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Overseas Manager Exchange Blog

2018 Exchanges:

Sheryl Bryant - United States

Barbara Whitton - Australia

Marianne Cavanagh - Australia

2017 Exchanges:

Liam Nolan - Canada

Steve Hill - United States

Ken Morris - United States

Shanine Raggett - Australia


Sheryl Bryant of Palmerston North City Council reports from her Overseas Manager Exchange to the United States, sponsored by Civic Financial Services

Blog post 1 - Initial Impressions

I have just completed my second work day at Lee’s Summit, Missouri.  My manager exchange is with Christal Weber – Assistant City Manager in charge of operations covering public works, fleet, city clerks, municipal court, airport and executive staff.

Lee’s Summit, Missouri, is in the mid-west with a population of 100,000 and borders Kansas City.  Lee’s Summit Council has over 600 staff and unlike New Zealand includes Police and Fire. 

My first meeting was sitting in on a Chamber of Commerce meeting focusing on government relations.  The topic of the day was hearing from health providers in the community and their issues.  The issues of rising health costs and a shortage of doctors and nurses were discussed, which are familiar issues for us here in New Zealand.

Attending the Regional Homeland Security Coordinating Committee provided an insight into the collaboration across agencies such as fire, health, police, emergency services and local government in being prepared for a broad range of threats and hazards, including terrorism.

Another meeting of note is the Civic Roundtable – a meeting of community leaders with a purpose of encouraging, promoting and initiating collaborative community improvements.  Community leaders were encouraged to use their influence in supporting a proposed increase in fuel tax which funds highway patrols and roading improvements – the first in 22 years.

I have been struck by the commonality of issues whether they be housing affordability, containing cost increases with rising community expectations, or planning for growth.

It hasn’t been all work – attending the fall festival in Liberty, Kansas City, including a parade of local businesses, schools and church groups provided an authentic local experience.  An unexpected event was a local rugby match between two rival Kansas City teams for a taste of home.  Halloween preparations are underway with many houses starting to be adorned with decorations.

Lee's Summit City Hall
Selling of pumpkins for Halloween at the fall festival

Blog post 2 - Identify and describe a current issue: Economic Development

Lee’s Summit delivers its economic development activity (excluding planning and infrastructure provision) through the Economic Development Council (EDC).  This is an independent body with 66% private funding and the remaining 34% from Lee’s Summit Council (LSC) through a Bed and Industry tax. Sixty percent of its focus is on the talent pipeline with the remainder on attraction and retention of business.

The EDC is a funded member of the wider Kansas City Area Development Council (KCADC) with a sole focus on attracting new companies to the region.  EDC receives on average three projects a week from KCADC for consideration to submit.  It’s target industries include manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, regional corporates, data centres and animal health.  With an inventory of all available properties in Lee’s Summit, the EDC works closely with the LSC and utilities to understand available and planned infrastructure.  Because of close relationships the EDC has developed and its understanding of development projects, it is able to turn around a prospectus for a new company within three days.

To address the issue of the retention of talent, one particular initiative is the National Manufacturing Day where students are hosted in businesses for a day to learn about different types of jobs and opportunities available to them.

I also met with Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street.  Its downtown was ranked number one in the USA, with private investment following a major street upgrade – to such an extent that there are no shop or office vacancies in the downtown.  Receiving only 14% of its funding from Lee’s Summit Council, a significant amount of its funding is from events – over 100 per year - with a major street festival being the main source.

A key to EDC’s success has been the relationships and the trust it has built with the private and public sector.


Blog post 3 – Highlight Good Practice

Kansas City, Missouri, a recipient of the ICMA Certificate of Excellence in Performance Management, uses data analytics to drive its performance.  I was privileged to see this in action while visiting KCMO and attending the KCStat Committee meeting where progress on priorities are discussed.  On this occasion, the subject of discussion was the planning, zoning and economic development priority.  This committee reviewed its progress against the objectives and strategies through the presentation of statistics and progress on its activities.  While largely a management-focused meeting and fairly informal, it was broadcast on-line so that the community and staff could tune in and hear how progress was going.  The meeting was attended by the Mayor and was also open to council members to attend.  I was impressed by the ownership demonstrated by senior management as well as the familiarity with statistical information.  The informality of reporting via powerpoint presentation avoided the pitfalls that onerous reporting regimes can often succumb to.  Building the capability of staff across the organisation in data analytics was achieved through a Data Academy, an in-house programme to train staff in the preparation, analysis, and application of data to drive performance operationally.

I was able to see on the ground, how the Council collected some of its data through its smart city initiatives.  One such example, was the street car in its downtown.  This enabled the laying of 2.2 miles of fibre and the installation of 300 new lamp posts and 328 wifi access points.  The free street car is funded through advertising.  The new lamp posts control traffic and pedestrian lights and lighting as well as collecting data on pedestrian and traffic counts.  The joining of data sets, such as sensor data and card purchasing data has enabled KCMO to predict future growth and make more effective decisions.


Barbara Whitton of Western Bay of Plenty District Council reports from her Overseas Manager Exchange in Mount Gambier, South Australia - sponsored by JLT

Blog Post 1

My SOLGM exchange is with Nick Searle – General Manager City Infrastructure of the City of Mount Gambier Council.  This small city is located in the Limestone Coast Region of South Australia and is almost exactly midway between Adelaide and Melbourne with a resident population of 27,000.

My first evening in town included attendance at a Council committee meeting where the mayor, councillors and senior staff, very warmly welcomed me.  The Council is currently gearing up for local body elections, which occur every four years.

In line with LG practice at home, the Community Plan guides the Council – The Futures Paper 2016 – 2020 - goals are to create vibrancy, promote identity and build a reputation as a place to live, work and invest, recognising the need for sustained economic growth and employment as well as recreational and educational opportunities.

My first impressions of the City of Mount Gambier are of a unique historical and geographical area – the beautiful Blue Lake, created by the volcanic eruption of Mount Gambier 5,000 years ago and the numerous caves and sinkholes that dot the landscape. The Council team are both passionate and committed to maintaining and enhancing the economic and social fabric of the area.  While the Council team faces challenges that are familiar to me, I see a strong desire to learn from others to make business improvements e.g. the current implementation of One Customer Experience Team to improve customer service delivery.  From a ratepayer/resident perspective; housing is affordable, there are a number of schooling options, health services are good, and recreational facilities for the community are of a high standard.  Combine that with a favourable location and a clean and green environment and you have a desirable place to live.

Within my first working week, I have already connected with business services, customer, tourism and library staff, both here and further afield including the Northern Grampions Shire, Burnside and Port Adelaide Enfield councils.  It has been revealing to share the experiences of others in developing and implementing significant changes to their organisations.  I have also been very fortunate to see so much of the countryside in a region where so much is on offer – stunning natural scenery, with vineyards on the doorstep and kangaroos and emus close enough to photograph - a first! Next stop – National Conference in Canberra.

Blog Post 2

Canberra – National Congress and a new Prime Minister!

We have experienced an exciting couple of days here in Canberra, with many of the discussions focusing on what’s been happening up on ‘the hill’.  Today at lunchtime, we heard that Scott Morrison was elected leader of the Liberal Party and will become the 6th PM in just 11 years.

My other experiences of the capital city have included the discovery that Canberra is as cold as everyone tells you it will be with large cranes dominating the skyline.  The surrounding landscape is extremely dry and there are monuments everywhere you turn.  However, the most surprising discovery were the different & quirky sculptures dotted about the CBD.

Highlights - The National Congress & Business Expo experience:

  • Hearing about the transformation plans for the City of Queanbeyan-Palerang Council – bringing together ambitions of placemaking, movement corridors and smart cities to digitally and physically connect people & green spaces
  • Observing a ‘live’ task for the Australasian Management Challenge – positives & potential risks of AI technology applications to LG
  • Listening to Michael Clarke (former Australian Cricket Captain) talk about his personal approach to crisis management, reputational damage & leadership – he clearly had lots of experience to draw on!
  • Hearing of Dr Barry Quirk’s (CEO Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea) approach to Empathy, Ethics & Efficiency in response to a crisis – “the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy didn’t care about how much I knew, but how much I cared”
  • Being present at the gala dinner to see the BOP Regional Council team take out the Australasian Management Challenge prize.

As I have listened to discussions over the last few days I have heard about many innovative approaches to solving problems and realised that while we may all adopt a different approach and may be at different stages, as LG organisations we all experience similar issues.

Supporting & growing economic growth - a current Issue for City of Mount Gambier

One of the key goals in the City of Mount Gambier community plan is to:

  • Recognise the need for sustained economic growth and employment as well as recreational and educational opportunities

Meeting this goal is a current challenge for the Council.  Mount Gambier is experiencing consistent but low population growth and when compared to regional, state and national figures, unemployment is currently low - 4.8%.  The largest industry is the timber industry, supported by milling operations, but there has been a recent state forestry sell-off to private enterprise.  This has resulted in uncertainty for the population due to the lack of transparency in terms of future commitment to the local mills.

The city centre and retail area currently has several vacant ‘shopfronts’ and the council is challenged to find ways of supporting and encouraging new business to the city.

The City does have a strong viable economic base built on the natural resources of the region and tourism makes a significant contribution to Mount Gambier’s economy generating over $100 million in annual expenditure

There is an abundance of community, recreational and cultural facilities and Council is currently engaging the community on a proposed Mount Gambier Regional Sport and Recreation Centre, which will have a component of both Federal and State funding if it goes ahead.

What steps are the Council taking in response?

  • Commitment to support the Tourism Mount Gambier strategy and its implementation including the appointment of a Manager Tourism & Economic Development
  • Alignment of activities within the (tourism) strategy to the Limestone Coast (7 local councils) tourism strategy
  • Investment in the community infrastructure to provide a platform that encourages the ongoing development of tourism based business
  • Commitment to attracting domestic & foreign investment in local tourism, horticulture, agriculture, seafood and wine industries (recently hosting a delegation of 12 Asian investors)
  • Commitment to learning from others and utilising new knowledge to meet goals

As would be the case in the New Zealand context, I am sure there is no ‘silver bullet’ to the challenges the City of Mount Gambier Council currently faces.  I imagine that in addition to the above, future solutions will need to be both integrated and ambitious.

Blog Post 3

Back to ‘business as usual’ – almost!

It has been one whole week today since I arrived back home after a whirlwind trip that included so many new things to absorb, in what proved to be an incredibly stimulating two weeks.  It is now time to organise my thoughts, revisit my original goals, and ponder on what I heard and saw.

Good Practice

Before I describe what I aim to highlight as good practice, I need to clarify that the subject is most certainly already ‘in practice’ in the private sector locally and possibly in other councils, but not in my organisation.  I did have some vague ideas around what I might discover about my Australian colleagues work practices before I left home, but what I ‘experienced’ was of course quite different!  The most surprising discovery was that the thing that I found the most inventive (and potentially polarising,) was not directly related to the subject of my learning goals (CX approach; dealing with disruption & expectations, consistency, engagement, segmentation, strategy, data transformation, digital tools…..)

‘Going Google’, Northern Grampions Shire Council (NGSC) Vic.

I was very fortunate to be able to tag along on a road trip undertaken by City of Mount Gambier staff while I was visiting; the Northern Grampions Shire, Burnside and Port Adelaide Enfield councils hosted us.  The Northern Grampions Shire Council had a problem to solve in that they needed to bring all the staff into one building (they were occupying three different locations) and had recently implemented a ‘Paperless Office’ concept utilising Google Chrome.  The staff now ‘choose’ their desk each day dependant on ‘how’ they plan to work for the day e.g. collaborative rooms (a bit noisy!), focus rooms, or quiet rooms (no talking) and each person has their own under-desk set of drawers and a personal locker.  As you would expect there was some resistance at first, some people are still adjusting, and the CEO apparently ‘pops up’ all over the place!  I thought the spaces were thoughtfully designed with lots of colour coding to help make those ‘how’ decisions and everyone we spoke to was very complimentary about the options the new technology provided.

The team estimate they have made considerable savings, $33k pa on office space, $38k pa on licensing, $116k pa on equipment and $25k pa on equipment installation costs.  I was also interested in what they thought they had ‘gained’ by making this considerable change to their way of working and learned that there were some expected and some unexpected results.  While some groups of staff still tended to ‘stick together’ there was much collaboration happening that wasn’t anticipated, staff talk about gaining a better understanding for others roles and appreciate the ability to be a part of conversations they would not normally be involved in.

Could this be utilised in my organisation or other local authorities in New Zealand?  I am sure given the right circumstances; a version of the NGSC ‘paperless office’ could be successful, perhaps dependant on the ‘driver’ for the change and how the change was managed by the organisation.

It has been revealing to share the experiences of others in developing and implementing significant changes to their organisations and discovering how many issues we have in common.  I would highly recommend the SOLGM Exchange programme to anyone looking to expand his or her local government experience, and happy to be outside your ‘normal’ comfort zone for a while.  Thankyou SOLGM and JLT for making my exchange possible.

Northern Regional Council Shared Workspace


Marianne Cavanagh of Whanganui District Council reports from her Overseas Manager Exchange in Queensland, Australia - sponsored by JLT

Blog 1: From Whanganui District to Western Downs Regional Council.

My exchange to Western Downs Regional Council began by flying in from snowy Queenstown to the Sunshine Coast to attend the Local Government Managers Association of Queensland Annual conference. Bit of a change in temperature!

Jodie Taylor who is the General Manager of Community and Liveability was there to meet me and we made our way down from the Sunshine Coast to Western Downs - with some sightseeing of golden sand beaches on the way. (Noosa beach photo)

Western Downs Regional Council is based in the town of Dalby. Currently the region is facing a severe drought - 40% of the district was officially drought declared this week. There is very little green to be seen and it brings the kangaroos in – not uncommon to see them in your backyard and down the street.

There is certainly no shortage in the region of land for development - the Western Downs region is the same size as the North Island - even though their population is only 34,000.

The Council amalgamated and went from 5.5 Councils to one. There are now six town centres in the Region – and 99 communities.

The first night here we went to a wonderful community event in the town of Chinchalla called One Long Table. (photo)  Similar to a festival of cultures with many food stalls and entertainment, and literally one long table down the main street to bring people together. The town’s strong sense of community was evident.

The Council meet once a month and each meeting is held at a different town in the region, a great way of encouraging a sense of community - despite the distances.

Each month on the morning of the Council meeting the Executive Team don their aprons and cook breakfast for the town’s depot staff – the ones looking after the roads, water, parks and open spaces, and the local dingo catcher! (photo)

This is a great initiative by the Executive Team – not just seeing the workers who are out and about in the region but also removing the sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ an example of some great work place culture initiatives the Council has undertaken.


Blog post 2: Drought

A current issue facing the Western Downs Regional Council, as well as many others in Australia is water - namely the lack of it! Dry is understatement to describe the land in the Darling Downs. I've been lucky enough to be getting out and about around the region as we visit many town centres. The current landscape is so different to what I am used to in Whanganui - and wider New Zealand. I'm used to rolling hills and lots of greenery, cows and sheep grazing their days away.

Here the stock are hungry…they are standing on dust and eating dry hay or random clusters of equally dry crop.  Fields and verges get covered in kangaroos and wallabies who are also looking for food (see photo). Flowers are sparse, green grass just doesn't exist...unless residents water patches around their homes. However, with water restrictions in place this can only be done by hand at certain times of the day - and it costs.  

40% of the region has been drought declared. Even the rivers and creeks have dried up (see photo). The Condamine River is the main river that runs through the Western Downs Region. It is also where the water supply comes from. In 2015 it flooded, however currently it's running dry, a sparse contrast (see photo).

An additional impact of restricted water availability is the limitations on town beautification. Lack of greenery and plants and flowers can make it hard for Council to have the town centres looking attractive and welcoming.  Recently WDRC received consent from State Government to drill a bore in one of their town centres to access artisan water - recognising the need to have access for town supply, and to allow for further development opportunities - without water it's hard to encourage people or business to come to town.  Unfortunately, the drilling hit granite and currently further options for sites are being investigated.  Other initiatives that don't reply heavily on water include seating and shade areas, sculptures and lighting.


Blog 3: Example of good practice – creating a united positive workplace culture

Creating and maintaining a positive organisational culture can be a hard at the best of times, but even more so when your employees are so widely dispersed around 34,000 square km. Western Downs Regional Council covers a size equivalent to that of the North Island in New Zealand.  With over 700 employees based across six different towns, the Executive Team have their work cut out for them to not only be present and engaged with their teams but also to lead a successful organisation.

There are various initiatives the Council have in place - all working towards their vision “an innovative team – connected locally; united regionally”.

Council meetings are rotated around the towns each month.  This means a fair bit of travel for the Executive Team (as they all attend each Council meeting) and elected members, but it also gives the opportunity to engage with their teams at each centre, as well as engaging with the different communities.

The morning of the Council meeting the Executive team are up early cooking breakfast for the Council's depot workers (see photo). While I was there the Executive Team were also travelling to each town to present employee long service recognition awards. These were presented to employees who had worked for Council for 10, 20, 25, 30, and in one case 45 years.  It was an acknowledgment of their service to Council and their community (see photo). It was evident that having the Executive Team present the awards, the long service medals and put on morning teas and lunches at the various centres meant a lot to the employees.  It was a team commitment to attend these ceremonies in the six different towns – acknowledging over 215 staff by the end of the week.  

Another great initiative undertaken is the We Are WDRC Awards. This is the Western Downs Regional Council’s version of the Oscars.  Nominated staff attend a black tie event, and tickets are scarce and sought after – making the event even more prestigious. As well as recognising and awarding these staff members, it is a way to promote pride in their Council and the contribution they have made (see photo).


Liam Nolan of Christchurch City Council reports from his Overseas Manager Exchange in British Columbia, Canada - sponsored by JLT

Blog post 1: Initial Impressions

My exchange was to Kamloops in British Columbia, Canada. Kamloops reminded me of a provincial New Zealand city.  Kamloops is a grid format with a main street, Victoria Street, full of cafes and eateries.  Just outside of the city there are the big box stores and a mall on the fringe. British Columbia had a cold winter and spring feels more like summer. When I arrive there is a state of emergency due to the fast melting snows, and flooding. The creeks are running like torrents. Before I leave British Columbia the emergency has moved from flooding to fires. 

My host, Regina, is the Director of Development Services for the Thompson-Nicola District. Kamloops has a City Council under a Regional District Council under a Provincial Council for British Columbia, which is covered by the Federal Government. Law making can be made at a provincial or federal level.  

Before arriving in Kamloops I spent some time in Vancouver, which felt very much like Auckland. Activities centred on the waterfront with ferries crossing the harbour to the North shore and further out to Vancouver Island. Vancouver has similar challenges with a large immigration population leading to rapid house price movement and traffic congestion. Transport is serviced by regular underground trains and a street bus system. The train has a direct link to the airport.

Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria hosted the conference for the Local Government Managers Association.  Victoria, the Provincial Capital of British Columbia, is more the size of Christchurch, of a similar scale as the rebuild with buildings about six stories high. Set on a beautiful harbour, it is bustling with tourists along the waterfront and in the streets. The Parliament building and a grand hotel sit on the main harbour. 

Kamloops Victoria Street (Credit: Kamloops website)


Vancouver Water Front


Blog post 2: Identify and Describe a Current Issue

Kamloops are updating their 2005 City Centre Plan with a Downtown Plan.  This will provide a framework to guild planning and land use management for the Downtown in coming years. They were in community engagement mode to understand the issues, opportunities and priorities for the Downtown. The newspapers had colourful adverts asking ‘What is your Vision for the Downtown’. The radio stations advertised drop-in information booths, local business open houses and community open house events. 

The team had been set up to review the feedback and further engage with the business and wider community.  This advisory team included the chief executive of the local business group. He had the chair and directors of the board to discuss with and the members of the business group to gather feedback from.  It was clear that the Council and the business community were in a real discussion of how to achieve the best outcomes. They all understood the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities of Kamloops and were working together to achieve the best outcome. Stakeholders had been clearly defined and were engaged, especially other parts of the Council responsible for events – they understood that driving events in the downtown was part of the strategy.

The engagement felt genuine and not just ‘ticking boxes’ as I hear from property owners and businesses so often. The plan had not been developed. They were in the listening stage. They had kept the pencils in the drawer until they understood the outcomes needed in economic, commercial and social terms. In addition, it was clear that they understood the need to bring the private sector with them to ensure success. They understood the role of the risk-taking private sector to develop the housing, hospitality and retail. 

Advertisement for Business and Community Engagement (Kamloops Website)
Advertisement for Business and Community Engagement (Credit: Kamloops Website)


Blog post 3: Highlight ‘Good Practice’

The key ‘good practice’ I observed was the joint leadership of the project between the public and private sector. The advisory team had private sector membership that could reach back into the business community for feedback. Even the private sector experience of the Council team was impressive. They could talk the same language, understood market drivers, and how to achieve the outcomes through zoning and incentives. The focus was on economic activity, not a streetscape design project. They had bench-marked both good practice and eliminated bad practice that they had observed.

But the project had not come with predetermined solutions, only a process – consult before options are developed – not develop options and then ask for feedback. I talked to members of Council and the business community and everybody knew about it. The used newspapers, radio and sandwich boards to connect with stakeholders. It was no surprise to the business community, which so often leads to lobbying and a redraw.  There was ownership and appreciation that livelihoods were on the line. This economic view was clear and the thinking was not just pavement specifications and street furniture.  It was about place-making and activity. 

The next phase will look at options. They will identify the key opportunities for various streets and plazas to continue that conversations – a picture says a thousand words. I hope they balance the aspirational with the affordable – that when they bring out the pencils they have a calculator as well.

I hope to return to British Columbia and Kamloops – if you get chance to be part of SOLGM’s Overseas Exchange Manager programme, I highly recommend it.

Project Life Cycle (Credit: Kamloops Website)


Steve Hill - Chief Executive of Clutha District Council reports from his Kansas Overseas Manager Exchange sponsored by Civic Financial Services

Kansas Exchange Day 1


After arriving in Kansas City the day before and settling in with our host Courtney Christensen of Mission Hills official day 1 started with an introduction to all of the staff.   You can read about Mission Hills here

It has a specific set of expectations of Management by the elected members and the residents of Mission Hills based on history and maintaining or improving the amenity and feel of the city.  Parks and Reserves, the quality of services, and keeping the character of the city rates extremely high here in Mission Hills and feature in regulatory policies and practices and in everyday issues.

I met with Mayor Rick Boeshaar and he talked me through the issues facing Mission Hills from his point of view and took me for a ride through the City to illustrate some points.  The Mayor and elected members don’t get remunerated and are basically elected volunteers.  The job is not intended to be full-time in this form of local government for this City, elsewhere with bigger Cities there are other forms and elected members can be remunerated.

Courtney had previously described how the character of the City was maintained via Ordinances and a Design Guide that had been developed approximately 2 years ago, and Mayor Boeshaar in our short trip talked about it in practice.

We do things differently in a number of respects, whereas we regard the road reserve as Council land, and we provide/maintain footpaths and maintain plantings/trees, they describe the road reserve as an easement, and there is as a result a slightly different view about private rights with property owners expecting a greater say in what happens or doesn’t happen in the reserve.  In addition, it can be the case that the City doesn’t maintain footpaths and it is a property owner’s responsibility to maintain footpaths and trees.  It is a conscious decision on the part of a City to take over maintenance of footpaths and trees.

As an example, currently it requires 100% of all adjacent property owners to allow a new footpath.

Lana joined all the staff and me for a staff lunch at a great chinese restaurant Bo-Lings, and that afternoon I attended the Architectural Review Board where decisions where made on new houses and alterations to existing houses or any work really within a property to ensure that the works met the Design guidelines.  The Board is an appointed Board of non-paid volunteer residents, although being appointed means that they have a wealth of experience and technical skill. There is an elected member liaison attached to the board but that member has no speaking or voting rights.

It is very similar to an urban design committee in it’s role.  Residents can speak in opposition, staff speak to a report, there is a 30 min pre-meeting briefing in closed session.  The Board isn’t concerned with the technical building aspects, that is covered by other approval methods.


Kansas Exchange Day 2

Day 2 involved a staff meeting at Mission Hills where issues were discussed, and the calendar for the next 3 weeks were coordinated.

Additionally Courtney and I travelled to lunch to meet with all of the Johnson County City Managers which (the lunch meeting of managers) is a regular event.

Over lunch they work through an informal agenda which includes individual city reports, an update Kansas legislature, and County updates.  It was great to listen to the issues and updates over Johnson County, recognising that the County comprises a great range of city sizes, not to forget that the County also exercises city responsibilities over unincorporated areas of the County.

In the afternoon Lana and I were escorted on a tour of the WWI Memorial which is another great surprise, a vast underground museum that just doesn’t seem big from the surface.  It was very comprehensive and we stayed a long time, including going up in an escalator in the body of the tower itself to see an amazing view.   Lana, who usually isn’t a museum person was fascinated by it too, and it really is a must do if you travel to Kansas City.

Kansas Day 3

Day 3 I spent shadowing Hannes Zacharias, County Manager of Johnson County.  Johnson County is about 480 sq miles with a population of about 580,000.  It provides city services including infrastructure) to unincorporated parts of Johnson County in addition to across the County services such as certain Health Services, ambulance services, wastewater (but not water or stormwater), law enforcement, Court services, Emergency Management, Parks and Recreation, some airport facilities, the appraiser, election services, roads and bridges, and public transport.

The day I arrived it was a scheduled Commission Day – their County Commissioners meet every week and work at an unincorporated city level on issues that can be quite small, through to large County issues such as approving a Design/Build contract for the design of a new County Courthouse for $4.2M.

At every meeting there is time for public comments which can be about anything that is not on the Agenda with the only limit being a 5 minute time limit per speaker.  There is no limit to the number of speakers that can potentially speak.

At every item for decision a staff member will present the report and be available for questions, and then again the public will be asked if there is anyone that wishes to speak to the item, but once that is finished, then the Commission goes into deliberation and decides.

At the completion of the Agenda there is another meeting for the review of the next week’s agenda, again the public can ask questions and the Commission can question the staff and direct further information be provided prior to the next meeting.  The Agenda review process seems to work well where as in this case every week there is a Commission meeting.

Hannes and I had a working lunch in between meetings and discussed various issues around growth, wider cooperation and coordination and infrastructure.  After lunch I was invited to a briefing on recent credit rating reports from 3 ratings agencies.

All in all it was a great day and Hannes has asked for some further time to follow up which we will look to organise in the following week.

Kansas Day 4

Day 4 was a little bit slower, it is necessary to intersperse the learnings with some time off, and we did that a little in the morning and later in the afternoon.

However at lunchtime, Lana and me and Courtney met with the Elected Members of Mission Hills over lunch in the Country Club plaza at the Capital Grille.  The Country Club plaza is typical of a lot of the beautiful parts of Kansas City, it was a planned development by one visionary JC Nicholls, and in planning the plaza it was designed to be an open plaza and not an enclosed mall, and the style was Mediterranean or Spanish and it has been applied to the whole area.  These few pictures honestly don’t do the place justice.

Lunch with the elected members was great, they are a fantastic and gracious group of people, remembering that they are basically not remunerated and are volunteers for their community – true public servants.  We discussed a range of issues from both countries, including politics, international relations, and of course local government differences.  We ended up talking for so long our group was the last to leave the establishment.

Kansas Day 5

Today was local elections day.  It was organised that I could spend some time observing the election ( and the real reason was to spend more time with County Manager Hannes) at the Johnson County election office.  However it turned out that according to law I wasn’t entitled to be an observer and we all being creatures of statute we can’t breach the law!

Mission Hills had a proposal for increased sales tax to fund infrastructure as an election question (which was successful) and there was also a question about improvements to Kansas Airport which was a major election question.  That was also successfully voted for by a significant majority.  So apart from what we would normally expect with electing Local Government elected members, people may also vote on issues requiring increases in property or sales taxes.

Not all was lost however as another time to catch up has been organised and Lana and I were able to get a great deal in buying another suitcase.  We came to the USA with two bags and we will be leaving with four!

In the afternoon Lana and me and Courtney had the great pleasure of getting a tour of the new civic centre in the city of Lenexa in Johnson County.  I had met Eric Wade the City Administrator at the Johnson County Manager’s lunch and he greeted us when we arrived, but Deputy City Administrator Todd Pelham gave us the tour.

Whilst everyone would like a clean slate to design a civic centre and civic buildings Lenexa was able to do it, with a visionary desire to move the town centre over many years they were recently able to achieve it. Hats off to their designers of the actual buildings because Lana and I were most impressed and in awe really.

I took a lot of pictures from this tour giving me much food for thought.  Their mixed use civic headquarters has taken the term mixed use to a positive extreme.  Examples include public spaces and foyer that can double as small event areas, their Council chamber (one view of their central seating aisle is pictured) can double for staff meetings and small productions, sharing a floor of the headquarters with a tertiary education provider, and finally part of the building being purposefully designed to accommodate a local city market.  Even the exterior (pictured) has been designed to be the stage for community events in a large common.

The Market Place


The Cooking Class in the Marketplace

Their (free) parking garage ground floor that looks out over the common also is designed to provide for an alternate use for traders to back onto the common for a market day under an awning attached to the building, that would normally be used by pedestrians on any other day of the week.

Looking towards the parking garage


We are looking to improve our staffroom facilities and I had some excellent examples of brand new facilities to look through and get ideas from.

We are also looking to make improvements to our swimming pool facilities and Lenexa has a fantastic Recreation Centre, one part of which has a recreational swimming facility.  One piece of play equipment in particular caught my eye.

Luv to have this in our pool


The Civic Centre will have a brand new library next door soon, it has new houses and apartments springing up and there is a lot of space for more greenfield development.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and it was a fantastic civic centre.

Kansas Day 6

This morning I had the pleasure of shadowing Doug Bach County Administrator for Wyandotte County which is again a different form of local government in that it is a Unified Government.  Basically it contains all of the layers of local government other than State and Federal in one entity.

Wyandotte County has a fascinating place in the history of Kansas State and you can read some of it here

The previous day was election day and there had been a change in Mayor so to be able to tag behind Doug on the day after was a real privilege – I’m sure there were many things he would have been needing to do.

To try to understand the size of the activity was mind-boggling.  Whilst our biggest city Auckland has our largest workforce and thus the organisation chart would be necessarily broad, the sheer number of activities that the Unified Government organisation is involved in is huge – something like 44 actual Departments of different activities.

We started off with a Departmental meeting where I got to see most of the Department Heads and started to realise the complexity of the organisation.  Some Department Heads are not recruited by Doug and are in fact elected officials.

Most of the time (including over lunch) I was quizzing Doug about the economic and financial incentives they were using to entice and support business and the particular issues Wyandotte was facing.  As I understand it Wyandotte was losing people and businesses to other more “attractive” locations and there was and is a real need to address that.  Doug told me that the leakage was as much as 70% and there were 4 decades of population decline.  Many of the incentive schemes and business support is based on addressing those issues.

Flexibility in revenue generation was evident in an environment where around 60% of the budget is taken up in the necessary activities of law enforcement and the fire department.  We are used to significant portions of our budgets being taken up in infrastructure and I believe there is a state cap on the amount of property tax that can be generated so the budget balancing act in trying to progress the strategic issues is interesting.


One of the biggest developments in Wyandotte was the Legends Outlet Store development.  It is a huge greenfields development that is deliberately not a closed in mall, but it has a huge number of outlet stores.  Evidently in 2015 it was generating $17m pa in tax revenue for the county.  It was classified as a Community Improvement District and incentives included a 10 year abatement on property tax and that the County would pay for all infrastructure up to the vertical buildings themselves, meaning for example even the parking lots were paid for.

The Legends area also includes the Kansas Speedway.


There is also a significant soccer stadium and casino.  We discussed the history and sequence of the development and the financing methodology.  Wyandotte is very much into incentivising business or housing to set up when otherwise it might not, or even for business or housing to re-invest when otherwise it might not.

We also toured a major area of industrial activity comparing older areas with new developments.

All in all it was a fascinating time (again) with a different form of local government.

I finished off the day back at Mission Hills with a meeting of the Planning Commission (another appointed committee of non-paid residents).  Amongst business was a preliminary discussion on the merits or otherwise of creating in part or in whole a Heritage District in Mission Hills, primarily to offer the City more options when dealing with telecom companies current rights to do works and install structures within the City’s rights of way – of course that would potentially be in conflict with the amenity of the City!

Kansas Day 7 – Final Day


I started off the day heading back to Johnson County and Hannes.  We had intended to catch up before on election day and couldn’t and I was able to catch him first thing in the morning.  We talked more about infrastructure financing, strategic planning and what the next big issues were for the County and Kansas City.  After the airport (which has just been resolved in terms of voter agreement to making essential airport upgrade improvements) and for which it is a major infrastructure project, Hannas and I talked about the City/County’s strategic coordination necessary to address transportation and transit deficiencies that will be exposed as growth continues and the impact of the growth pattern on transportation.   So the next big thing will be around the relationships, the coordination, and the politics of effective solutions in the transportation and transit fields.  In the years to come I will be interested to see how that strategic issue progresses.

city hall

Lana and I wrapped up our last duties with a farewell staff luncheon held at Mission Hills City office.  Of course having a farewell lunch is never a duty.

It was fantastic to see everyone again, all of them the most gracious of hosts, who all helped us in many ways.  We are especially grateful for all the time and kilometres and petrol used in transporting us around everywhere – and I mean we have been everywhere.  To all the staff Kia Ora and much Aroha from Lana and me.  We will very much miss you all.

To our exchange manager Courtney – what can we say?  You have opened your house, your organisation, and the organisations of Kansas City to us and we have experienced and learnt so much.   And of course we will miss Charlie and Nesta.


At this time we would also like to acknowledge and thank our sponsors that have made this great trip possible.  To Civic Financial Services (and Ian), to SOLGM (and Karen), to ICMA, and of course to Clutha District Council, this has been a fantastic month away with so much experience gained and learnings identified.

Also to the staff back home and those that have had to carry an extra burden in our absence, we really appreciate it.

Ken Morris - Group Manager at Waipa District Council reports from his Illinois Overseas Manager Exchange sponsored by Civic Financial Services.

Blog Post One - ICMA Conference, San Antonio, Texas

Four nights in Las Vegas probably wasn't the ideal way to recover from jet lag and gear myself up for the ICMA Conference in San Antonio, Texas. But, there wasn't much danger of falling asleep in this conference. It was engaging and inspiring all the way through with plenty of interesting things to see, do and hear.  The theme was 'Building Bridges - Serving Our Whole Community'.

There was an impressive line-up of keynote speakers including Rabia Siddique with her courageous and inspiring story and passion for justice; Anna Maria Chavez, speaking on 'true moral leadership'; and Simon Bailey with his insights into being 'a leader for the future', and the man with the craziest laugh you ever heard. Another incredibly inspiring session was with Eric Cooper who runs the San Antonio Food Bank, a young guy with a very impressive back story which inspired him to change the world around him at the rate of 58,000 meals a week.

We went on a fantastic field trip to see the old Spanish missions along the San Antonio River which secured UNESCO world heritage site status in 2015. The incredible restoration and development work that's happened to restore and beautify the missions and their surrounding environment is truly noteworthy and deserving of the status they've achieved. A nice link in this field trip was seeing surplus land adjacent to the mission sites, and the 300-year-old irrigation systems on that land, being utilised by Eric's food bank for vegetable growing for food bank supply, a great example of government working in partnership with the not-for-profit sector for the greater good of the community.

Our hosts on a field trip to Alamo Heights City were wonderfully welcoming and hospitable as they showed us their new purpose-built City Hall and admin building which also houses their Police and Fire activities. A couple of great pieces of history exhibited in their building were firstly a picture of President John F Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline travelling in an open top car through the streets of their town on 21 November 1963, just the day before a similar car ride through the streets of Dallas which ended with his assassination (in fact the ribbon-cutting ceremony he'd performed that day in San Antonio became his last official act as President); and secondly, a piece of mangled steel from the twin towers which commemorated the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and most particularly the fire fighters that lost their lives that day.

The annual 5km City Managers run was an enjoyable event and secured us a piece of silverware to bring back home as a memento.

The ICMA run a great partners programme - networking brunches, a field trip to help at a pre-school facility for disadvantaged kids, etc.

And San Antonio itself, what an awesome city, with its incredible history ('Remember the Alamo') and fantastic recreational and environmental beauty along the extensive and well-developed river walk pathways, this is a place you could easily fall in love with.

Thanks so much to SOLGM, and to Ian Brown and the Civic Financial Services team for making this exchange possible for me. I go on from this to Illinois for my two-week Manager Exchange with Bob Palmer and Stephanie Dawkins at the Village of South Barrington and the City of Geneva, there will be further blogs from there. 

Blog Post Two - Interns, Volunteers, Partnerships, Shared Services and Community Participation

The 'exchange' part of my visit has involved eight days split between the Village of South Barrington (population 4,915) and the City of Geneva (population 21,400). Both these municipalities in the greater metropolitan area of Chicago, Illinois. The reason I got to spend time at two different units of local government is that my exchange partners are a married couple who hold the respective positions of Village Administrator and City Administrator at the two authorities. This is a real bonus for me in regard to what I get to see and learn.

South Barrington and Geneva are very different places and different dynamics of local government are in play as they deal with their own unique challenges. The Village of South Barrington, through a very smart comprehensive urban plan put together in the early 1970s, is a cluster of new subdivisions of large high-end homes on large lots. By contrast, Geneva is a much older township, that has been hugely successful in preserving and showcasing its history and leafy streets.

I've been interested to see the different ways of doing things in US local government. Geneva has 25 staff working in City Hall (this excludes Police, Fire and Public Works which also come under Council). Three of these staff are interns. These young people are working roughly 0.5 FTE roles for the two years they study for their Masters in Public Administration. In talking to the Geneva interns, it seemed like a nice win:win. Council gets the benefit of bright, energetic young people providing extra resource on an affordable basis to push project work through. While the interns - aspiring City Administrator / Managers in the making - get salary and valuable practical experience as they start off on their local government career paths. An approach to consider in NZ maybe?

Ken and Karen with the Council-run Geneva Police force



Volunteers seem to be widely used too. In South Barrington, a group of volunteers manage a wonderful award-winning wetland conservancy area. In Geneva, local residents 'adopt' and fully care for garden berms in the town centre. What a way to build pride in the community and save Council a few dollars along the way too!

Partnerships are also used effectively. In Geneva, Council provides a large sum of Council funds, legislatively restricted for tourism purposes, to the local Chamber of Commerce who use those funds to run a number of festivals each year attracting large numbers of visitors. The largest of these festivals the annual Swedish festival which celebrates the early Swedish settlers of the area and draws 200,000 visitors.

Shared services have achieved great outcomes for many years here. The Barrington Area Council of Government (BACOG) has been in existence since the early 1970's and it is this entity that put together the aforementioned comprehensive urban plan which has ensured excellent urban planning. In Geneva, I got to see the Tri-Com Central Dispatch Centre, a Council owned co-operative venture put in place in 1976 to collectively manage 911 emergency calls and dispatch of fire, police and ambulance services for a number of Councils in the area, bearing in mind that these emergency services are core local government functions in the US. Two great examples of shared service.

Community participation in the US looked a little different. I sat in on a Geneva Council meeting with around forty people in the public gallery and apparently many more tuning into the YouTube video at home. What interested me was the Mayor opening the meeting for the public to speak, in some cases mid-way through an important item, before the vote was called, and then again in a public forum at the end of the meeting. The public in the room took full advantage of those opportunities to contribute their thoughts and arguments to the debate.

So, Interns, Volunteers, Partnerships, Shared Services and Community Participation...potential areas of good practice that could be considered in NZ. This has been a great experience and I've enjoyed every bit of it.


Geneva Interns

Blog Post Three - Waipa District Council Day in the City of Geneva

So, the work-related part of the trip is now over and I'm into the last few days of my time in the United States. I've seen and learned a huge amount on this journey. My two earlier blog posts shared my insights into the ICMA conference and the good practices that I observed in my International Managers Exchange Programme (IMEP) with the managers of the Village of South Barrington and the City of Geneva. This blog post is my wrap!

While I was in Geneva, I was incredibly privileged that they took the time in a busy Council meeting to honour my visit with the formal proclamation of Monday November 6, 2017 as 'Waipa District Council Day' in Geneva in recognition of my visit and the Council I work for. That's right, a formal proclamation as evidenced by the certificate in the photo, formally read out at the meeting by the Mayor, confirmed by Council resolution, and recorded forever in the minute book of that Council. It should be noted that the year is referenced in the proclamation date so (sadly) it's a one-off rather than an annual observance. But hey, 'Waipa District Council Day' did happen, in Illinois, in the US of A. I thought that was pretty cool, as did many of my colleagues back home in Waipa.

But, aside from all that, the message contained in the proclamation itself is very powerful, we can learn so much from an exchange programme like this - Bob and Stephanie when they visited Waipa, and me when I visited them.

As well as the learnings from the local government aspects of my visit, I put significant focus on this trip into learning about and understanding some American history, something that appealed to me as a bit of a history buff. I acknowledge that I had very minimal pre-knowledge of US history but in visiting places like the Alamo in San Antonio, and later New York, Washington DC (including a tour of the Capitol), and the absolutely incredible but sobering Gettysburg battlefield, I have developed a far greater understanding and appreciation for the great, and quite rightly proud, democratic nation of the United States of America.

However, I also reflect on our wonderful nation of New Zealand and the way we do things back home. One thing I observed in the States was the seeming complexity of the many different levels of Government (Federal, State, County, Municipality and other local taxing bodies), and the tax and rating (property tax) systems. I observed first hand the 'hoops' that a 'non-home rule' municipality like Geneva has to jump through, with high risk of failure, to set a new tax (rate). Our (in my view), much simpler system of Central Government running amongst other things nation-wide Police, Fire, Courts / Prisons and Public Hospital systems; and a Local Government sector with relatively consistent activity bases, enabled to set rates provided for in a 3-yearly LTP process, has a lot of merit.

Worldwide, as local government professionals we do of course work within the boundaries created for us by our respective legislative environments, always looking to deliver the best value proposition for our local communities. In this we develop good practice, here in NZ, in the USA, and elsewhere in the world. Isn't it fantastic that we can share the details of that good practice with our international colleagues, and learn from each other.




Shanine Raggett - Manager Community Partnerships at Nelson City Council reports from her Australian Overseas Manager Exchange sponsored by JLT.

Blog Post One - Welcome to Cobar!

So here I am in Cobar, NSW, Australia. I'm not going to lie, when I heard I had been awarded the SOLGM Manager Exchange to Cobar Shire Council and Googled the location, I was a little dubious about my impending journey. I was wondering how I would compare a small town (population circa 4000), known for its mining heritage, with no natural water in sight, 750km inland from Sydney, in contrast with idyllic Nelson, population 46,000, surrounded by National Parks, glistening seas and forest clad mountains.

Soon enough it was my pleasure to host Angela Shepherd, Director Corporate and Economic Development. I was proud to showcase Nelson and introduce Angela to local government in New Zealand. It also gave me an insight to Council and life of Cobar and my excitement to visit increased tenfold.

So, two flights from Sydney later, I was collected by Angela and shown around the key sights and facilities to find my bearings. The town itself reminds me of Arizona USA, dark red dirt, wide streets with heritage architecture and a feeling that the place is steeped in history. Cars reverse in to their parking spots, prepared for a quick getaway from rain, for the streets channel the stormwater as there is no river for miles.

At the Council I’m greeted by friendly staff and a casual atmosphere where everyone knows one another. I meet Mayor Lillian Brady, aged 86, full of gusto and clearly passionate about her town.

It’s now day two of my visit and I have experienced a meeting with the Mayor and Senator O’Neill for NSW, a full staff meeting, service review workshop, helped organise the town Christmas tree display and attended the little athletics club. The key similarities compared to Nelson City Council I have observed so far are:

  • Decline in population of 20-29 year olds
  • Mental health issues are on the rise
  • Gap widening with state/central government funding for services

I’m looking forward to the rest of my stay and learning even more to take back to New Zealand.


Blog Post Two - Attracting skilled workers to Cobar

Cobar Shire Council, located 750km inland from Sydney is truly in the Outback of NSW, Australia. This poses challenges for Council and local industry in obtaining skilled workers for key roles. Though business is booming with mining, many travel in and out of Cobar which results in less community buy-in. Council find it challenging filling key positions where specialist skills are required. 

It is clearly the community spirit of Cobar that is the drawcard, a friendly town where everyone supports each other in times of need and band together for community projects to make their town fantastic. Though the locals know how good they’ve got it, the question is, how Cobar can attract quality candidates to Cobar?

The Council has partnered with the four local mining companies to develop a recruitment and promotional package to attract potential candidates. A successful application to the Regional Marketing and Promotion Grants Fund through the NSW State Government of $12,000 plus a $3000 contribution from the four local mining companies, has allowed for a comprehensive marketing campaign.

The campaign was being developed during my visit, with a film crew capturing those arriving on the plane as I got there. Part of the campaign is a film promotion to showcase Cobar, to be screened on Prime TV. A brochure is also being developed to provide to prospective employees. This information will also be shared via social media and websites.

Some of the perks of working for the Council or a mining company include:

  • Residential housing provided for many positions
  • Nine day fortnight (one day off every two weeks)
  • Free access to the local pool and gym
  • Schools have a mid-term break (four day weekend) each term
  • Mines offer $30,00 towards buying a home (four year caveat)

Cobar also has local initiatives such as a the Cobar Quid – dollars to use in local shops, which the mining companies give to employees as rewards, the schools for merit certificates, all to encourage local economic development.

Cobar is truly unique, with such a strong sense of community and laidback vibe.

So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags for Cobar today!

Mount Grenfell
Peak mine visit
Shanine and Angela


Blog Post Three - Case study / best practise

One of the goals for my exchange was to learn from examples of community engagement. Another area of relevant interest is development of a new youth park in Stoke, a Nelson suburb. So, during my exchange, I set out to learn about skate parks and their community engagement stories. 


The first skate park I visited was in Cobar, and what a skate park it is! Community members identified the need to develop a new skate park and established a Community Committee to initiate the project. Funding for the park was through Council funding applications for state funding and partnership funding from Peak mines as part of a way to attract more families to move to Cobar for employment. As Cobar is a mining town, the design includes a bucket from a mining machine that can be skated on, and machine parts used for seating. A great example of a community led project, developed with Council support.


My next learnings were based on the Campbelltown skate park development where again the community put forward their ideas, this time through the Council’s Youth Advisory Committee who then presented a report to Council recommending a range of improvements to the skate park, including ­public artwork, benches and better landscaping.

City of Sydney

For the latest skate park in Sydney, the engagement was facilitated by the Council's community consultation team. Consultation consisted of surveys and workshops that were driven by a core group of skaters from the Sydney skateboard association who were then involved with a detailed design with the park designers.

Using the Council 'have your say' website allowed for excellent feedback to be obtained from a wide range of stakeholders, with feedback going directly into the design.

Margaret River Youth Park

Though I didn't visit this area, one of the speakers at the NSW LG Professionals Innovations and business excellence conference used this as an example of excellent community engagement. Using digital technology, one of the aspects of the consultation allows you to do a 3D walk through of the park so that those providing feedback get a true to life experience before submitting feedback.

In summary, there are many excellent examples of engaging with the community in the development of a community project such as a skate park. The key take home messages are:

  • Empower those who are passionate about a project to lead the engagement
  • Include the community and end users in the design and development
  • Use different media to engage

Though the focus is on a skate park, these principles apply across the board and will lead to a sense of community empowerment and ownership in any project.

Cobar skate park




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:

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


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 instructor, 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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