Rachel Reese speaks to the crowd at the Nelson Weekly Mayoral Debate on Sunday. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Nelson Weekly debate heats up mayoral contest

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The above debate video starts at 26.10.

On Sunday night the Nelson Weekly hosted a mayoral candidate debate in a pub. Editor Charles Anderson offers his analysis of what happened during the evening and what it might mean for the election.

We didn’t want the same old talking points that can make so many citizens’ eyes glaze over. We wanted an environment which was entertaining and informative. On Sunday night we got a bit of everything. There were laughs, there were verbal jabs, some moments of solidarity and some moments of awkwardness. But it was the moments on the fly, when candidates were sparring with each other that proved the most telling for the jam-packed audience at The Workshop.

Bill Dahlberg, Tim Skinner, current Mayor Rachel Reese, Mike Ward and Mel Courtney all took the stage and had their well-rehearsed spiels about what they saw as the needs of the city. Unsuprisingly, they all focused around similar things – creating a dynamic city, being fiscally responsible, ensuring that Nelson was affordable place to live, protecting our environment and, of course, trying to make the city’s transport system work better.

First on the agenda was transport and pulling Rachel up on what seemed to be a flip flop on her view of whether Nelson needs a Southern Link. In 2013 she was adamant that it needed one, widely thought to be a new arterial route going down, or near, the Railway Reserve route and through Victory. However, last week she told a meeting that this would not involve building a road through Victory.

“This isn’t a yes/no exercise,” she said on Sunday. “We’ve seen what happens when people get into yes/no debates they end up with Brexit.”

She said when NZTA reports back on possible solutions there wasn’t going to be just one on the table.

“It’s not going to be up to me.”

Tim challenged her saying that she had championed on that one issue to initially get in as mayor.

Rachel said she didn’t: “I do not accept severance on any route, I have been really clear on that.”

Mel Courtney believed Nelson needed to look quickly at several options including getting clearways in, widening Rocks Rd and potentially adding free buses on certain days. However, when challenged on comments he made in 2016 saying he was for a Southern Link he did not admit flip-flopping but rather “adapting”.

“We have had a change of government, you adapt, and you don’t run against the wind, you look for more options.”

Bill seemed to suggest that a third arterial route was the only option to free up traffic.

“We’ve got the cliff coming down [on Rocks Rd], we’ve got the sea coming in. Where do we put the traffic if that road fails? You can have all the ideas you want but there really is only one obvious one.”

Reducing rates was a big talking point in intros with Mel, Tim and Bill. Mel says we can’t pin rates to inflation, instead he would offer “reasonable” rates.

Tim suggested there were small things that could make an impact on savings but also big projects. He mentioned the $250,000 that was spent on doing up the mayor’s office when she first came to power.

“You can play it down but 250k is a lot of money.”

Mel said that the city also needed to be better informed on where their money was spent. He brought up the Greenmeadows Centre budget increases, which grew from $4.9 million to over $7 million. He says that project was conducted without “any oversight”.

However, he was challenged by Tim Skinner, who said that Mel was the deputy chair on that committee, and it was his responsibility and he couldn’t pass the buck on it.

Mel’s response was that Tim was “all noise and no action”.

Mel also seemed to veer off track and insult Bill Dahlberg’s voice, when questioned by Bill on his track record on voting on declaring a climate change emergency.

“You can’t understand what he is saying … tell me what he said then.”

The comment drew some boos from the crowd.

Mike Ward was impassioned in his vision for Nelson saying he had lived an extraordinary life but didn’t need to leave New Zealand to do it.

“We could have as much fun getting it right than consuming ourselves into oblivion, having wardrobes with clothes we don’t wear, taking journeys we don’t need.”

He believed Nelson could be a model for the world with how it handles its environment and its people.

When it came to making Nelson affordable, Bill said it was often council standing in the way of building projects.

“The council aren’t going to put the money up for it but we can make it easier.”

Rachel presented as well polished and in command of what she was saying and the issues. However, behind the scenes, and what was raised during questioning on her efforts to push through a climate change emergency declaration, was that she struggles for support around the council table.

To round out the evening, candidates were asked a question that was burning for watchers of the debate on Facebook: “If you weren’t running for mayor who would you vote for?”

Bill would vote for Tim. Tim said Gaile Noonan (who is not running for mayor), Rachel sidestepped the questions by urging people to vote for young people. But then said, “I think you need to go back and look in the community if you are not going to vote for me.”

Mike wouldn’t say, but said would back whoever was voted

And finally, Mel would vote for Bill Dahlberg for a “whole host of reasons”.

So, what did we learn?

Are people any clearer on who they might vote for? Perhaps not, but for some people the event certainly shone a brighter light on candidates they believed most spoke to their values. We saw candidates under pressure and reacting on the fly, not having talking points to rely on. And it made for an entertaining evening.

You can view the video yourself on the Nelson Weekly Facebook page.