Northland local government leadership faces seismic change in leadership

Northland local government is facing its biggest leadership change this year.

John Carter, former Minister of Local Government and Mayor of Far North.
Photo: Defender of the North / Tania Whyte

Far North Mayor John Carter will not run in the October 8 local elections.

Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai will also not be standing. Both will mark the end of nine years as mayor.

Kaipara Mayor Dr. Jason Smith is Northland’s only running mayor.

no metadata

Kaipara District Council (KDC) Chief Executive Louise Miller remains the council’s only remaining leader.

Far North District Council’s new chief executive, Blair King, took office last month, while Whangārei District Council’s new chief executive, Simon Weston, will take office soon.

Northland Regional Council (NRC) staff find out on April 12 who will be the new chief executive following chief executive Malcolm Nicolson’s upcoming departure from office.

The personnel announcement comes on the same day as a special public meeting of the council of short-notice excluded for NRC advisers, which is also attended by recruiters involved in the new leadership appointment.

“That hasn’t happened in Northland in my 55 years of public service,” Carter said.

Carter said he was retiring from public service because he had served more than five decades of public service and would be 72 in the next election.

Sheryl Mai, Mayor of Whangarei.

Sheryl Mai, Mayor of Whangarei.
Photo: Defender of the North / Tania Whyte

Mai said three terms is enough for a mayoral position. His three-term term follows a string of other short-term mayoral terms before that.

Carter warned that the volume and speed of changes in government meant other New Zealand mayors were considering the same action ahead of the October election.

Three waters, local government reform, major changes in resource management law and many more were taking a heavy toll, he said.

Carter said her decision to step down would have been made regardless of those changes.

Northland could be an amplification of what would unfold in the country as a result of these changes.

Carter said the pressure was relentless.

Dr Andy Asquith, a former local government specialist at Massey University and now a research assistant at Curtin University in Perth, said the near-widespread leadership change was a seismic shock for Northland.

He said this meant huge amounts of experience and knowledge were lost.

These major changes happening so close together in the face of major three-water reform and other changes have added a risk to local democracy.

He said the councils were the largest and most localized local democracy, close to the homes and lives of Northlanders and New Zealanders.

Asquith suggested other New Zealand leaders are likely to follow suit. New Zealand was already the most centralized government in the OECD.

He said everything about people’s lives in their area had to do with the advice – when people turned on the tap, when they flushed the chain from their toilets, the roads they took.

Carter said more and more central government costs were being loaded onto local government and, therefore, its taxpayers.

Northland’s major political change becomes interesting when the restructuring of three waters is considered.

The Far North, Kaipara and Whangārei district councils are proposed to be combined into one huge New Zealand Three Waters service body summit called Entity A.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has also announced that he will not be standing in the next local elections either.

This means that, if Kaipara’s Smith is re-elected, he will be the only current political leader of Auckland North Three Waters still standing.

Smith is currently president of the Northland Mayoral Forum.

Carter is currently a member of the New Zealand Local Government Board. He also served as Minister of Civil Defense and New Zealand High Commissioner to the Cook Islands.

Carter said the Northlanders need to make sure they do some research to see who would be good candidates who can deal with a changing local government scene.

He said local government would also potentially include housing and welfare functions in the future.

There are 42 elected councilors in Northland and 19 community council members.

Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air