Magazine article New Zealand Management

Mayoral Drive: How Governance Works in New Plymouth; It Wins Awards, Woos Customers and Its Balance Sheet Fair Bounces with Vitality. What's Going on at New Plymouth District Council? Mayor Peter Tennent and Chief Executive Rodger Kerr-Newell Spill the Beans

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Mayoral Drive: How Governance Works in New Plymouth; It Wins Awards, Woos Customers and Its Balance Sheet Fair Bounces with Vitality. What's Going on at New Plymouth District Council? Mayor Peter Tennent and Chief Executive Rodger Kerr-Newell Spill the Beans

Article excerpt

Asked to explain his working relationship with New Plymouth District Council chief executive Rodger Kerr-Newell, mayor Peter Tennent cannot resist injecting a bit of humour into the conversation. "When he first applied for the job, we passed on to Rodger a simple rule," Tennent explains. "The mayor would be doing the good news and he would be doing the bad news. I'm very comfortable with that relationship."

Happily for both men, over the five years they've worked together the district has had more good news to share than bad.

"When there's an oil crisis the world economy tends to retrench but in New Plymouth and Taranaki the opposite happens. There's an incentive for the oil companies to hit town," says Tennent, who is into his second term as the district's mayor.

"There's a sustainability like never before. It used to be oil and gas and dairy, now it's across the board. It's exciting times to be mayor and I would think it keeps our chief executive on his toes."

Like a Taranaki surfer enjoying a huge swell, the council has ridden the local economic wave with class. It is fortunate enough to have one of local government's strongest balance sheets.

The council sold its stake in electricity and gas network company Powerco in 2004, putting the proceeds into a "perpetual rates-reduction trust". The trust's diversified managed portfolio is now worth about $270 million. In its first year it paid out $20 million which is helping to fund council activities.

But rather than let the organisation rest on its financially sound laurels, Kerr-Newell and Tennent have raised the bar, spearheading a service-focused corporate strategy which has seen customer satisfaction reach what they say are levels unprecedented for any council.

The latest council annual report records the findings of an independent customer satisfaction survey which drew ratings of 80 percent or higher for 23 out of 25 council services. Only public toilets and parking failed to reach the 80 percent mark.

Libraries, wastewater, events and "living environment" are among the categories rated in the high nineties.

And Tennent even manages to sound upbeat about parking satisfaction falling to below 60 percent. It's a function of the booming CBD, he explains, and a good issue to have to solve.

Observers say the strong, complementary working relationship between Tennent and Kerr-Newell is a contributing factor to the council's vibrancy and the flow-on community buoyancy.

"We will take a more positive view than others and we accept it's a bit easier here because of the history of Taranaki which has made us, not a wealthy council, but one which has got a little bit extra to do the really nice things," says Kerr-Newell.

"Once you put that sort of effort in, you don't have to drag the community along. They will join in because they're getting the things that they think are important."

Kerr-Newell agrees with outsiders' observations that his style of leadership is more charismatic than the traditional model of a bean-counting council CEO.

"You can exercise leadership if you have the infrastructure which supports the community's aspirations. I see my role as ensuring infrastructure--whether it's hard physical infrastructure like a park, or psychic infrastructure, like good urban design or events in the park--ensuring that it's there and that it's done to an extraordinarily high standard."

So how does a vision-driven CEO manage to make progress in the politically charged environment of a district council?

Robust debate plays a part, says the mayor.

"We've got 15 around the council table--14 and the mayor--and it's important that all those views are expressed. If councillors were to come along and just say 'yes' to everything, they shouldn't bother fronting up to work," says Tennent.

"It's the same with the chief executive and the mayor. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.