[Disclosure Statement: These are my views, not those of Tauranga Moana Safe City. I have never worked for Tauranga Moana Safe City; however I worked on joint projects with Mike Mills when I was the Manager of the Merivale Community Centre and when I was contracted to run the White Ribbon Campaign events in 2013. I changed the original header image to avoid any confusion.]
Mike Mills, co-ordinator for Tauranga Moana Safe City (TMSC), an award winning inter-agency collaboration, who has partnered with the Tauranga City Council and the Western Bay of Plenty District Council to deliver community safety initiatives, has been dumped. From all reports, the Tauranga City Council (TCC) acting on the resolution of a newly reconstituted Governance Group unceremoniously fired Mike, who has given nine years of his life to ensuring that Tauranga lives up to its designation as an International Safe Community. Furthermore, the Safe City Steering Group, the original volunteer governance for TMSC, was dismantled without consultation.
It feels to me like this new Governance Group has been set up, made a lame duck by bringing in people who are new to the game and are largely uninformed about TMSC. These decisions to fundamentally restructure TMSC have been precipitant, presumptuous… and premeditated. The new Governance Group is the ultimate “Get Out of Jail Free” Card; a group reliant on the advice of the Community Development team in TCC who can wash their hands of the matter, saying “it wasn’t their decision.”
From my investigations, I cannot find any evidence that TMSC was having problems: Safe City funding was not under threat from external funders; TMSC has a history of achieving its contracted outcomes; and had new ideas for the year ahead. So why is it being taken over by TCC from the new financial year? If it’s not lack of money and it’s not lack of performance, then the motivation lies elsewhere: empire-building in the Community Development team in the Council itself.
A little bit of investigation provides some hints to support my assertion: in the Annual Plan and the Ten Year Plan, there is currently no significant money allocated to the activities of the Community Development team; they can’t do anything except support the Councillors in the their monthly meetings. This must be quite frustrating for their newly-minted Manager. Who wants to run a team with no activities budget? Tauranga Moana Safe City provided an obvious solution. Currently funding for the coordinator comes from the TCC and Western Bay of Plenty District Council Annual Plans, with a contribution from ACC for the Western Bay of Plenty. Funding for TMSC activities has normally been raised by the coordinator and the steering group, held by the Tauranga City Council, and then paid out as the agreed contracted activities are delivered. In the past six years TMSC has raised more than $2.5 million for community safety programmes and activities. Dismantling TMSC is a ready-made budget for the Community Development team in an environment of scarce resources.
It’s the loss to our communities that enrages me. The activities of TMSC are impressive and important.
They have a long partnership with the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union to deliver the successful “Bully No More” campaign alongside “No One Likes a Bully” programme to primary and intermediate school pupils. These programmes focus on elimination off all forms of violence, and connect the message with the popularity of the Bay of Plenty Steamers. The “Bully No More” collectable Steamers player’s cards are a popular trading card in Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.
Linked to this has been the very successful work of TMSC with many others on the White Ribbon Campaign. The Blow the Whistle on Violence campaign which is focused around a home match for the Bay of Plenty Steamers is an award winning connection of the domestic violence prevention messaging with the target population: men. Alongside this is the popular White Ribbon Tug of War held at Fraser Cove shopping mall every year that has become a cause strongly supported by unlikely partners like C3 from the Port of Tauranga.
TMSC was one of the initiators of the 100% Summer without Substances events, that now continues under another trust. Funded through ACC, these events provide a series of fun activities for young people in summer, including boxing sparring, dance workshops, volleyball, basketball shootouts, mobile cooking demonstrations, a mobile gym, and other interactive activities aimed at showing young people you can have fun without alcohol or drugs.
The nationally recognised Teen Tools website is a one stop shop of information for teenagers and parents about current projects in the region, advice on school, bullying, drugs and alcohol, sex and a lot more. The latest initiatives include the Party Sign Up and the It’s All Good to ask for help resources.
TMSC has also been funded through the Youth Crime Action Plan, a multi-agency approach to reducing offending by young people. They are one of six groups nationally to receive this funding, no doubt off the success and reputation of such activities as creative artwork to reduce graffiti vandalism, such as occurred at the Wairoa River toilet block.
Not one of these programmes, projects or activities was done alone. TMSC have an open-handed, relational approach that has seen them work across the Bay of Plenty community with everyone and anyone who wants to improve safety in our communities. Official agencies they have partnered with include the two Councils, the Police, the Fire Service, ACC, health providers, the DHB and the PHOs, the Ministry of Social Development and many more. It’s this approach that saw Tauranga re-designated as an International Safe Community in 2014. TMSC is possibly the best networker and team player in Tauranga Moana.
Yet since their inception, the Community Development Committee of TCC has never had TMSC come and brief them. I read all the publicly-available minutes in its 18 months of operation, and according to those minutes, the April 2015 meeting was the first meeting Mike had attended and it was in his capacity with the Tauranga Moana Night Shelter, not as co-ordinator of TMSC. By comparison, the Western Bay of Plenty Community Committee at least started this year with a briefing from TMSC, and were clearly satisfied with the extensive work programme of the trust.
It was also at the TCC Community Development Committee April meeting that they went into-committee to discuss “Safe City Governance,” excluding the public. As Mike was there representing the Night Shelter, there is every chance he was excluded from that actual discussion. My guess is that’s where the Manager revealed the bold new plan to do away with the Steering Group and fire Mike Mills. Of course it’s possible there is bad blood between people on the committee, in the Community Development team and TMSC; if that’s the case, adult decision making should take precedence over vindictive tantrums.
This decision will send us back to square one on community development and community safety initiatives in Tauranga. There is simply little or no grass roots expertise in the Council’s Community Development team. That lack of experience is in reality not a problem if you work with people who are immersed into the community. However, taking control of TMSC and getting rid of Mike Mills indicates a lack of good faith and commitment to our community; rather it indicates a commitment to using our community development champions as a ladder rung on a career climb.
[The header image is Port of Tauranga from the heritageinn.co.nz website. There was no attribution of the photo.]