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.
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.