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Meurant denies ‘divisiveness’

All three mayoral candidates were given a good hearing by more than 100 residents at Kiri Te Kanawa Retirement Village, but it was 72-year-old resident Susan Sligo who brought the house down.

Rehette Stoltz, Meredith Akuhata-Brown and Ross Meurant each had seven minutes to address the audience.

All expressed support for the restoration of a rail line, before taking questions from the floor.

Village resident Susan Sligo quizzed Mr Meurant about his time on the Rodney District Council.

During Mr Meurant’s term, the Minister for Local Government dissolved the Rodney council.

“I’d like to say I admire Mr Meurant’s business acumen,” said Ms Sligo. “He is sound in that world.

“However, politically, I think over the years he has been someone divisive. I would like to know if he has put away his divisiveness and why he actually wants to come to Gisborne? I would like to put to him that challenge.”

Her question was met with cheers and loud applause from fellow residents.

Mr Meurant insisted he was not and never had been divisive.

He said issues at Rodney council had started over a ”heated” debate about his and others’ questions about relationships between some council staff and property developers.

Fifteen years later, two people had been sentenced to five years each in jail, after they were found guilty to charges “for precisely what we were looking at — corruption.”

(In 2017, Stephen James Borlase and Murray John Noone were jailed after being found guilty of corruption and bribery offences relating to more than $1 million of bribes which took place between 2005 and 2013 at Rodney District Council and Auckland Transport, while Noone was a senior council manager and Borlase a council supplier.)

Earlier in the meeting Ms Stoltz said she had a strategic vision to take the region “from good to great”.

She would ensure that council policies aligned with “what you want for your kids and your grand kids.”

“Number one, we need strategic leadership; number two, a clean environment; number three, a focus on climate change; number four, smart infrastructure; and number five, to make business easier.”

Should she be elected she would not take up a seat on Eastland Community Trust, she said, because the mayor should be totally focused on being the mayor.

“We should and can expect more from our council,” she said

It was also important to “do the basics well” in order to look after residents’ rates money by focusing on “real” council business like ensuring “proper” roads and “lovely” libraries.

When asked by a resident about a through road to Nelson Road from Potae Avenue, Ms Stoltz said, it had been pushed out to next year. “The opening up will happen,”she said.

Meredith Akuhata-Brown said she would focus on reducing inequalities as well as employment and health disparities in the region.

“It’s time to fight for a Tairawhiti that all families can afford . . . I stand because I believe that change can happen.”

“I want to live in a region that values people above everything.”

Talking about the Gizzy School Lunches initiative, Mrs Akuhata-Brown said “rather than kids coming to school because they have a lunch to eat, I want to see more improvement in equity in Tairawhiti”.

Community relationships would also be a key focus.

On the regional transport committee, Akuhata-Brown could not confirm whether the land for a road to be built from Potae Ave to Nelson Road had been bought.

“But I can get back to you.”

The woman who asked the question said she presented the same question to Meng Foon three years ago and they gave her the same answers and the date 2019 for issues regarding the Lytton West shops parking to be solved.

“2019 is quickly slipping away,” she said.

Former National MP Ross Meurant pointed to his political and business background as being positive assets for his campaign to boost commercial activity in the region.

“I want to rejuvenate commercial activity. It’s as if the handbrake has been pulled on Gisborne’s economy,” he said.

He would focus on creating opportunities for the next generation to revitalise the region.

“If not, the next generation will leave.”

He also wanted to address sewage dumped on the beach, logging trucks destroying roads and a lack of rail freight.

Reinstating rail was possible and he would make that a priority, but he said ratepayers would not foot the bill.

His high-profile reputation meant people had already approached him about investing here. That included a proposal for a $25 million self-powered bio-waste disposal plant that could generate electricity for 6000 houses.

“I don’t know where it’ll go, maybe in Tolaga Bay.” he said.

He also committed to setting aside dedicated days for people to sit down and talk to the mayor face-to-face.