Trust quiet achiever in Rotorua

Phil Campbell

On Friday August 30, the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust opened its nomination for its November elections.

Stewart Edward the chairman will stand again, regular trustee Sandra Kai Fong has indicated she will not stand, instead preferring to chance her arm as a Rotorua Lakes councillor. So far.

Should she stand, Jo-Anne La Grouw will be the only remaining trustee of a group which affixed itself on the trust for many years.

The changing face of the trust over the last three years – with the retirement of its chairman Grahame Hall and three trustees Paul East, Lyall Thurston and Trevor Maxwell – has led to a change in direction of how grants are spread around the community.

By conservative Rotorua standards, the community removed the elephants from a flea circus.

Before that happened, though, a seismic change within – the removal of general manager Stuart Burns and his wife Andrea Thompson – caused much anxiety as the trust outsourced its management role.

Since, the trust’s capital base has increased in three years from $143million to $156m – a rise of some $13m – and this after dispensing some $110m over 25 years of its existence.

That the trust became an entity at all was down to a casting vote of one man – the late John Cole. An ultra-conservative in view and a handmaiden for various National Party MPs here and in the Waikato (not forgetting a helping hand for Simon Bridges in Tauranga), John was torn between his disdain of the Rotorua District Council and a suggestion a trust on his casting vote be formed to benefit the community.

The community won, but it remains a moot point John Cole expected any credit for his decision. The conventional thinking was that had his vote favoured the council from considerable money available from the dismantling of electricity authorities, the council’s debt would have been considerably reduced.

Thus, the elected members could now look forward to a most clement time of it campaigning to retain their seats.

As it happened, serendipity. For some councillors found a sort of Valhalla as trust elections coincided in the same cycle as the council. In all cases, councillors who stood for the trust elections six weeks later could merely cover their council hoardings with trust stickers without removing them by midnight of the council elections and incur penalty.

Being a high profile councillor practically guaranteed election to the trust.

Since the 2016 elections, change. Critically, fixed terms have been introduced but are being phased in over time.

But change too from within, how the trust manages its funds. The late Beatrice Yates has used her gravitas as an educator and facilitator in Maoridom to help forge that direction.

It seems from this perspective, too, niche operations – perennial favourites – had had their time.

The funds were distributed to a more socio-economically starved based in Rotorua, to education and to Maori education in particular.

Major community projects were not overlooked – ‘quake risk and stricken buildings like the Bath House and the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre received grant injections.

The community can only ponder the cost to it in terms of rates had such munificence not been considered.

And another thing has occurred, or rather has not occurred: self-promotion. The trust has operated so unostentatiously that, compared with the past, it has almost disappeared from public view.

Who now could name individual trustees? In the past, the fizzes of one trustee or all in a group photograph would accompany almost each press release – so many sets of teeth could circumnavigate Smallbone Park as a picket fence.

These days, the trustees have distanced themselves it seems from any hint that they and they alone are responsible for community well-being. Media releases in general indicate a magnanimity and a modesty not always prevalent in the past.

The last three years have certainly have been one of prudence, and a prudence that realises $13m in the last three years can’t be all that bad.




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