Outgoing Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby on surviving the Rena

Outgoing Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby on surviving the Rena

With eight weeks until Kiwis hit the polls and vote in local body elections, Newshub reporter Grace Cocker is speaking to those Mayors who, after years in the role, are handing over the reins.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby takes a deep breath to reminisce on his time at the head of the council.

"I will miss the people and the community... but will not miss the processes we [council] had to endure."

The man who led the Bay of Plenty city for four terms is handing over the reins this year, after deciding not to contest the role.

He says the Rena tragedy, which became New Zealand's worst maritime environmental disaster, was a pivotal point in his career, as people relied on him to save their coastline, businesses and local habitat.

"My role as mayor during the initial phase was ignored for some time, until I stood up and said 'hang on a minute, this is my community that's going to be affected by the oil'... it was definitely a wild ride".

Mr Crosby is the first to admit that the scale of the Rena disaster took him by surprise.

"I was flying out to Wellington that morning [it happened], and the pilot flew over the Astrolabe Reef so we could see the Rena. Looked like it was just stopped on reef and I thought oh yeah, tugs will come out and pull it off. What we didn't know was that it was pinned by a big chunk of rock and wasn't going anywhere!"

But Mr Crosby believes the tragedy brought his Tauranga community closer together, which he says filled him with absolute joy and pride.

Running a district for 12 years is no mean feat and Mr Crosby has learnt all too well that some decisions made as a civil leader will affect locals in a negative way.

He recently made a choice to acquire property from a couple for a council project. He broke the news to them personally.

"At the moment we're acquiring properties that a couple have poured their heart and soul into, we are effectively taking everything off them."

"As a Mayor you must be prepared to step up and take responsibility for the good, the bad, and the ugly."

But his darkest days always relate to moments when people in his city were hit hard.  He says it was tough to support a community when people were put through unspeakable trauma or to support a family whose child has just been killed.

This was the case for a young school girl who died after being struck by a logging truck. Mr Crosby says the local community rallied against the council and lobbied for further speed restrictions.

"Would speed restrictions have saved this young child's life? Probably not, but people were angry and it was very tough going."

The tragedy sparked a reduction in the speed limit outside the Mount Maunganui College, which was supported ten-fold by Mr Crosby.

After more than a decade at the helm, Mr Crosby is looking forward to rekindling relationships. He lets out a slight laugh while admitting he's been a slack friend to many people, and especially neglectful to his beloved racing car, which is "sitting gathering dust in the garage".

Before ending our conversation, I ask if he has any pearls of wisdom for those game enough to take on the role, especially with new challenges being faced in the city with rising house prices, and an influx of people escaping Auckland for a more relaxed lifestyle.

"One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to stand in other people's shoes before making mayoral decisions, and always take responsibility for the good the bad and the ugly".

But this isn't the last Tauranga has heard of Mr Crosby. With 30 years of local government experience, he has announced plans to stand for Bay of Plenty Regional Council because: "Tauranga is growing and faces some very positive challenges, which I want to be a part of."


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