Local Elections Candidate Interviews: Jacqui Church - Mayor


As part of the Morning Show's coverage of the 2022 Local Elections, Aaron will be interviewing candidates standing for positions on the Raglan Community Board as well as the Waikato District and Regional Councils. Below is a transcript of Aaron's interview with Jacqui Church.


"In the past nine years, there's been lots of conversations around what community boards' role is, and I haven't agreed with that.... my vision would have been to have increased their powers and to utilise them to develop in delegations where they need to," she said.


(Listen to the full interview below:)

Aaron: So you are running for mayor, but you're also still running for your council seat as well.

Jacqui Church: Yes.

Aaron: What is the council seat that you're a councillor for at the moment?

Jacqui Church: Sure, it's called Awaroa ki Tuakau Ward at the moment, which takes the  rural areas of Aka Aka and Otaua on the Auckland border just south of Waiuku to the river and the Tasman Sea, and also Tuakau and Pokeno, Mercer, a bit of Mangātawhiri.

Aaron: So that northern part of the district that we got added on a little while ago.

Jacqui Church: Yes, exactly. It's just a real growth area. But now with such a lot of growth, we've actually got another councillor ward in the north and so it's the new ward called Tuakau-Pokeno, it's really just Tuakau, Pokeno and Mercer and there's a big rural ward around it.

Aaron: How did that part of the country feel about being stuck onto the top of the Waikato District a few years ago?

Jacqui Church: That's a good question Aaron thank you. I think some people encapsulate new ideas and new opportunities really quickly. And then you've got the stalwarts who remember the good old days. So I think it's a real mix between them. It's taken quite a long time, I think, to bed-in North Waikato into the whole of the Waikato region, in terms of policies and things as well. So it's about culture as well as.

Aaron: So there's a lot of bureaucratic stuff just to put in place. A combining of two areas.

Jacqui Church: Sure, absolutely. And I know in 2013 when I first started, decided and was asked to stand, I thought; I really have to understand the area that I'm going to represent or put myself forward in and went right round the border of it and knocked on a thousand doors just to understand Awaroa ki Tuakau and the implications of that ward. One of the things that came out that was striking, was that all the government borders are the old Franklin borders, which is basically (if anyone knows the area) Mercer truck stop is on the motorway and then you've got Meremere after that. So halfway between those two, which is only a few kilometres, is the border for the government authority: MSD, Kainga Ora education department, emergency services. 

So that's really why during COVID we were really, really exceptionally affected because we were Waikato Regional Council, Waikato District, however; all the government authorities looking after us were coming out of Auckland, and you know, such a lot going on in Auckland. By the time they got to our rural areas I think it wasn't sustainable in terms of what I call equality. I mean I say this with love to people because everyone was just doing what they could, but I guess equity in the rural areas, even Raglan, we're rural towns and we're rural countryside areas and things that are as important as health care -  we just want equity of service and it's really difficult.

Aaron: I remember hearing too that people were kind of stuck in parts of our district that couldn't drive out of the little corner of it, it was above Port Waikato, that area there was it? And they had to go into Auckland to get anywhere and technically they weren't allowed to and...

Jacqui Church: Yeah, there was.

Aaron: There was a lot of sneaky stuff like that was about the only thing you could do.

Jacqui Church: It was interesting. At one stage there was a moving border. I think there was lots of criticism about whether even there was COVID and all of that, those sorts of things. I was surprised, but actually quite proud, of how many people stuck to whatever rules were there. And sure, the rules did change. but sometimes we have to be flexible in our lives and sometimes we need to work together and listen and move and be flexible. Sometimes it's hard for other people to be flexible. 

I was surprised - one of the borders at one stage was actually beside my house, which cut off half of Port Waikato and there's only like 300 people that live there. Another one was that Aka Aka, I think what you'd be calling it, the Aka Aka area and Otaua, their shopping centre - they've got no petrol, they've got no food, they've got nothing in the Aka Aka area - it's all farms and such and they were cut off from the Auckland, Waiuku township, but they're also cut off from going into Tuakau. But actually after about five days I was getting a lot more phone calls (exponentially) of people going, "Hey, it's five or six days and we're not allowed out, can you help us more?"

Aaron: Can you helicopter something? [laughs] Our councillor here, Lisa Thompson, was super busy during that time.  I presume  you were as well?

Jacqui Church: Yeah, for sure, definitely. I mean, in that situation, it's complicated because each organisation has delegations. So the police were also asking me in that situation (because they knew that the border wasn't quite right for the Aka Aka people - in theory one Auckland road surrounded them). So people were listening to that but they didn't have the delegation because the only delegation in COVID-19 is the Ministry of Health - which is the right place. So they don't have the delegation to say, "Look, it's okay if you sneak through to Waiuku to get your groceries," so they were kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. They were asking people like me to let people know, which is what I did on Radio New Zealand. To actually say to people, this is just a bit of a glitch, this is what you can do and try to help in that situation. 

So I was incredibly busy, but I was really honoured to work with so many amazing people in the community. Really what Raglan has done as well is pull together the different groups. I'd actually already started to pull together a COVID-19 response in local partnership with local iwi, and actually I think we locked down on Wednesday and we were to have our first hui on Nga Tai E Rua Marae on the Saturday of the lockdown. So we just did that digitally, but we already had (at that stage) about 35 different groups. But to actually have it on Monday and start our hui, there is a really important part of that mixture for us, or for me personally.

Aaron: So a lot of this doesn't strictly relate to being mayor, but it does talk to how different the parts of the district are and the experience that you're having up there is different, (well, the COVID experience is similar in some ways - but we all had our own unique solutions). But the issues that you're dealing with up there are really different to what we're dealing with down here. Huntly is a completely different place, Tamahere is a different place. Is it a pretty unwieldy district to try to be mayor of? 

Jacqui Church: Oh it's a really big question and we've only got a few minutes I guess.

Aaron: I know. Thirty seconds for that answer please [laughs].

Jacqui Church: Simplistically speaking, and I don't mean this to be patronising to humans - humans, and the humanity of people - is the same as what I found.  Basically people want the normal things, you know, they want to be loved, they want to be respected. They want their opinions to be heard. They want a safe place to live. They want meals. They want to feel valued and have their own mana. So there's lots of things around that and they want to feel a sense of community or to choose - and we're thankful to be in a democracy. It's not perfect but I'm really thankful that we're in New Zealand where all the people of our district council and Aotearoa have the opportunity to have a lot of freedom there. A lot of places don't have that. I know what you're saying, but actually, I see that the greater overall strategic-ness underlying us is our humanity. I actually live at Port Waikato, right on the river, which I love, the awa, I feel the right word - and forgive me if it's wrong - whanaungatanga to the awa. 

I actually grew up in West Auckland, but the diversity of culture is really part of who I am as a person - but I've actually been the councillor for nine years out of my ward. And I chose really to continue in that ward because of the complexities to really be in and understand the rural area a lot more than I did. Even coming from a rural family - just what their actual issues were. And I heard you talking to Councillor Smith, about some of those things for regional council, but also Tuakau, which is a decile four town generally speaking, it's really similar, exactly the same profile for culture, ethnicity and - underprivileged as Ngāruawāhia and Huntly. So very similar towns. But then, taking Pokeno, when I first started nine years ago, there were about 500 people. So it's touching 5000 now and it's going to go to 12 or 15,000.

Aaron: How do those 500 people feel? Because here, we don't like the feeling of rapid change, but it's nothing compared to what's happened to them. How do those original 500 - are they still there or are they all gone?

Jacqui Church: So in terms of that, the complexities of growth, the opportunities and the disadvantages, I think I've had a lot of experience in that and that's why I say I don't see the dissimilarities of our communities. I see a lot of the similarities of aspirations and things with Pokeno. Again, I just have a deep respect for people and how they handle change, even if at the beginning it doesn't feel comfortable. We're doing it now. There's a lot of change going on and a lot of complexities. I would say it took them probably a few years, in my opinion, to kind of bed in, but also the people coming in, you knew from other places, not just Auckland but from all over. It took them a while to settle in as well. But I think what we forget about, in terms of there's a criteria for stress, you know, moving house and moving job.

Aaron: Oh, yes tick the boxes and boxes. Count them up.

Jacqui Church: You count them up. What I found for me, I try to, (figuratively speaking) put my arms around those people, and understand the levels of stress, even if they didn't, after a couple of years people bedded in. And the people who lived there before in Franklin, let's say in the old Pokeno, some of them are the most active community people and want to bring them into their rural values and to welcome them with open arms. And one of them would be Helen, who owns Pokeno Bacon (so if you love bacon, that's a good bacon sauce). She had been criticised by some people and she was horrified and really upset with it because she works along with many others from that old culture to really encapsulate and embrace the new and is still doing that. So great kudos to them and a great inspiration.

Aaron: Let's take a little bit of a sideways step. Can you just tell us briefly a little bit about yourself about family life and work life just so people can kind of get a feel for who you are?

Jacqui Church: Sure. So happily married, mainly, you can't always be happy, but no - we are. My husband says, "Don't tell him that I'm a lovely man," but he is a lovely man.

Aaron: He's a Kiwi guy.

Jacqui Church: Yes a local tane called Colin Church. We have two adult children. I have a transgender daughter as well as a daughter by birth. Our family has evolved in embracing the whole of humanity and LGBTQI. I think that's a really important part of understanding the diversity of humanity. And that's been a really great journey for our family, I'm really pleased about that. I've always grown up in business, I'm from West Auckland, we came to Franklin, (which now morphed into Waikato) so I absolutely love the place. I feel like it's my home, we live on Port Waikato in the harbour. 

We have a small business ourselves, I have a business degree. I've worked in multinational companies before that. In terms of who I am, I was judged Franklin's Finest Person for my community service, for the 60,000 people in Franklin, and I received an inspiration award, which was quite overwhelming because it's quite a big thing in the north. At that time, it was hard for me to accept that, but understanding that collectively we can achieve a lot together, and as a small part of that, it's a good thing to have collectiveness, of unity and working for the fabric of our communities.

Jacqui Church: So I've always worked in not-for-profit work. Money really doesn't drive us. We just comfortably live in our little shack at the beach. But really it's about wanting to add value to our society in the best way we can and collectively with other people, and empower and lift other people up, really. I've done a lot of being treasurer of halls and on the board of Pukekohe Business Association for governance and the Ambulance Trust and various other things like that, lots of things. 

But I think the thing I really enjoy the most is actually initiating and moving and changing things or inspiring people or new ideas. So I have an idea or hear an idea and support a person with that new idea to hatch it. Or if I have an idea myself, check it out with a load of people and go, "Okay, let's just do this," and then start something new. I think we have to be always evolving and creating bridges between our silos, connecting people up with areas. 

Aaron: So a question for someone who's worked a lot in the private sector coming to council where things move a lot more slowly - this is a conversation that I have with people all the time - how was that? Was that quite an adjustment?

Jacqui Church: Yeah, sure. I've got a lot of grey hair that I have to cover [laughs]. How do I say this properly, I'm respectful of, but I also see - and this probably comes off as critiquing council and its abilities - I'm respectful and I like to understand how things work and how things don't work so that we can fix processes. You find a problem and ask what went wrong? Why did it go wrong? And then you can fix it and then it doesn't happen again and you can move forward. That's how my brain works. Sometimes it comes along as maybe being critical, but it's not. The other side of it is understanding that the council, our council, was from a rural - in my opinion - a rural ward and district council, it was fairly quiet. And in less than ten years, it's got a lot of growth and it's had to morph into a dynamic area and is one of the most growth districts of the whole of New Zealand. 

The staff are incredibly intelligent and smart and hardworking and they've really encapsulated that growth and the catch up and learnings of that. I thought at the beginning, there's lots of opportunities to improve that, to make them more businesslike and to have a close tightening up of delivery of services and things. But every time there's a new idea that they do take on board, they really run with it and they learn it and they keep on it. I'm really really inspired by that because I think there's an opportunity, as growth gets bigger, which I think it will - and faster - that the capability will exponentially grow.

Aaron: So the people are always critical of the council for being inefficient and slow. Is it the mayor's job or the CEO's job to make the council run more efficiently?

Jacqui Church: I feel that the council, led by the Mayor, sets the tone of the whole organisation. I think that's a role and value based role. We only employ one person so therefore the values and things that are important to that council, and particularly the mayor, because they influence everybody. Everyone wants to make sure that politically they're aligned with the mayor. Because that can be not so cool if you're not part of that. So people do that whether they believe in all the things or not in a general sense. So in each party people have diverse ideas, but they'll stick with the council. So I think the mayor and the council sit there and they choose or agree to the continued CEO or a new CEO, for example, who then sets those other parameters. I found that there's a lot of close partnership between chair people on committees and the mayor and those talks that are getting the right direction with staff and operational general managers and then going to workshops with the whole of council, etc.. So I think it's really important to have really strong partnerships with the right people. But really to be clear about what your aspirations are for the district based on what people; want, need, and where the future's going. I think that we need to really understand that. In a really businesslike way. More as the local government is reforming.

Aaron: So I asked this question of Aksel Beck the other day, which is, does a new mayor need a new CEO?

Jacqui Church: And it's hard to talk about particular people in some ways.

Aaron: Because he's sitting there right now doing his job.

Jacqui Church: But it's a fair question and it's open. So Gavin has been the chief executive for 17 years, which is an incredibly long time in local government, and in one job - for anyone to be in a role that long - but his contract is up in November next year. If I was mayor (and I know I've heard the answers before too), council has to (and should be very early in it when they're together), be setting the parameters of how they see council to be including the chief executive. Now if that includes him reapplying for his job? Good on them.

Aaron: Well, that's not uncommon, is it? Every few years you put the job out again.

Jacqui Church: Yes. I actually think it's really good governance. It's just like when we have, in our board of trustees, around our own businesses or whether it's a whole committee, we should always look at what's our structure like? Is it working? How is it not working? How can we fix it or do we need any collective changes and it's healthiness.

Aaron: Let's talk about change, because all the ward boundaries, almost every ward boundary, in fact, I think every line has been redrawn except for the coastal line. So there's potential for big change, a change in councillors and it's hard to say it all in one go, but there's potential for big change coming up after this election. Do you agree with that?

Jacqui Church: Sure. There is a lot of change, definitely even the factors.

Aaron: And a new mayor obviously, that's why we're talking to you.

Jacqui Church: Yes, exactly. So you're definitely getting a new mayor and about half of our council will definitely change.

Jacqui Church: I think we're all brave because we don't know what we're signing up for because it's the end of October that we're getting the first look at what the local government reform is about.

Aaron: Yeah. That's come up a lot during these interviews.

Jacqui Church: Yeah. So I think for some it's a brave new world, but I think councils are actually used to change and democracy and the same with the work in the chambers where you've got a lot of people with a lot of experience, the new people coming in with a lot of experience. They might not know all the ins and outs, but they've got their own businesses, they've got their own experience. We're going to have mana whenua in there with our two Māori ward councils. There's going to be a lot of change and opportunities for us to grow and in a healthy way. When you have something that's the same for too long, it can get stale, or is it as fit for purpose as it could be? And so change can be scary, but I think there's a lot of depth of challenge and depth of experience that will still be in council. However, the mayor and the people that are staying as well as all the staff (to support the new ones), and the candidates I've seen are so inspiring and it's like, wow, you know, I'm excited about those changes.

Aaron: So do you think there are specific changes that you see need to happen for the council?

Jacqui Church: Sure there is. I've thought long and hard about it because my background in business was always from strategic marketing and business and creation of new parts. So I've thought long and hard about the business of the council. Basically how I see it is that under the local government act, our delegation - and we have a ten year long term plan which we roll over every three years and that's how we set your rates. Basically, Aaron, you'll give the council $100 or you agree that we agree…

Aaron: I think my rates are a bit higher than that [laughs].

Jacqui Church: Yes, I'm trying to make the maths easy.

Aaron: Oh, yeah, fair enough.

Jacqui Church: Basically we all, legislatively and consultative together under that democracy, we decide the level of service. Do we mow the lawn ten times in the park or just once a month? The level of service, the sort of services that we do; do we do dog control and planning or not? And also the infrastructure projects. Now, some of those are uncontrollable. So developers there, we kind of know roughly when they're doing them, but not exactly. But we have controllable infrastructure projects. So you give me your hundred dollars, and I say in three years on that date or those years, I'm going to deliver those services and products or infrastructure. And systemically, in my opinion, I have to say these things like that, the council hasn't done that as well as they could have and at one stage like 80%, particularly in my area, 80% of the late infrastructure projects that were controllable were in the North Waikato, for example. So lots of budget lines, but these are the do-ey, do-ey. Now there could be lots of reasons, not just COVID. This is something that's been going on for a long time. I drove the road into Whāingaroa today. And some of the roads are really, really good quality compared to other roads. But some of it - for the amount of traffic and the amount of speed and the narrowness of the road  - definitely needs a lot of work. For example, now it's probably a line item, if it's on time - great, but it might not be down Te Akau. They've got roads where half the roads have fallen away, so they've only got one lane across.

Aaron: Across the harbour here?

Jacqui Church: Yes, in and around that area. But they're line items - and there's cones around it. But how long since they've been fixed? All we want is for the council to  say "We're going to fix it at that time. We can't afford to fix the six of them, but we'll do one a year for six years." That would be the business-like way of doing it. But I don't take $100 at my business and then give you $80 worth of service.

Aaron: Right.

Jacqui Church: That's the difference.

Aaron: The twenty will come later.

Jacqui Church: Later - or not - and so sometimes we can't deliver particular things or they have to be late. But I'd like to say, "Okay, this is what we did deliver and this is what we didn't deliver, but they're still on the books and this is why we didn't deliver it. But it's still there and this is what's going to happen." And we're not very good at doing that, in my opinion.

Jacqui Church: So it's about transparency and it's about value added and it's about being clear and also talking to people like they're adults and not being afraid. We're an organisation, we're working together. Things happen, things good, things bad. Let's work and have that transparency and work together because you are valued clients of mine and my council and your shareholders and the business.

Aaron: Okay. Are you on a community board up there like Lisa Thomson is on the Raglan Community Board.

Jacqui Church: I was in my first triennium. 

Aaron: Okay, so something we talk about a lot here.

Jacqui Church: Oh sorry I wasn't a member, no I went straight to councillor.

Aaron: But then the councillor is delegated to the community board. So we talk a lot about the powers of the community, well the non-existent powers of the community board. What a lot of people would like to see (and this is a power that the mayor has - to delegate powers to boards and committees and things like that) the possibility of community boards having an actual say about things - like they work on a relationship basis and they recommend to council and things like that. What we've found is that local knowledge is the real key to making good decisions. And I keep saying this, it's not to criticise the staff. They don't live here. They don't have that on-the-ground knowledge. So are you in favour of delegating powers to community boards? I'm not talking about going the whole hog like Thames Coromandel District Council necessarily did, but yeah could you talk about that before we go because we are out of time.

Jacqui Church: Sure. Time goes fast. In the past nine years, there's been lots of conversations around what community boards' role is, and I haven't agreed with that and where they're doing what they've been doing. My vision would have been to have increased their powers and to utilise them to develop in delegations where they need to. Definitely. The different community boards have different capabilities and some of them may not want to go down that track. But definitely Raglan is an example. Even the Tuakau one, which I encouraged to split into a rural and a town one from a mixed one. They definitely have capability. They helped with the public toilet, for example, but you know better what you need in your town and how. So we should be starting to do those things differently. I think the only concern I have is there's a difference between governance and just making decisions about how something is done and the operational doing. And I think there would be a lot of just unpacking and how that works and how much more work it is.

Aaron: Like Thames Coromandel, they have a town manager. I think that might not be the right phrase, but you get the idea, like a staff member dedicated to keeping things going in that area. And I think that may be required as you go along.

Jacqui Church: Definitely, yeah. And we've talked a lot about that up in the North Waikato because there's so much growth that a town manager - Waiuku has got one as well, fantastic roles, people who work with everybody in the communities and particularly with their boards. So the short answer is yes, we should be empowering our boards. But actually there's a bigger question I personally think is loose local government. In New Zealand, 88-89% of our revenue is centralised into central government and local governments are pushed because we have to act on the policies, even around climate change for example, or waste management, with ratepayer money.

Aaron: National legislation tells you what to do.

Jacqui Church: It tells us what to do and some really important things. They'll sign a treaty which we all agree on sustainability, climate change, you know, reduction of waste management. But our less-than-85,000 people in the Waikato District Council have to then pay for that policy to be in place and so it's squishing and pressurising the services and products and things that we do from that. Now we are the most centralised revenue country in the OECD countries. To me personally it's about too much power, and it doesn't matter what party, it's like power and control of the money. Me, I'm not completely revolutionary - that's completely upside down - but until we actually find what these other OECD countries have done, which is to empower the people below them who know their areas best and give them the money and resources and to say to the people to support, I think we won't make changes forward and we'll keep doing the same old, same old. That's the concern I have for the council where people are worried about change and they want stability. But actually, we aren't in a stable time when we need to be a little bit more flexible and embrace a few new ideas. Otherwise we're going to get the same results.

Aaron: Okay. Alright folks, we've been talking to Jacqui Church, who's a councillor from the northern part of the district. Can you give us your 30 second statement on why people should vote you in as mayor?

Jacqui Church: Thank you. 30 seconds.

Aaron: Yeah, I know it's a challenge [laughs].

Jacqui Church: Because I'm in one of the most northern parts of the Waikato District, as an example; my vision is I'm not going to live up there. I'm going to be in my caravan shooting around and camping around in the district. I think being in one place for too much time is not a good thing. So I'm actually excited about living within the communities and working with communities and finding ways of just hearing what their voices are on a one-on-one basis. So that's just one different way of managing being a mayor from a place. It's not really about how I would do it. I just believe in the connective-ness of people. I like to take the ego out of all politics, practical, common sense, open, honest, approachable, inspire people to be the leaders and the best that they can be. I love it when people succeed, and I really believe in democracy and the connective-ness - or what you call the synergy of people. And I think we can have the debate, which is healthy within democracy and the council chambers. But we can also have a much more modern way of doing it, which I see in Raglan and you have healthiness, you have debate, but you have a healthy, open debate and collective-ness. And then you find a way of going forward together, and then you go that way.

Aaron: All right. Thank you for coming in.

Jacqui Church: Thank you.