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Fiona McTavish, General Manager Strategy and Science at the Bay of Plenty Regional Council reports from the Canadian Overseas Manager Exchange sponsored by JLT.

 

Fiona McTavish

Blog One

Canada eh

District of North Saanich on Vancouver Island could be in New Zealand.  The landscape is stunning and it reminds me of the Nelson area.  There is plenty to do here with hiking, wine tasting and coastal activities.  Spring has arrived and cherry blossoms are in abundance as are the protected deer that roam around suburban streets and parks.

The housing prices also match the current  New Zealand housing boom so people here are having similar conversations about the need for affordable housing.  Speaking of who I've met, the people are friendly, easy going and such a pleasure to talk to - makes me feel like home. Also, having a key road named "McTavish Road"  on Vancouver Island  helps me with connecting with  this part of the world.

I've spent today and last Friday with the remarkable staff here discussing our similarities and differences.  The opportunity to discuss similar issues and solutions is really beneficial to both councils.  We are sharing information and knowledge and have similar approaches and use similar experts.    The range of people I've spoken with to date has been focussed on public transport as well as natural hazard management.  I've also been to Seattle on my way here as I wanted to learn more about their public transport system as well.  I've already sent emails home to the Transport planners about new initiatives and ideas for our next Long Term Plan- haven't had a response yet!

Some of my initial impressions are that we share similar complex problems and there is real benefit in spending more time sharing and learning from each other.  The District of North Saanich staff are seeking direction on long term complex issues which can be difficult within a provincial and federal government context. 

Tonight, I present to a public council meeting on the approach to natural hazards management in the Bay of Plenty.  This will be the focus for my second blog which will come later this week.

I've also met with British Columbia Transit staff (equivalent to NZTA) and Vancouver Transit staff (equivalent to Auckland Transport) and learnt about how they are addressing similar issues to New Zealand communities.  Looking at best practice examples, the fare strategy review for Victoria City and the approach to electronic ticketing by Vancouver city are examples I'm spending time considering.

 

 

Blog Two - Connecting and responding to sea level rise

Like other coastal areas, North Saanich Municipal District is currently considering how it will respond to sea level rise.  This is a key issue for many western and eastern coastal councils in Canada as it is in New Zealand.

The photos attached show one area which will be impacted by forecast sea level rise.  If you look carefully, you can see the boat masts between the "high end" houses in this relatively new subdivision.

Staff are undertaking research like we do  to inform communities of future risks with sea level rise.  Cost-effective approaches to completing this research are undertaken such as attracting university students to complete their doctorate degrees, specifically researching this issue in North Saanich.   This council is also seeking to collaborate with other councils, universities and other levels of government to complete this research.  

They have also set about informing their communities of the sea level risks, holding forums and stakeholder meetings. Staff indicate they are at the start of these community conversations.  I get the sense that there is some community reluctance to accept sea level rise and that council needs to introduce policies, plans and other mechanisms to address this issue.  

The council is currently using their building inspection responsibilities to assess flood construction levels on a site by site basis until a overarching policy can be considered by their community and approved by council.  Flood construction levels of up to 8m have been identified as needed in the most impacted areas  to mitigate against storms and wave effects with a 1.0 sea level rise.

It was on this issue that I presented to the public council meeting this week.  Councillors and staff were interested in what we do in New Zealand to respond to natural hazards and especially, sea level rise.  

The presentation was well received and we are also sharing information and staff between the councils will keep on connecting on this issue.  Incredible benefit to both councils, having the opportunity to share and connect.  

 

 

Blog Three - Where to find a wacker tamper

I have learnt so much here and have many examples of best practice I am taking home.  My superb host, Rob Buchan, organised for me to visit staff (across councils and levels of government) who were responsible for public transport, regional economic development and First Nation relations.  After each meeting, I considered what to include in this last blog.   My first example was how Vancouver Transit (similar to Auckland Transit) was providing multiple products for their transit smart card. They are using the chip found in their "compass" card in other products that suit customers such as high market watches  and those rubber wristbands kids could you use.  They also have an predictive mathematical system for forecasting how people travel and use this system to reimburse people when the system goes down at a specific train station to predict the expected fare and reduce complaints.  If the customer can't tap off at a train station they incur the maximum fare so the complaints would be "months worth" without this system.

My next example was from the South Island Prosperity Project in Victoria (similar to Bay of Connections) which is the newly formed regional economic development agency. They are working with tech companies to encourage multiple inner city innovation hubs that are  market led.  This industry now accounts for $8b to the Victoria economy each year and is a magnet city for tech companies. 

I could go on with the public transport fare strategy review in Victoria or how UBCM allocates grant funding but the simplest best practice example I saw was the British Columbia shared service AIR programme.  

This programme runs a service for British Columbia public organisations disposing of assets for these organisations.  It has 60,000 registered interested parties and auctions pretty much any asset including the following from the miscellaneous section - 2 wacker tampers, several chrome front bumpers and 1700 lbs of granite block pieces.  The granite started at $1 which sounds like a great deal.  The following PDF shows some of the services the AIR programme provides. It provides this shared service so each entity doesn't have staff separately disposing of assets.

My thanks to SOLGM for helping me with this exchange.  It was a wonderful experience and would recommend others consider an exchange.  My host was superb as was North Saanich Council.  The people I met were friendly, welcoming and I leave with treasured memories.  

 

Adrian de Laborde, Engineering Services Group Manager at Hauraki District Council reports from the Queensland leg of the SOLGM Australia  Overseas Manager Exchange, sponsored by JLT.  He has been writing regular updates of his experience.


Adrian de Laborde

Blog One

Australia is big. I know we all know its big, but I am not sure we actually appreciate just how big. I spent time at 4 different councils while in Australia – one of these was Central Highlands (a misnomer) Regional Council (not like our Regional Councils – but an amalgamated council). It is half the size (about 60,000km2) of North Island – but has a population of around 30,000. I spent time with Rockhampton Regional Council (who hosted me), Livingstone Shire, CHRC and Banana Shire – which does not grow bananas, but was named after a bull

Sunrise somewhere between Emerald and Biloela

Sunrise somewhere between Emerald and Biloela

 

 What was interesting – and I should probably have expected it – is that no matter how big or small, LG Australia is grappling with the same issues we are generally grappling with here. In some areas they are doing well in say IT smarts and others not so much, some do procurement well and others still working to get there. Some have really great engineering systems and processes and others less so.

We generally do much better in the Asset Management space and they look to NZ as the "gold standard". I was at CHRC at the same time as a City Manager (CEO) on the Overseas Manager Exchange as well from San "Something" near Napa valley in California. He commented that they know they should do AMP's but are nervous of the outcome of doing them as they do not depreciate their assets and the outcome of AMP's will be politically and financially unpalatable!!!

I was privileged to be given access to any of the teams I wanted to meet with at the various councils.

 I had indicated that I wanted to see what Councils were doing with technology to enable them to things smarter and better – and I wanted to also see how councils dealt with procurement. A strange list for an engineer – but I also got to see a number of treatment plants (water and wastewater), roading projects, storm (flood) water issues and solid waste. What I also got that was one of the most valuable “takeaways” was insight into the management of the councils. Both the RRC (Evan Purdon) and CHRC (Scott Mason) Chief Executive Officers gave me access to meetings they had with their teams. But more on this in a later blog.

Blog Two

Rocky are in the process of rolling out a “smart city” strategy. This is really cool – some of the things they do include streetlighting (LED) that can be controlled by an app on a smartphone (not just anyone’s!!!). The street lights include speakers that can be programmed to play music – or act as a public address system during a Civil Defence emergency – and WiFi. They have developed their own app that – if installed – connects to free Wi-Fi (situated on the street lamps). This also lets you know what is happening in the vicinity you are in – i.e. Coffee shop next to you is having a special on coffee for the next hour etc. It also lets them track pedestrian flows in and around the town centre. This is being driven by the IT team in conjunction with the various infrastructure teams. The below link takes you to what they are doing:

http://www.rockhamptonregion.qld.gov.au/ForBusiness/SmartRegionalCentreStrategy

I have been considering ways in which technology can assist smaller rural councils in improving their delivery of services at the same time as creating resilience within the organisation. One of these ways is through the use of SCADA systems linking treatment plants giving operators the ability to run all the plants from a central location – or for that matter anywhere in the world. The Fitzroy Water (a Business Unit of RRC) is a good example of what can be achieved. Most of us have the technology – it is about changing decades old business practices and actually putting the technology to work.

As mentioned in my first Blog, Central Highlands Regional Council is big, very big. To overcome communication issues with teams, they make great use of (and this is not a plug) Skype for business. This forms their telephony system. All staff have webcams (built in or separate) and speaker / microphone. This enables the various teams to overcome the distances effectively – shout out to the IT manager for showing me their systems. 

An unexpected treat was spending time at Rocky’s library and meeting their passionate staff! They see the library as more than a place to get books, but as a hub for the community to meet (they have a private vendor running a café attached to the building), engage and learn. They have a technology centre as part of the library. I met their little robot – what a neat “tool” for training (and actually to just meet!). These robots are being used to help people with difficulties to overcome them. They offer free computer training to the community. The innovation shown by this team was fantastic. 

These visits have given me much food for thought. 

 

Blog 3

Procurement is an issue that can be vexing at times. Councils spend their communities’ money and as such should – rightfully – have good procurement practices. Unfortunately, policy that meets with good accounting practice can be seen as being a pain by the guy installing pipes in the field who needs a digger for a few days. Council engineering groups generally have the biggest spend in councils and thus should have good procurement practices. Good procurement practices should both stand up to an audit scrutiny and be practical in application. The procurement team at Rocky we happy to share their experiences and gave invaluable advice. They appear to have a good, workable system and it gave me insight into what can be implemented to meet the audit / practical benchmark.

Evan Purdon invited me to join his meeting with his “strategic” team. This is team made up of strategic thinkers from across the organisation – and not just management. This is something that taps into the strengths of the organisation and gives the executive team a great tool for navigating the way forward. Both Evan and Scott allowed me to sit in on meetings with their executive teams. Watching the way they lead their teams and how the teams interact was – as previously mentioned – invaluable. I really benefitted in being able to be part of these meetings.

While I have only talked about my time at the 4 Councils, I also attended the LGMA (Queensland) Conference. This in itself was excellent and enlightening. The speakers were great and the interaction with our local government counterparts was excellent.


 

The SOLGM Overseas Manager Exchange, for me was an incredible experience – one I am truly grateful for. I would highly recommend anyone manager to apply for the opportunity.

Finally, I need to thank Natalie Stevens and Jeanette Bullen of SOLGM and Peta Irvine of LGMA (Queensland) for their support before, during and after the exchange; Scott Evans and his team for making themselves available and sharing their experiences and finally both Evan and Kath Purdon for hosting me brilliantly and making me feel so welcome. Without Evan generously offering to host me and putting together an intense whirlwind schedule I would not have been able to have had the experience of a lifetime.

 

 

 

Sue Davidson, Chief Operating Officer at New Plymouth District Council is on the Canadian leg of the SOLGM British Columbia Overseas Manager Exchange, sponsored by JLT.  She has been writing regular updates of her experience.

 

Sue Davidson - British Columbia Exchange

Thursday 23 June 2016

Good Practices in getting Engagement -E Town Hall. 

The City of Nanaimo was finding  it wasn't getting a good representation of the population engaged in its processes-tended to be  specific groups with an axe to grind and a few dedicated annual attendees to the annual plan meetings.

Council in 2012 decided it wanted to improve participation. Staff came up with the idea of E Town Hall where the meetings were streamed  so that it could be watched online and questions submitted from not only the physical meeting attendees but also by those people watching online through Facebook, email, or tweeted.

Their  information technology department came up with a robust solution within 3 weeks. In addition they used a moderator to sort through the questions and categorise in the software- were these new questions to be asked, Duplicate (Trending), not related questions, or confidential issues. The various managers  worked to get answers to the questions where facts needed to be contributed to a political question or where a fact  may be the required answer.

The questions are answered in the meeting by the Mayor or the relevant staff member with the question being  posed and answered and noted whether its been tweeted etc so the public knows their questions are being attended to.

The city of Victoria also  copied the IT and complete solution just 2 years ago. The first annual plan E meeting got 843 tweets, 13 facebook questions, and 16 emails, as well as those from the people attending. They couldn't answer all the questions in the 3 hour timeframe for the meeting but did answer them all within the next few days'.

The following year Victoria got 215 E questions.

The Council was pleased as they got  far greater public participation even in those just watching the meeting from home,as well as those asking the questions.

 This process is now used for all sorts of meetings where  feedback is wanted.The library is now providing education sessions and encouraging seniors to learn how to contribute in this new way if they cant attend the meeting. They are also working with High Schools  to teach youth how to engage and hoping it could become a small part of the curriculum.

 This recognises the public have busy lives but do want to contribute. Feedback from the media and public was positive and the collaboration  has now meant Edmonton City is interested  and another smaller Council Seachelt has also implemented the solution.

In NZ we have the same issues with at times more staff and Councillors turning up to meetings  than the public.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Lots of wildlife here and was privileged to go whalewatching and see both orcas and grey humpback whales.

I also met the 6 staff in the LGMA office (SOLGM equivalent)who have been responsible for hosting me  .They took me to lunch at a harbour cafe and I saw this furry thing floating within 3 metres of or table and it turned out to be a grey seal! Other wildlife that has wowed is the native deer that appear in everyone's garden or on the roads in the evening- a bit of a nuisance and something the government doesn't want to deal with. The deer can be aggressive apparently, and seem to be a larger problem than dogs.

For a current issue I have chosen a longstanding issue for Capital Regional Council,which is a regional government for 13 Councils (not the 9 I advised yesterday). This means they look after infrastructure that is used as a shared service of which sewer is one of the services.  Unlike our regional councils the local district Councils appoint Councillors to sit on the Regional Council. This causes a bit of a conflict as the Councillors are wearing two hats - they are supposed to be deciding whats best for the region but in reality they still tend to make decisions that are best for their local Council.

The regional Council owns the infrastructure for  the sewer however it needs upgrading as  there is only primary screening .ie no lumps but it flows out to sea at a few outfalls in 3 of the 13 local districts.

In 2004 the provincial government and the federal government told the regional council that there needed to be a better environmental solution and they would be prepared to pay one third each of a new treatment plant(s) that ensured secondary treatment . All local Councils (their ratepayers) pay on a user pays system .ie they may be connected to the same system but charges are based on the wastewater pipes in their district and a share of the costs of the common processes eg pumping out to sea.  The regional council had a preliminary  investigation done  and proposed the process and some possibilities for location of treatment plants.

None of the Councils wanted them in their areas as many didn't have spare land for a plant  and certainly didn't want them near their sea front where views could be impaired.  The total cost of the solution was to be $783 million shared between 13 Councils.The varying costs for each Council were prohibitive for some and the board representatives argued about the details and could not agree for 11 years.

Three months ago the  provincial government appointed 5 independents to work with the regional council and to come up with the best solution. If the local councils don't agree then they have stated they will withdraw their subsidy and that both central and provincial  government wants a sustainable solution.

Regional Council staff  are hopeful a solution can be found with an  impartial committee in the first instance making the recommendation with elected representatives being involved  to confirm the decision, clearly with the knowledge that they will lose government money helping them to focus on the outcome needed.

 

Monday 20 June 2016

If you look closely [at the photo on the left] you can see I am in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery and have started my exchange.  As soon as I Ianded in Vancouver about 3pm I was keen to start exploring so I showered and went out to the shops . The Director of our Govett Brewster had told me to go and see the Gallery so I couldn't believe it when I found myself in front at 5.30pm.  I followed a group of people in who I thought were overdressed and I thought the security guards were over the top .  I was asked if I was a plus one, said yes and walked in and found I had myself at an exclusive function.

Bit hard to hide my pink Nike shoes when everyone else was in suits and pearls  as I realised I was a gatecrasher. Anyway I decided it was meant to be  and grabbed a wine and struck up a conversation with someone else so as to be less inconspicuous only to find that I was attending a philanthropic  members opening of the most prestigous exhibition to be held at the Vancouver Art gallery. In fact I was in the first party through to see the largest exhibition of Picasso's work and about his muses so my introduction to Vancouver was great!

I flew to Victoria which is the capital of British Columbia and is situated on Vancouver Island to meet my new host family who had volunteered to have me.  Elizabeth works for LGMA which is the SOLGM equivalent  and had organised for me to meet with a number of Councils as there was no one host Council. British Columbia has a population of 4.3 m  and 189 Councils of which 29 are regional councils.There are 3 levels of government -central,provincial and local  although local government is responsible for much the same activities in NZ with the addition of police in the larger authorities.

Vancouver Island has a population of just over 700,000  and  the regional council covering Victoria and 8 other districts called Capital Regional District. This regional council also based in Victoria looks after  the sewer,water and landfill for the 9 districts. The 9 districts then look after parks,police,roading,waste collection,pools and libraries for their district. You cant differentiate between one district to the next as there are no green spaces in between just the other side of a residential street.

This reminds me a bit of the Auckland situation in NZ. Apparently there are  28 regional districts (ie having regional responsibilities of water and sewer )in British Columbia. Just to complicate matters air discharges are handeld by the provincial  government. LGMA BC has arranged meetings with some districts and with the regional district and apparently there are some conflicts between the regional district and the local councils. Will try and blog again tomorrow after my whale watching . Life is hard over here.

 

Anusha Guler, Manager Democratic Services, Wellington City Council is on the United States leg of the SOLGM Overseas Manager Exchange. sponsored by Civic Assurance.  She has been writing regular updates of his experience.

 

Anusha Guler - Flagstaff, Arizona, USA Exchange


Thursday 24 September 2015

My adventure continues in Flagstaff, Arizona


Coconino County is preparing for an El Niño winter that is expected to increase the frequency of rain and snowstorms throughout the region. I was privileged to be part of a recent El Niño planning session where different County agencies shared information that focused on disaster mitigation and recovery scenarios. The National Weather Service is predicting an elevated chance of heavy snowfall and flooding for the upcoming winter. I learned many strategies to share and apply in Wellington and New Zealand. 

My highlight of the weekend was attending the Navajo Agency Council meeting on Saturday, 19 September 2015. The meeting was conducted in both the Navajo and English languages. It was refreshing to see a significant number of Navajo women involved in the Council’s decision-making process.

 This Council meeting represented 15 chapters of the Navajo Nation which is a sovereign nation that has its own system of local government lead by an elected group of key decision makers. Its capital is in Window Rock, New Mexico.

 I was attached to Coconino County District 2 Supervisor Liz Archuleta (an elected official) to learn what a day in the life of a Board of Supervisor is like. Liz is a dedicated and committed supervisor who represents many African American and Latino American constituents in her district. She is driven to improve the conditions in her community and ensure that ethnic minority groups are represented at the decision making table. The Board of Supervisors has dedicated, full-time staff and a budget to help carry out this important mission.

 I also took a “Ride-Along” with the Flagstaff Police Department (FPD). This experience opened my eyes to the challenging environment that the local police work in day in and day out. They are committed to keeping the city safe and, in doing so, often put their own lives at risk. I have a newfound respect for the important role that they play.

 There are many inter-governmental partnerships in place between Federal, State, County and City agencies. My visit to the Coconino County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) and County Detention Facility highlighted the positive benefits derived from the collaborative partnership between the FPD, CCSO and the Detention Facility.

 My serious learning was interspersed with some fun adventures along the way:

 I visited Sedona, a town that’s famous for its red rock formations, creative community, art galleries and museumsI sampled some Native American cuisine that included Navajo Tacos, cornbread and Indian fried bread. I also enjoyed an American barbeque and dined in a traditional American tavern.

The highlight of my trip was a visit to the majestic Grand Canyon. It is Arizona's most magnificent and beautiful landmark, a natural wonder that one has to see to believe.

I have met some amazing people, made some lasting friendships during my stay in Coconino County. These experiences have left me with some special moments that will stay with me forever.

 

Saturday 19 September 2015

My adventure began on Saturday, 12 September 2015, when I landed in Flagstaff, Arizona. I was surrounded by the natural wonders of the famous San Francisco Peaks. Topping out at 3,850 meters, these are the highest mountains in Arizona. Flagstaff is the county seat of Coconino County. It is a County that is well known for its alpine forests, the Grand Canyon, Sunset and Meteor craters and Lowell Observatory where Pluto was discovered in 1930. Flagstaff is a key destination for people seeking adventure, natural beauty and peaceful solitude. I knew I was in the right place the minute I stepped off the plane.

My host is Andy Bertelsen, Director of Public Works at Coconino County. Andy and his beautiful wife, Erin, welcomed me into their home and family with lots of warmth and enthusiasm. They are a typical American family with two beautiful boys, Evan, who is 10 years old and Wesley, a cute seven year old. The family love the outdoors, keeping fit and, of course, American football.

My initial impression of Flagstaff as a city is that this is a place I would choose to live if I ever chose to relocate to the U.S. This is a very connected, engaged and committed community. The people are warm and friendly and they are dedicated to preserving Flagstaff's natural environment and promoting sustainability. It is an area that was affected by fires and serious flooding in 2010. The County has put together an amazing flood mitigation plan which is expected to lessen the impact of future floods.


 

Another fascinating aspect of Coconino County is that it is the second largest county (land size) in the U.S. It is also home to the country’s largest Native American tribe, the Navajo Nation. I was privileged to visit a Navajo Nation community. It was humbling and inspiring to be introduced to these people, who are intent on maintaining their cultural identity.

The governance of this region is comprised of Coconino County (which is similar in concept to a regional council in New Zealand) and the Flagstaff City Council. It was interesting to learn that the U.S. has about six different systems of local government. What was glaringly obvious was the different services that local government was involved in here. Their services cover the Courts, Sheriffs office, Police, Health Services, and the Fire Department.

I attended Coconino County's Board of Supervisors meeting this week. The elected members are referred to as the Board of Supervisors and are elected to represent five districts. Other elected positions include a County Assessor, Clerk of the Superior Court, Constable, Attorney, Justice of Peace, Recorder, Sheriff, Superior Court Judge, Superintendent of Schools and Treasurer.  

The City of Flagstaff is equivalent to a city council in New Zealand. It has a mayor and six councilmembers who are all elected. One of the elected council members serves as the City’s Vice Mayor.

It certainly is a whole new world and I, for one, am having loads of fun discovering it. Tomorrow, I get to attend an Indian tribal council meeting. Keep an eye out for my next update.

 

Jamie Cox, Engineering Manager at Wairoa District Council is on the New South Wales leg of the SOLGM Australia Overseas Manager Exchange. sponsored by JLT.  He has been writing regular updates of his experience.

 

Jamie Cox - New South Wales Exchange 

Monday 21 September 2015

Highlight good practice - Cootamundra Shire

The NSW LG grants commission allocates an annual financial assistance grant (FAG) which is approximately 16% of Cootamundra Councils annual income.
This allocation consists of 2 components; general purpose which is allocated according to population and a local road component which is distributed according to a fixed historical share.

Both components of this grant are untied allowing Council to spend the grants according to local priorities

There is also a wide range of federal and state capital grant schemes available for a host of rural activities

Background:

Cootamundra Council spends approximately 40% of its annual budget on transport and utilities (excluding water supply) and around 30% on recreation and culture, economic development and the local environment.
The remainder is spent on governance,health and safety and administration

Cootamundra is showing Incremental growth with little sign of decline.
Its social infrastructure is typical of the many NSW rural shires with obvious investment in the the CBD, parks, reserves,walkways,sports facilities and public swimming pools.
The Campground, airport and saleyards are also well developed and maintained.

This prioritisation of expenditure into social infrastructure has had a consequence of deferred maintenance on shire roads and there is evidence of reactionary worst first maintenance cycles, pavement decline well past the point of optimum repair and reseal cycles pushed extended to the point of material failure.

A Roads to recovery programme is available if justified to rehabilitate failing roads

Customer service results generally indicate that ratepayers are satisfied with the LOS of roads and efficient road holding activities are commonplace (see attached photos)

The concept of reducing the LOS of transport infrastructure in preference to social infrastructure is a healthy community conversation and Australian practice appears well advanced in this area

 
Tuesday 15 September 2015

 

Cootamundra Shire (strategic priorities- social,environmental,economy,civic leadership) - identify a current issue

Increasingly difficult financial environment and reduced funding from State and Federal Government

Cootamundra is managing this constrained funding through a variety of methods including:

  • ROC (regional organisation of Councils) collaboration including joint solid waste management services
  • Reducing energy consumption of sewerage treatment and water reuse facility througn smart innovation incorporating biological enhancement of aeration process
  • Capital works on economic development projects including livestock saleyards ,a modal hub for the main trunk rail and joint enterprise business works which will inject funds into Council coffers
  • Partnerships and shared association (eg CDC -Cootamundra development corporation, sporting and cultural clubs) These groups , as is common in NSW, generally have available a range of volunteer services.
  • A diverse range of state and federal funding opportunities are also untilised to supplement Council projects

Extensive community consultation and interaction to prioritise community aspirations has lead to capital investment in community enterprises such as a heated pool, an arts centre and supporting the local museum

Investment in recreational Infrastructure including 20 parks,18 parklets,14 public toilets and 3 cemetries remains a priority

Council’s infrastructure maintenance unit observe cost effective measures to deliver works which can lead to unpaid contributions volunteered by the tight Council team .

The project management of Council investment is well controlled with best fit solutions developed by Councils In-house design and construction team.
Infrastructure smarts abound as a small group of Council workers mimimise costs and develop specific solutions to build a social, cultural and economic base for the district.

Cootamundra shire appears to have benefitted from the effectiveness of small teams working with limited budgets focusing on value for money, tailored solutions and an ownership culture.

 

Tuesday 8 September 2015


Initial Impressions - Cootamundra Shire 

 My host shire is in south west NSW and is a rural based area roughly equivalent to the 10 percentile of smaller local authorities in NZ.

It appears to be a vibrant little Shire showing signs of positive growth with evidence of innovative projects and forward thinking people.

It has an 8 member governance team, 30 office staff and approx 40 field staff.  

Most Shire activities are carried out in-house

There is numerous evidence of funding pressure from reductions in federal and state subsidies which is nicely balanced from a plethora of grand successful funding initiatives

The small Shire team works with limited budgets focusing on effectiveness, value for money and specific solutions

Widespread Shire partnerships exist with volunteers from sporting bodies, arts, historian and hobby groups leading to community engagement models which gives confidence to the sustainability of the Shire

New Infrastructure such as Dog parks, skatepark,reserves facilities,swimming and sports centres makes the Shire an attractive place for the younger generation.

Crime and vandalism appears to be limited with locking of cars and houses uncommon
Community Health and training facilities are well developed.

Inter-regional and cross–regional collaborative models are commonplace with the motivators being more about success of joint activities rather than territorial boundary lines

There is a sense that the small Shire model has been effective for this part of rural NSW

 

Susan Jones, Human Resources/Administration Manager at Gore District Council is on the Queensland leg of the SOLGM Australia Overseas Manager Exchange.  She has been writing regular updates of her experience.

Susan Jones - Queensland Exchange

 

Monday 28 September 2015

Final report on LGMA Queensland Exchange

This year’s LGMA conference was being held in Gladstone, about 440km north from Noosa.  We set off on our “road trip” on the morning of Tuesday 1 September.  On another blue sky day, it was a very pleasant drive travelling through small towns enroute. Gladstone is an industrial city of some 35,000 people and touted as the gateway to the southern Great Barrier Reef.  It has a huge port to cater for the significant coal mines in the area.  The CBD was well laid out and featured a mix of modern and heritage buildings, plenty of street trees and good shops, restaurants and bars.  There was a large marina and waterfront area that would no doubt attract many recreational activities.

The conference itself commenced mid-afternoon with a casual welcome to the 155 delegates, including sponsors, and acknowledgment of the two international exchange delegates.  A social event followed “Bush vs Beach“ which is an annual challenge, highly competitive and with friendly allegations of all sorts of cheating.  This year it took the form of a version of the Amazing Race and was a lot of fun.  It concluded near the waterfront with a sausage sizzle to raise funds for the Roseberry Foundation, a local organisation dedicated to at risk and disadvantaged youth.  The organisation was the charity supported by the LGMA conference and a good amount of money was raised as a result.

The theme was The Ideas Incubator and was kick started on Wednesday 2 September with an excellent keynote address from Nils Vesk, a professional designer who for the 18 years has been applying the process of design thinking to the business of generating and realising ideas. His clients include the world’s fastest growing companies who use him as a virtual think tank and change catalyst for accelerating business growth through innovation.

Nils began his career as an urban designer, creating amusement parks and towns in Asia, but in the process became concerned with his colleagues inability to perform under pressure. So Nils became a personal trainer and yoga teacher, and went on to write his internationally-published book, Life's Little Toolbox as a foundation to help teach people how to utilise stress to get things done.

For the conference proper, delegates were split into five groups that we would remain with for the duration.  It was an excellent way of getting to know new people and learn about what various Councils were doing.  We then spent three rotations with separate facilitators covering the following topics that were, on reflection, able to be contributed to by everyone:

  • Idea 1 – Local Government – the quintessential employer of choice.
  • Idea 2 – Local Government – lead shaper of community opinion – Councils have the opportunity, the clout and the access so how can they influence their communities to enable the delivery of better long-term futures.
  • Idea 3 – My people are my Council’s greatest asset and they amaze me every day – this was further broken down into six actual statements that we were invited to comment on.
  • Idea 4 – What if Council made great decisions for the community – split into of how decisions are made, a recent example made and how it may have been done differently.
  • Idea 5 – Local Government collaborations could deliver incredible results for Councils and their communities - based on the idea that local government can collaborate for better and more cost-effective service delivery, exploring varied opportunities, how to harness them and what innovations could happen along the way.


Delegates contributed very well to each of the sessions and there was a wide range of ideas and solutions proposed and discussed. 

Each team then had time to prepare for a final presentation to the conference post lunch on the final day.  The presentations were all judged and were very well done.

The conference concluded with a gala dinner with a feature being the official induction of the incoming President of LGMA Queensland.

I returned to next New Zealand very early the next day full of reflection and excited at the opportunity I had had to experience such a fantastic sharing time at the Noosa Council and the conference and to make new friends in our wider Local Government family.  It was a truly exceptional exchange and one I am very grateful for the chance to be involved with it.

I now look forward to welcoming my exchange partner, Martin Drydale to Gore and the SOLGM Summit in November.

Friday 4 September 2015

Report on LGMA Queensland Exchange

The warm weather during my visit has certainly been welcomed and enjoyed.  Blue sky days are a far cry from the less than optimal end of winter/beginning of spring weather “across the ditch.”   

Continuing with some of the other features of the Noosa Council in particular, it has a strong environmental approach to development and planning applications.  While many are dealt with under delegation at a staff level, the more contentious ones are considered and decided upon by the Council.  The koala is protected and offsets in the form of tree plantings (suitable for koalas) are conditions imposed on developers.  There can also be a monetary contribution required to offset the removal of any mature koala habitat trees.  This is currently valued at $920 per tree.  There has even been consideration given to constructing special koala crossings – similar to a pedestrian crossing – but the cost estimated at around $300,000 is prohibitive.   Financial contributions are imposed depending on the nature of an application. 

There are no parking meters in any of the towns within the shire.  Restricted signage is also a feature with all advertising, including on buildings.  It all has to comply with a strict measurement, including the golden arches of McDonald’s.  In Noosa, these are much smaller than anywhere else.  It was a battle won by the Council.

Noosa Council’s expected revenue for the 2015-16 year is $87.3 million with expenditure budgeted at $85.9 million.  Tourism is a huge part of the local economy, with the visitor spend for the year to September 2014 estimated at $601 million.  In 2007, the Noosa Shire was designated as the Noosa Biosphere Reserve under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere programme.  The reserve encompasses 87,000 hectares of land and numerous waterways and extends about 3km seawards. 

Support for the de-amalgamation vote in 2013 was a resounding 82%.  The local residents definitely wanted their own Council back. 

I had an interesting meeting with a staff member from LGAQ which is the equivalent Queensland organisation to Local Government New Zealand.  There are 77 Councils in Queensland (17 indigenous), supported by LGAQ and it takes on average, 2,000 telephone calls a week. There has been $1 billion of funding removed from local government over the past five years through reductions made by the State Government.  As a consequence, Councils are becoming more innovative and accepting they have to do more with less.  LGAQ does a huge amount of lobbying on behalf of its member Councils to the State and Federal Governments and an example of success was securing $15.3 million of training funds for local Councils.  This funding focuses on those skills needed and identified by a Council and training is provided through an RTO.  There have been high completion rates and apart from the indigenous Councils, participants have to have a qualification of some type at the end of the training programme, usually in the form of a certificate or diploma.  LGAQ conducts a lot of metrics and workforce planning work as well as an annual census with various indices.

The State Government provides a 20% rates rebate to senior citizens.  Noosa has approximately 25,000 ratepayers.  Rates currently average $1,600 per annum, excluding water which is separately charged and averages $1,000 per ratepayer.  Rates are billed twice a year. There are many State and Federal grant programmes that Councils can make application to for a range of activities or projects.

The Gympie Regional Council boundaries with Noosa Shire and I attended a meeting with leadership teams from both Councils on how they could collaborate better with each other.  Both have a similar population but Gympie is significantly larger in area than Noosa.  They were interested in the shared services model that has been successful in Southland.  They identified several areas where they can share and learn from each other and there was a willingness to utilise the skills at both organisations for the betterment of their respective Councils and communities.

 

Tuesday 12 September 2015

 

123456From a cool southern departure of 8 degrees to the sunny climes of Noosa, Queensland and 27 degrees was a bit of a shock to say the least.  Wall to wall sunshine compared to a drizzly and wintry day – it is not hard to reconcile why so many New Zealanders and southerners in particular visit this beautiful part of the world.

My LGMA Queensland exchange partner, Martin Drydale is the Director of Planning and Infrastructure for Noosa Council.  He is also the Local Disaster Coordinator and will be visiting the Gore District in November before attending the SOLGM Summit in Palmerston North.

Noosa Council is just 18 months old, coming into being from 1 January 2014.  Many New Zealand local government stalwarts will recall the numerous amalgamations of Queensland Councils in 2008.  Due to a change in the State Government, four proposals for de-amalgamation were successful with Noosa being one of them.  It dislodged itself from the Sunshine Coast Council and with a transfer team appointed, set about restoring the local Council to the Noosa community. 

The current Chief Executive, Brett de Chastel worked for the former Noosa Council (pre-amalgamation) and then spent some time consulting, before being successfully appointed as the head of the new Noosa Council.  In his own words, “he went out hard and set about getting the structure, systems and people in place quickly”.  The agreement with Sunshine Coast Council involved transferring many million of dollars in cash and also the “staff of its choice”.  Suffice to say, there have been a number of performance management issues that have been worked through to achieve the right mix.  Martin came from a corporate services background with previous Councils and was a member of the initial transfer team before being appointed to his current position. 

Governance wise, the Noosa Council has a Mayor elected at large and five Councillors who work full-time. Queensland Mayors also have executive powers, including responsibility for strong budgetary control, a statutory power to direct a Chief Executive (if required and provided it is not in contravention of the law) and involvement along with the Deputy Mayor, in the appointment of second tier management positions.  Current FTEs number 345.  The water activity does not come under control of the Noosa Council. Some years ago due to prolonged drought, Unity Water was established by the State Government. It invested many millions of dollars in infrastructure and ensured the continued supply of water.  Noosa Council is one shareholder in the company together with several other local authorities from the south eastern Queensland area.  Unity water bills ratepayers for water which is not metered.

The Queensland State Government has a lot of involvement with many aspects of local government.  Amongst other things, it is responsible for rivers, water and sewerage, some roads and interestingly has a lot of influence over industrial relations.  In this regard, the State Government was proposing a single employment agreement for all employees but progress has stalled to the point that no employer is permitted to negotiate any expired agreement, no pay rises are permitted to be negotiated (although Chief Executives do have an administrative delegation that allows a Council to approve an increase and Noosa Council unanimously approved a 1.5 percent increase, backdated to 1 January 2015 for its staff at a Council meeting on 26 August) and suggested changes to many other terms and conditions have resulted in the entire process being frozen.  There is little hope that it will be resolved in the immediate future.

The Noosa Shire is expansive and home to approximately 52,000.  There are several small towns, with the Council office being located in Tewantin.  A point of difference for the whole shire is no traffic lights and traffic flow is managed by roundabouts.  The shire is dominated by the Noosa River which, given the climate, hosts many recreational and commercial activities together with providing great fishing opportunities. 

To date there have been many learning and information sharing discussions.  With the recent enactment of the new Health and Safety at Work legislation in New Zealand, I have had particular interest in how health and safety is managed at Noosa Council.  With it being a new local authority, workplace health and safety is an active work in progress with systems and reporting being a key focus to comply with audits undertaken by Local Government Workcare organisation. 

The picture at the top of this post is a view across the Noosa river from the Council office – who wouldn’t want to come to work to see that?

 

Fiona Green, Group Manager at South Taranaki District Council is on the Canadian leg of the SOLGM British Columbia Overseas Manager Exchange, sponsored by JLT.  She has been writing regular updates of her experience.

Fiona Greenhill - British Columbia Exchange

Monday 22 June 2015

The LGMA conference held in Prince George has a theme of Creating Connections, Building Bridges and has been a great experience to round off my management exchange to British Columbia.  I have attended a number of interesting sessions but the highlight for me was a session around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of British Columbia. The history of the First Nations of Canada was fascinating.  The reconciliation process was described as acknowledging the past, understanding the realities of how the past is impacting on the present and making change today with the hope for a better future.   

I would like to thank SOLGM and LGMA for giving me the opportunity to undertake this management exchange and JLT for their sponsorship.  Being able to learn about local government in another country is a fantastic way to engage with local government professionals and form networks, and friends, that will last throughout your professional career.  It is an opportunity to see the similarities and differences within the wider context of local government and to discuss ideas with officers in British Columbia who are facing similar issues as I am.  One similarity I have found during my visit is that local government professionals in British Columbia have the same passion and commitment for their jobs and pride in serving their communities as we do in New Zealand. Finally thank you to Ryan Smith and Mark Koch, my exchange partners for being such great hosts.

PHOTO: Fiona with LGMA colleagues at the conference selfie booth.
 
Thursday 18 June 2015

I spent some time with the Active Living and Culture departmental the City of Kelowna learning about their Strong Neighbourhood Project.  In 2014, this project was launched after public  consultation was undertaken to inform the creation of a set of programmes and tools to support their focus on "Engaged Communities". The project recognises the vital contributions that strong neighbourhoods provide in peoples' daily lives, including their positive impact on wellbeing, economic development, and their sense of attachment to the City. 

The object of the Strong Neighbourhood Project is to increase citizens' level of attachment to the community by inspiring neighbourhoods to foster a culture of connection and engagement.  The council is focusing on four projects:

  1. Neighbourhood Grant - this is match funding for resident-led enhancement projects The residents provide in-kind resources (such as labour) and this is matched with up to $1000 of funding (for example a beautification project where the funding provides the plants and the residents plant them).
  2. Neighbourhood Events - the council has a mobile unit with basic event equipment (tables, chairs, speakers etc) and residents can apply for the use of equipment and staff assistance to organise their event (eg. block parties, footpath chalk murals, kids day in a local park).
  3. Good Neighbour Toolkit - the council is developing a range of tools on how to get connected for people to use. These will range from 'Why get to know your neighbors?', '25 ways to be a better neighbour' and '20 ways to get to know your neighbour'.
  4. Strong Neighbourhood Toolkit - this project is about activating people to get involved and building the capacity of the residents to do sustainable projects rather than one off things. Tools on how to set up a community group are planned to help people achieve this.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

An example of PickleballBoth Lake Country and The City of Kelowna are grappling with the issue of connectivity within their communities (interestingly the LGMA conference theme is Creating Connections, Building Bridges) and they are both working in similar ways to try and build those connections.  Both councils see this as an important contribution to their residents social wellbeing and quality of life. Recreation centres in both communities provide a point of contact - they include courts for indoor games, rooms for meetings or smaller group activity, playgroups for under 5's, senior citizen (recreation) centres and in the case of Kelowna, indoor swimming pools and outdoor fields.  Their focus is strongly on recreation programmes and encouraging people to be involved - programmes can be anything from social sport competitions, arts activities, swimming and even cooking sessions.  The recreation centres are becoming the hub of each community and a place to go at any time of the day where residents will find plenty of activity and engagement across all ages.   


One game which seems to be very popular is Pickleball [pictured above], a racquet sport which combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis.  The sport is played on a court with the same dimensions as a badminton court with a padder tennis bat and a plastic ball. The day I visited the Kelowna recreation centre there were hundreds of people enjoying this game - something New Zealand councils that deliver recreation programmes might want to consider when planning their next recreation programme.  

Another innnovative idea was placing the community garden at the recreation centre in Kelowna.  The garden was made up of 25 planter boxes [pictured right] with different community organisations taking responsibility for one or more planters. The produce was used in the programmes delivered at the centre (eg in the cooking sessions) as well as by the wider community. 

I have now left Kelowna and Lake Country and am in Prince George for the LGMA conference which starts later today.  I am looking forward to spending time with local government professionals from across British Columbia and gaining further insight into the challenges and opportunities that local government here faces.  

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 15 June 2015 

PHOTO: Fiona Greenhill with host Mark Koch outside the District of Lake Country offices.

The City of Kelowna is one of two host councils I have the fortune of being hosted by in British Columbia.  It is a sprawling city that has experienced rapid growth in the past and is home to around 122,000 residents.  The Council employs over 800 employees. My second host council is the District of Lake Country.  This is a much smaller district with just over 13,000 residents and around 60 employees. Both councils are quite similar to a council in New Zealand except that they are also responsible for the fire and police departments for their districts. My first impression, after spending time at both municipalities, is that they are facing many of the same issues that councils in New Zealand are facing - attracting and retaining good staff, keeping taxes (rates) affordable while still maintaining service levels and planning and funding for infrastructure replacement.  However they are also facing issues that my council, South Taranaki does not face such as managing a consistently growing population (Lake Country is the fastest growing municipality in British Columbia).

I am looking forward to delving deeper into how local government works over the next week or so and attending the LGMA conference in Prince George later this week.

 

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