High Court judge as being starkly simplistic and Dr Shand’s conclusions were criticised for their questionable assumptions and speculative science. Many beachside dwellers would have had their say through the ballot box.
- At first: Vigorous support for the Western Link Road.
- Then: Opposition to the government’s desire to push an expressway through the Kapiti area.
- Next: Spending in the region of $200,000 on consultants and publicity on their own alternative to the three government proposals. This option four was never going anywhere.
- Finally: Eventually joining NZTA in the “preferred Expressway” tent.
The noisy anti-expressway lobby would not have voted for Ms Rowan!
The mayoral candidates: the top three
Local journalists and other experienced observers felt that there were only three candidates with any chance: Ross Church, K (Guru) Gurunathan and Jenny Rowan. The first two were existing councillors and could take some credit for the achievements of the last three years.
However, by distancing themselves from the mayor in their campaigning, they were able to avoid taking much of the criticism aimed at Jenny Rowan. They spoke, often vaguely, about rising debt, lack of clear communication, better policies on the water issues and the control of the bureaucrats over the elected council.
Guru also had the advantages of his regular Kapiti News column, some eye-catching advertising and an enthusiastic campaign team.
Ross Church came across as Mr Nice Guy, a well known local businessman and a “safe pair of hands” with recent council experience.
The Single Transferrable Voting (STV) system used in the election is complicated. Voters put the candidates in order, but how they numbered the rest after their first preference, was very important. (See Prue Hyman’s excellent analysis in Kapiti mayoral voting closer than reports indicated for more detail.)
Rowan supporters may well have placed Ross Church and Guru 2 and 3, but anti-Rowan voters probably gave her a 7. In the statistics below, the first figure is the final official tally and in brackets are the first preference votes, i.e. the number one choices.
- Ross Church 7933 (4582)
- K Gurunathan 6779 (4016)
- Jenny Rowan 4543 (4067)
So in Prue Hyman’s words: It is clear that on the whole, voters either strongly wanted Jenny Rowan to have a third term or strongly wanted a change – perhaps not strange for an incumbent.