Mayor Rachel Reese with her husband and campaign manager Richard Harden after learning of her win. Photo: Kate Russell.

Council overhaul points to want of action

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On Saturday half of Nelsonians voted in local body elections which resulted in a new-look council. Charles Anderson offers his analysis.

Rachel Reese was celebrating her mother’s birthday at the Boat Shed when she found out that she had regained her role as mayor for a third term.

“There’s a brilliant momentum in our community at the moment,” she said. “So I’m really looking forward to carrying that through and really taking us to the next level as a region.”

What that next level looks like, however, is unclear as an overhaul on Nelson City Council sees the table achieve gender equality for the first time, perhaps ever. The overall turnout was only a tiny bit down on previous elections of about 52 per cent.

Conservative council veteran Ian Barker was voted out, as was Mike Rutledge, who many saw as that side of the aisle’s man in waiting.

In their places there is a slew of new councillors, many of whom represent clear shift to more progressive politics.

Among them is Rachel Sanson, who achieved the highest number of votes, and Rohan O’Neill Stevens, who at 19-years-old is one of the youngest councillors in the country. He ran on a campaign on representing a youthful voice and on being serious about the city’s responsibility to stem climate change.

Joining them is Pete Rainey, who unsuccessfully ran against Rachel Reese in the 2016 mayoral election, and Judene Edgar, a long-time Tasman District Councillor and has made a name for herself in helping local organisations with their governance issues.

Trudie Brand, the one-time Nelson Residents Association vice-president, also has a seat at the table, along with Yvonne Bowater, who has been involved in many community initiatives.

Joining them are others who have been on council for at least two terms. Matt Lawrey, who campaigned with Rohan and Rachel Sanson, achieved the third most votes. Tim Skinner, who might be considered Matt’s polar opposite, ran for mayor but was let known that people apparently prefer him as a voice of fiscal responsibility around the table. Brian McGurk is Nelson’s former top cop, turned Labour voice on council. Kate Fulton, who also campaigned on climate issues, is back in.

Two-term councillor Gaile Noonan is back on and is a likely candidate for deputy mayor.

The up shot is that the mayoral vote seemed to be a referendum on Rachel Reese’s leadership. To have three current councillors run against her is not a glowing endorsement of the way she runs the council table. Now two of those candidates, in Mel Courtney and Tim Skinner, are around that table.

Indeed, Rachel was aided by so many people putting their hands up to try to lead the city. It is likely that if only one major candidate ran, rather than three of them, then the result would have been much closer. There is no doubt they split the vote.

Now the challenge will be how a new and visibly more progressive council works alongside the mayor, who once seemed to be the champion of more conservative voters.

Whether she has adapted, softened or is just moving with the times, there now really doesn’t seem to be too much gulf between the mayor’s attitudes and some of the table’s more progressive voices.

There are some major issues facing Nelson that needs council action and this council does seem to be a vote for making things happen, rather than a more conservative attitude of sitting on hands and protecting against rates rises at all costs.

The question will be whether personalities get in the way.