He spent 18 years as a Tauranga City councillor, and another 12 as MAYOR. Now a Bay of Plenty Regional councillor, we ask Stuart Crosby what it’s all about…

INTERVIEW JENNY RUDD PHOTOS LOGAN DAVEY

Stu­art Cros­by assumed office as may­or on Octo­ber 9th 2004, after spend­ing 18 years as an elect­ed coun­cil mem­ber. That made him the 28th may­or of Tau­ran­ga. After serv­ing four terms, he decid­ed not to enter the fray for the fifth. Stu­art is now a Bay of Plen­ty region­al coun­cil­lor.

Chat­ting to Stu­art for an hour or so, drink­ing tea in Eliz­a­beth Café and Larder, I walked away think­ing, “I real­ly like you.” He wasn’t rude or crit­i­cal. He had a youth­ful and opti­mistic view, and a method­i­cal mind. He def­i­nite­ly isn’t the ‘par­ty line’ boy I thought he’d be. More than that, he was a prop­er human in a role which is large­ly thank­less, doesn’t do much to bond you to your spouse, and occu­pies your every wak­ing sec­ond.

If there’s any­one who needs a fin­ger point­ing at them and being given some cred­it for how bloody bril­liant our region is today, it’s Stu­art.

WHAT DOES A MAYOR DO?

S: First, and fore­most, you are the elect­ed mem­ber of the coun­cil. Last time we had a new coun­cil, I said ‘I am not your boss. You have been inde­pen­dent­ly elect­ed and are account­able and respon­si­ble for what­ev­er you say and do.’ I believe we have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where every­one can suc­ceed, by remov­ing bar­ri­ers to their suc­cess.

The mayor’s role is set out in reg­u­la­tions, but it only scratch­es the sur­face. There’s anoth­er side, which only cur­rent or pre­vi­ous may­ors would under­stand. It’s the respon­si­bil­i­ty for the city or area you rep­re­sent. And that doesn’t stop, day or night. It’s some­thing you can’t put on a spread­sheet or explain to some­one else, because it’s a per­son­al thing. As may­or, you are account­able and respon­si­ble for things you actu­al­ly have noth­ing to do with. For instance, if some­one has a car acci­dent, peo­ple will often blame the road, and there­fore the coun­cil and may­or. The fact they were drunk or stoned, going too fast, or had bald tyres doesn’t come into it. You have to under­stand the sit­u­a­tion, and think how to rep­re­sent the city, not your­self, in the best light.

The role is as much as you want to make it. I’ve seen may­ors in some cities sleep­walk through the job, but the vast major­i­ty work their ars­es off with very lit­tle thanks or reward; but they don’t do it for that.

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU BROUGHT TO THE ROLE OF MAYOR?

S: I have the abil­i­ty to stay calm under pres­sure, and rely on my knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence to do and say the right thing. I learned that a key attrib­ute is to lis­ten to peo­ple, try to stand in their shoes to real­ly under­stand their point of view, and then relate that view to the issue in ques­tion.

I’ve always had the view that you provide for today and plan for tomor­row. With oth­ers I put much time and effort in the plan­ning ahead. Lots of politi­cians I have worked with didn’t have much inter­est in long-term plan­ning, just how dai­ly issues affect­ed their chances of being re-elect­ed. Tauranga’s suc­cess is no acci­dent. It is the result of a com­pre­hen­sive plan, which I had a role in devel­op­ing and exe­cut­ing, along with oth­ers, using the resources we had at the time.

While as a may­or you must lead, you don’t achieve much on your own. You can achieve huge things as a team.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD COUNCILLOR?

S: I’ve always said, ‘If you want some­thing said, ask a male. If you want some­thing done, ask a female’. Pret­ty much to a per­son, the wom­en on the coun­cil are hard­er work­ing and more focused than the men. I think it’s because they com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter, and are more pas­sion­ate about the job. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, wom­en tend to do things that ben­e­fit oth­ers, as they are less ego dri­ven.

And they net­work bet­ter, too. Because New Zealand is still so small, those con­nec­tions are real­ly valu­able. There are so few gate­keep­ers; you could have a chat with the prime min­is­ter if you real­ly want­ed to.

When I was elect­ed as may­or, the town was being run by a small group of grey­haired busi­ness­men. They pret­ty much decid­ed on who would and who wouldn’t be the may­or, and who would be ‘elect­ed’ as coun­cil­lors. Some­one in the group came to me and said, ‘Go back to the beach where you belong.’ My first may­oral func­tion was at Tau­ran­ga Race Course, at a pre­sen­ta­tion of the Japan New Zealand Cup, where I polite­ly recount­ed the sto­ry to a group which includ­ed that gen­tle­man.

Luck­i­ly, the pow­er of those peo­ple has dimin­ished. In fact, it’s almost nonex­is­tant now. The city has out­grown them. There’s a gen­er­a­tion com­ing through with a dif­fer­ent agen­da. In their thir­ties, they have a gen­eros­i­ty of spir­it. They aren’t moti­vat­ed to make cash for them­selves, but to cre­ate things for their gen­er­a­tion and those after. And they take own­er­ship. They don’t sit back and say ‘we want this’ to the gov­ern­ment and coun­cil. They just think about what they can do to make where we live a bet­ter place. And they stick their necks out. Most of the time they suc­ceed. To me, that’s very excit­ing.”

WHAT ASPECT OF THE JOB WAS MOST CHALLENGING? DID YOU WORK OUT HOW TO OVERCOME IT?

S: When peo­ple con­nect­ed to the coun­cil were affect­ed by a big loss – death of a fam­i­ly mem­ber, loss of a home or busi­ness – I didn’t ever over­come get­ting emo­tion­al­ly involved. But I learned to face the chal­lenge head on, and share the emo­tion­al side with those involved.

HOW DID BEING MAYOR AFFECT YOUR FAMILY?

S: In hind­sight, I too often pri­ori­tised my may­oral role above my fam­i­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly how I allo­cat­ed my time. I believe this is a com­mon issue with politi­cians, and espe­cial­ly those in roles of lead­er­ship. On the pos­i­tive side, there were occa­sions where my fam­i­ly met extra­or­di­nary peo­ple, because of my job.

WHERE ARE THE GAPS IN TAURANGA?

S: We are still strug­gling to find work for a pro­fes­sion­al cou­ple in Tau­ran­ga. A recent­ly arrived cou­ple I know are a civil engi­neer and an accoun­tant. They are find­ing it hard to get two jobs at the moment. The city will grow into it, though.

This build­ing we are in, on the cor­ner of Eliz­a­beth Street, was a game chang­er. The next big one will be the new uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus. That will trans­form the city. The rede­vel­op­ment is hap­pen­ing. In five to sev­en years, the CBD will be hum­ming.

It will bring not only the ener­gy and verve of stu­dents, but also the aca­d­e­mic staff. And they will need dif­fer­ent stim­uli, like muse­ums and art gal­leries.

And there still isn’t enough to do for those in their twen­ties. We have to admit that. It will change, though. Where there is a demand, the sup­ply will fol­low. We just need to keep them here in the mean­time.

Stu­art con­grat­u­lates Jason Saun­ders (left) and Sam Meech (right) after the Rio Olympics

OVER THE YEARS, WHAT DO YOU THINK TAURANGA CITY COUNCIL’S GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT HAS BEEN?

S: Our growth man­age­ment strat­e­gy, called Smart­Growth. A num­ber of key enti­ties are work­ing togeth­er with com­mu­ni­ties to plan ahead for the whole sub-region, which is a key ele­ment to our suc­cess. I’m proud to say I’ve been involved since its incep­tion, and remain involved.

AND FINALLY, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO THINKS THEY’D MAKE A GOOD MAYOR?

S: I will always sup­port someone’s desire to stand as a coun­cil­lor or for the may­oral­ty; it is a crit­i­cal part of our demo­c­ra­t­ic process. The prob­lem is that many can­di­dates have no idea about the role and the demands. For­tu­nate­ly, the vot­ing pub­lic do have an under­stand­ing, and gen­er­al­ly get it right at the elec­tion, as far as the may­oral­ty is con­cerned. My advice for any can­di­date would be to spend time under­stand­ing the com­mu­ni­ty you hope to rep­re­sent, and the mechan­ics of that local gov­ern­ment.