Councillor Kõrero: New Council Settling in as Elected Members Inducted at Inaugural Meeting

As the dust settled from this year’s local elections, Waikato District Council held their inaugural meeting inducting the new elected members into council last week. The council will meet again next Wednesday so they can vote to approve the appointment of the new committee Chairs and will hold their first meeting for the Policy & Regulatory Committee in council chambers at Ngāruawāhia on December 15.

Re-elected as Whāingaroa General Ward Councillor, Lisa Thomson says that she is excited to see a diverse group of people, including five wāhine Māori, sitting around the decision making table. With nine new councillors and a new mayor, over half of the 14 elected members are new to the council this triennium.


(Listen to the interview below:)


“By virtue of these changes [in members] it will inevitably change the council when you have that diversity. Where the waka will go will depend on how the councillors respond, I think it’s an opportunity to come together as a team to understand our strengths and weaknesses as we move forward,” said Lisa.

Lisa also says it can take time for new councillors to understand the inner workings of the ‘massive’ business that is council with its many ‘moving parts,’ which includes not only the council itself but a myriad of committees, sub-committees, community boards, community committees and council-controlled organisations.

While there has been a ‘pregnant pause’ between the local elections and the start of the new triennium, the RCB also had their inaugural meeting this Tuesday with Mayor Jacqui Church swearing in the board (except for Satnam Bains who was absent) including new members Ross Wallis and Tilly Turner ( Tai Runga Takiwaa Maaori Ward Councillor). The newly appointed chairperson is Dennis Amoore and the deputy chairperson is Chris Rayner.

Lisa, who nominated Dennis to be the chairperson, commented that it will be great for continuity as Dennis was the previous board’s deputy chairperson and has great relationships with the likes of council and hapū to continue the work on projects, like the wharf, that were kicked off in the previous triennium.

Compared to some of the other boards in the district, the RCB has been successful in engaging with the council and Lisa says that other councillors are keen to meet with the RCB to see how they too can empower their own community boards to take action.

Lisa is proud of the work the board has been able to achieve but she is also concerned about remuneration and resourcing for the elected members. The engagement process and meeting with council staff to progress projects can take a lot of time and energy - and the current remuneration is very poor.

“We put that in our proposed charter changes around remuneration for the Chair and Secretary role because effectively, in the last term, Gabrielle and Dennis were acting as consultants if you look at the work done for Places for People, the Wharf project and re-engaging stakeholders for reserves. There needs to be consideration for the significant amount of time and energy that this takes.”

Meanwhile, Local Government New Zealand have recently released their draft report for the Future for Local Government following what can be described as ‘disappointing’ voter turnout around the country.

Issues in this recent election included problems with the postal ballot system and insufficient engagement in general and there are a number of suggestions that LGNZ are putting forward in their draft report to improve participation in democracy and voter turnout as well as suggestions around transforming the structure of local governments.

“It’s out for consultation until February next year. Some of the ideas are transformative so you can expect some kickback - just look at the idea of co-governance. It’s a bit depressing because like co-governance, the conversation can be taken over by politics so it’s really incumbent on us as elected members to get that information disseminated and ask people what they truly want, ” says Lisa.

She mentions that local government is a place where you can truly make a difference in your community by engaging and holding workshops to chat about these issues. “Yes it’s bound by bureaucracy but you can still be effective in the system,” she says.

Lisa refers to the work that the Raglan Community Board has been able to achieve over the past two trienniums - like the successful application to the Tourism Infrastructure Fund - by being proactive within the system and establishing the relationships to achieve results. 

“Having an understanding of what the community wants; for example, we know there is a desire to have connected cycleways and walkways, connecting A to B and we were able to do that very quickly because we had already done the work from Papahua to Rock-it. Joining those dots together to make a funding application outside of the normal council structures, we were able to act,” she said.

Lisa firmly believes that the RCB has the capacity to continue to effectively engage with council and looking ahead, she is keen to make it her goal to influence better outcomes for the community - and to get the community to engage better with council over the next three years.