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Mental Health in Public Office

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

The Age of Fast-Hate and Why I Won’t be Sitting in the Corner, Rocking, with my Thumb in my Mouth. 

It’s ironic how boomers are quick to label all generations after them as “want it all and want it now”.  It’s ironic because, as a cusp boomer (I turned 60 in late June), I can say with some authority, the majority of fast-hate I receive comes from men and women over the age of 70.  

Roads, buses, climate change, 5G, my stance on progressing the city, my belief that we are an amenity desert compared to much smaller New Zealand centres, my stance on racism, all attract vitriolic fast-hate and, as of public submissions three weeks ago, I’m now accused of being responsible for the melting of the Antartic polar cap and the curse of globalisation. 

I’m mean seriously?!  Buses!! Fire those shots at the Regional Council please; the rest I’ll take on the chin. 

These are just some of the myriad reasons for the arrival of hate-mail. Mail and messages that is. The digital age has certainly enabled the boomers too and it comes on all social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and even Snapchat. 

But it’s what we signed up for - us politicians. It comes with the public sector territory. But there are limits and I, for one, intend to protect my mental health on what I suspect will be an interesting journey. 

Now look, I understand that a fifty year vision for an 85 year old is not the most compelling of propositions. But it’s exactly what we need. The only thing better, is a 100 year vision for the Western BOP.  

Two weeks after I was elected Mayor of Tauranga, I received a Facebook message simply saying, “I wish I’d never voted for you; you’ve done nothing to fix the roads, you’re useless”!  Naturally my reply was equally erudite, “Dear Sir - my sincere apologies, I’ve mislaid my road-fixing wand; the moment I find it, the job will be done”. 

Roll ahead 10 months and, despite still not being able to put my hands on that damn wand, we have magicked up considerable progress.  Yes we’ve had our challenges and the road-to-progress has been bumpy for the council on occasion, but we have moved the city forward positively.  And frankly, it’s about time!

We are one of five tier-one cities in New Zealand, along with Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.  

Tauranga is going through a period of significant change; and change is challenging for some. And it needs a multidimensional vision from housing and infrastructure to social and environmental management. And ultimately - success will only come through partnership.  

I was voted in to lead and enable this change on behalf of residents who want progress, to work with our regional partners and the government to ensure Tauranga’s inevitable growth is better led and managed. 

Tauranga is more united - and connected - now than ever. Relationships with central government, our regional partners, with iwi, NGO’s, community organisations and special interest groups have never been stronger. And they're starting to pay dividends. The majority see this and I’m grateful for your support.  

While some of the hate-mail is deeply personal and yes, it does hurt, protecting our mental health in public office is very important. And we all have different ways of managing it, particularly personal abuse in public. 

I intend to do it openly and transparently; sorry if you object to my telling you directly that I won’t accept or tolerate your personal abuse. But I won’t - and I encourage my local and central government colleagues to do likewise. Yes we hold public office and are accountable to the public, but some of the deeply personal abuse should not be tolerated. 

While the media are relentless, in my experience, they mostly do a good job. It’s the misinformed, quick-to-judge, social-media keyboard warriors who are often brutal and seek to purposefully hurt by enabling unbridled hate.  

Still, you won’t die wondering about my position on important matters and you won’t find me standing in the corner with life's indecisive hand-wringers - or worse sitting in the corner, rocking, with my thumb in my mouth. Sorry keyboard warriors, warm up those fingers and buckle in. 

So what you’ll get for the next two (plus) years is more of the same: upfront and out-front leadership designed to progress our wonderful Tauranga Moana and bring our diverse communities closer together.

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