Voting frenzy ahead of mayoral election

By Tui Bromley

A keenly contested mayoralty race in Westland has sparked a voting frenzy that blitzes the national trend.
However, when Westland’s figures are lumped in with the Grey and Buller districts, about half of the West Coasters eligible to have a say in tomorrow’s local body elections have instead consigned their voting papers to the recycling bin.
By early tomorrow afternoon, the districts will know who their mayors and councillors are, who will be on the new hospital board, who will sit around Development West Coast’s board table and the make-up of the new West Coast Regional Council.
Greymouth is recycling its mayor, Tony Kokshoorn but Westland’s Mayor Maureen Pugh is standing aside to leave the door to chambers open for current deputy mayor, Bryce Thomson, retired traffic policeman, Kyle Scott, businesswoman Jacquie Grant and Ahaura farmer Mike Havill. The variety of choice has sparked a 56.8% return in Westland, up 0.4% on the last election.
With the national vote not expected to top 45%, Westland’s could possibly be the only increase in New Zealand.
Despite a three-way race for Buller’s mayoral robes — Garry Howard, Margaret Montgomery, and Greg Hart are vying for the seat vacated by Pat McManus — Buller’s turnout is presently the lowest in the district’s history.
Returning officer John Rodger said this morning that Buller had hit the 50% return mark, but it was still well below the 56.3% of 2010, and that had been the lowest on record.
Greymouth’s returning officer Alan O’Connell said he was not expecting his final figure to reach 42% (44.3% in 2010).
“At this point we have 41.67% and the only way to get a vote recorded now is to hand it in over the counter. We will be open until noon tomorrow for that, but not having an election for the mayor makes a difference to the figures.”
Unlike the mayoralty, there is a contest for seats around the Grey District Council, with nine candidates fighting for the two spaces in the eastern ward, and seven lining up for the four seats in the central (Greymouth) ward.
Like the mayor, Peter Haddock (southern ward) and Cliff Sandrey (northern ward) were re-elected unopposed.
The major interest though, is in Westland which is reeling under $16 million of debt, and rate rises of 12.8%.
This has produced a clamour for change around the council table and prompted a large number of new candidates to toss their hats in the ring including two of the council’s strongest critics, Hugh Cameron and Anthea Keenan.
The central ward of the regional council is also looking lively. Goldmining councillor Ian Cummings is stepping down, but his son Brett is standing, alongside existing councillor Allan Birchfield.
Former councillors Peter Ewen and Peter Neame are also seeking a return to the council table, as well as existing councillor Andrew Robb and two newcomers, Robert Rose and Drew Talboys.
Greymouth lawyer Colin Smith is elected unopposed to Development West Coast, but the Westland seat is contested by businessman Hugh Little and retired council watchdog Max Dowell.
Meanwhile newcomers in contention for the DHB seats are former board member Michelle Lomax (Westport), retired nurse Peter Neame (Greymouth), businessman Christopher Rea (Hokitika), and retired port manager David Stapleton.
All district councils will post the results on their websites soon after 1pm tomorrow.