‘Whirlwind’ first year for council chief

Nedine Thatcher Swann loving the role.

Nedine Thatcher Swann loving the role.

Gisborne District Council chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann's activity report for this week's Future Tairawhiti meeting covers the option of amalgamating Activate Tairawhiti and Heart of Gisborne.

Gisborne District Council is at “a watershed moment”, says chief executive officer Nedine Thatcher Swann a year into the job.

Ms Thatcher Swann is proud of what has so far been achieved, having concentrated on getting the basics right and setting up the organisation to serve the community well.

“I would call it a whirlwind year,” she said.

“I thought I knew most of what I needed to about the business before becoming chief executive but it is certainly a different level when you step up from a second-tier role into the chief executive role — more so from the mental stamina required to do the role well.

“It certainly does test your ability to work with people, especially having to keep your 14 employers (the mayor and the councillors) comfortable with what you are trying to achieve for them.

“We are dealing with big community issues. People are really passionate about the roads and three waters. Because we impact on people’s lives and it is money that is coming from their pockets, it can be very emotive.

“I think I have grown a super thick skin in the past 12 months, not to mention a few more grey hairs.”

Good support system around her

Helped by a supportive husband, parents and mother-in-law, she has been able to cope with the demands of the job.

“I still love the role. I still have that spark, that whole passion for trying to make a difference.

“I am really proud of what I have accomplished to date. There have been some massive changes to our organisation and a substantial shift in understanding where the council is at financially.

“I am managing to turn around a $5.1m deficit, with $6.3m in roading coming into line this year and other variances managed.

“‘At an operational level, relationships with external organisations have improved. I have pretty solid relationships with our iwi partners and the likes of Eastland Community Trust and Eastland Group, but there is always room to improve in some areas and embed the good stuff across the board.

“The key has been about working together, focusing on positive outcomes for the region and making sure what we are delivering is aligned and consistent.”

The new council building has given her an opportunity to establish an internal direction for her staff that will help the elected members achieve what the community want.

'Piritahi Tairawhiti'

The direction is focused on the theme of “piritahi Tairawhiti” — working together to make the community proud.

“Our staff are buying into it. We are focusing on putting our customers at the heart of what we do, being financially smart and strong, and our environmental stewardship responsibilities, and being the best that we can possibly be.

“If we do all of this well we should have a place where people are proud to work and of which our community is proud.”

She described the council as “a big ship to turn around” and said “we can’t underestimate the importance of organisational culture”.

“We are focusing on the core of what we need to do, which is to deliver good services to the community.

“We have come a long way over the past 12 months towards being clear on what we are here to do and how we are going to behave.”

There is a need for further investment in maintaining basic infrastructure, she says.

Some areas are still under-resourced by way of environmental and regulatory requirements, so they need to look at increasing their efforts there.

“It is all about getting the basics right. Once we have got those right — people, systems, processes and funding — then we can completely transform.

“The first 12 months for me has been about understanding and coming to grips with the major challenges and issues, and the constraints on the organisation delivering what it needs to for the community.

“I receive a lot of positive public feedback but on the flip side there are things that we really need to improve at.

“We know there are some things we don’t quite get right and need to be addressed.

“Anecdotally it feels more positive. If I think about how the council featured in The Herald over the past few years, it was quite intense. There was a lot of to and fro between the council and community. People seem happier around the council but you never really know until you test it through other means like surveys.

“When I see what is coming this year, it is going to be an equally big challenge and I am really excited about it.

“I think we are at a watershed moment for our district.”

Gisborne District Council is at “a watershed moment”, says chief executive officer Nedine Thatcher Swann a year into the job.

Ms Thatcher Swann is proud of what has so far been achieved, having concentrated on getting the basics right and setting up the organisation to serve the community well.

“I would call it a whirlwind year,” she said.

“I thought I knew most of what I needed to about the business before becoming chief executive but it is certainly a different level when you step up from a second-tier role into the chief executive role — more so from the mental stamina required to do the role well.

“It certainly does test your ability to work with people, especially having to keep your 14 employers (the mayor and the councillors) comfortable with what you are trying to achieve for them.

“We are dealing with big community issues. People are really passionate about the roads and three waters. Because we impact on people’s lives and it is money that is coming from their pockets, it can be very emotive.

“I think I have grown a super thick skin in the past 12 months, not to mention a few more grey hairs.”

Good support system around her

Helped by a supportive husband, parents and mother-in-law, she has been able to cope with the demands of the job.

“I still love the role. I still have that spark, that whole passion for trying to make a difference.

“I am really proud of what I have accomplished to date. There have been some massive changes to our organisation and a substantial shift in understanding where the council is at financially.

“I am managing to turn around a $5.1m deficit, with $6.3m in roading coming into line this year and other variances managed.

“‘At an operational level, relationships with external organisations have improved. I have pretty solid relationships with our iwi partners and the likes of Eastland Community Trust and Eastland Group, but there is always room to improve in some areas and embed the good stuff across the board.

“The key has been about working together, focusing on positive outcomes for the region and making sure what we are delivering is aligned and consistent.”

The new council building has given her an opportunity to establish an internal direction for her staff that will help the elected members achieve what the community want.

'Piritahi Tairawhiti'

The direction is focused on the theme of “piritahi Tairawhiti” — working together to make the community proud.

“Our staff are buying into it. We are focusing on putting our customers at the heart of what we do, being financially smart and strong, and our environmental stewardship responsibilities, and being the best that we can possibly be.

“If we do all of this well we should have a place where people are proud to work and of which our community is proud.”

She described the council as “a big ship to turn around” and said “we can’t underestimate the importance of organisational culture”.

“We are focusing on the core of what we need to do, which is to deliver good services to the community.

“We have come a long way over the past 12 months towards being clear on what we are here to do and how we are going to behave.”

There is a need for further investment in maintaining basic infrastructure, she says.

Some areas are still under-resourced by way of environmental and regulatory requirements, so they need to look at increasing their efforts there.

“It is all about getting the basics right. Once we have got those right — people, systems, processes and funding — then we can completely transform.

“The first 12 months for me has been about understanding and coming to grips with the major challenges and issues, and the constraints on the organisation delivering what it needs to for the community.

“I receive a lot of positive public feedback but on the flip side there are things that we really need to improve at.

“We know there are some things we don’t quite get right and need to be addressed.

“Anecdotally it feels more positive. If I think about how the council featured in The Herald over the past few years, it was quite intense. There was a lot of to and fro between the council and community. People seem happier around the council but you never really know until you test it through other means like surveys.

“When I see what is coming this year, it is going to be an equally big challenge and I am really excited about it.

“I think we are at a watershed moment for our district.”

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