By Stu Oldham
A first-term Timaru District councillor wants to win four consecutive terms as his district’s mayor.
Nigel Bowen is the fourth to confirm a bid for the Timaru mayoralty, adding to a field that includes two experienced mayoral campaigners and a well-known retired businessman.
Open communication would be at the forefront of a campaign that seeks to ensure the district’s community is as strong as its economy, Mr Bowen suggested this week.
“The majority of things at council operate really well . all the basics are still there – where we do need to improve is taking the district along for the journey, through consultation, moving forward together.”
The Timaru businessman and South Canterbury football administrator was by far the highest polling candidate when he was elected in a council by-election in late 2017. This week, Mr Bowen acknowledged he had an eye on the mayoralty as he settled into the role.
“Ten years ago, I looked at this and decided the family was too young,” the father to two school-aged girls said.
“Ten years on, I felt I had the opportunity to run for council; I always saw myself going for the leadership role.
“I guess there’s no right time, but I guess my concern is that someone shouldn’t go in for the mayoralty wanting to make it a quick-fix position.
“At the moment we really need some long term vision and stewardship, and not just for the mayoralty.”
He was “really running to commit to the next four terms”to help build a strong community and economy, Mr Bowen said.
Some mayors may have been rated for their bricks-and-mortar projects, but a stronger district would come from investing in community assets, fiscal prudence and providing community leadership.
It was linked to, but not “all about economics”, he said.
The outcry accompanying discussion as to the future of the council’s stake in Alpine Energy – a process that “could’ve been communicated and consulted much better” – showed “the theme of this election will be around transparency”, he said.
The council had to be more open. Workshops could be public and information not considered in public-excluded sessions should be published.
Regular, rather than legislatively required, consultation needed to be considered.
People need to get an early say in the future of their district, including that of Timaru’s central business district and Caroline Bay.
He was the first chairman of the Timaru CBD Group and he believed a modern downtown was made up of user-friendly public spaces that allowed people to mix and to spend.
“But do we prioritise it over other projects? We need to talk about it – and really think about what it’ll mean for rates, and people on fixed incomes.
“I want to push forward and get things done, we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and we need to attract people with a great downtown, great facilities, but we also have to balance that with the needs of older residents and others who have limited incomes.”
Caroline Bay might get a new penguin viewing platform, but people needed to be asked whether the bay’s future included more or less commercial activity – and whether freedom camping was made less than free.
Whether the council’s Timaru District Holdings (TDHL) dividend should continue to smooth rates increases or tackle debt must also be considered, and whether the mayor should be on the TDHL board was also live for discussion: “we need the best people around the table .. I would step back if someone with a better skill set was there.”
Mr Bowen joins incumbent Damon Odey, former mayor Janie Annear and Timaru businessman Gordon Handy in signalling their intention to run for mayor in the October election.