Waipā ratepayers paid a Christchurch company $9.23c for every vote cast in the recent local body elections.
The $145,000 bill from ElectionNZ to run the election netted 15,703 votes for a 39.65 per cent return.
Details of how much candidates spent on their campaign in Waipā have also been made public this week – but in bizarre fashion after The News was told it was not known when the information would go live.
The News asked Waipā Governance manager Jo Gread on Tuesday morning when the candidate electoral donations and expenses returns would be available. She denied knowing – and told us to keep our eye on the council website.
Then, less than 90 minutes later, the information had gone live on the Waipā District Council website. The News subsequently learned the information – which by law must be made available to the public – had been with the Governance team for five days and instructions made on Monday from a staffer to post them online.
Candidates had been given a December 7 deadline to file the information – 55 days after the election result was declared on October 13.
The figures show the biggest spender was new mayor Susan O’Regan who forked out $13,675, mostly on community newspaper advertising, and received free public relations’ advice, valued at $4800, for her 6902 votes.
Chris Woodhams, who finished third with 3181 votes, spent $13,540. He reported no donations in kind or in cash and most of his spending went on community newspaper and Facebook advertising.
Incumbent mayor Jim Mylchreest only spent $3843.87 for 4909 votes – just about all of it for signs and none on advertising.
Bernard Westerbaan’s low-frills $344.46 campaign secured him 687 votes.
Late last month The News put a series of questions to the council about the election campaign including when electoral returns would be available. We were told “late December”. We also asked why the council used an external provider and what the cost was.
The council initially declined to provide the ElectionNZ costs for running the election in Waipā saying because it was a private contractor, costs were commercially sensitive and would not be released.
The News went back to the council and asked it to reconsider as Rotorua Lakes Council said it spent $182,000 on the same provider. We signalled that we would go to the Ombudsman to secure the information we believe is in the public’s interest.
If all the country’s 78 local authorities spent an average $150,000, that represents more than $11.7 million on two private contractors which resulted in only one in three eligible voters having their say.
Local Government New Zealand wants a review of local elections to improve voting and make it more accessible in the 2025 elections. A centralised approach, including online voting, has been mooted.
Waipā paid just over $9000 to promote the elections.
We also asked why the council had allowed candidates to use old photos during the campaign. The rules say photos should be less than a year old.
Roger Gordon, Takina Stirling and Ange Holt were elected using photos more than 12 months old.
The rules in the candidate handbook said candidate photos had to be newer ones and in colour.
Stirling’s was an older black and white photo which had been used for promotional purposes on his website.
During the campaign, The News asked candidates if their photos were less than 12 months old.
Only Gordon and Ruth Nicholls, who unsuccessfully stood for a seat on the Cambridge Community Board, fessed up.
Jill Taylor, who successfully stood for the Te Awamutu-Kihikihi Community Board said her one was new.
“The instructions were (to) provide a photo not more than 12 months old so that is what I did – why would any prospective candidate not follow the instructions?”
Waipā deputy chief executive Ken Morris said all candidates were told the rules and were responsible for policing the photo rule themselves.
“We and the community should have an expectation that anyone standing for public office would simply follow the rules. It’s disappointing some people didn’t.”
During the campaign returning officer Warwick Lampp of ElectionNZ said: “all candidates have assured me the photos are taken within the last 12 months as required by the candidate handbook.”
Asked if he would act, Lampp said he would not.
The News understands only O’Regan and Liz Stolwyk were told to change their profile photos.
O’Regan because her photo was taken on the steps of the Cambridge Town Hall, an identifiable council asset and thus against the rules, and Stolwyk because she originally submitted an older photo.
O’Regan photoshopped her photo to get rid of the background and Stolwyk found a newer photo which she re-submitted.