It may be Taupo's worst-kept secret but now it's official - Taupo district mayor Rick Cooper will not be running for re-election next year.
The 61-year-old, who describes himself as ``a maverick'', says it's time to move on to to something new, including focusing on his role as a director of Ssangyong New Zealand and his extensive property interests.
``It's been on my mind for some time, and I've made up my mind and I think in the interests of openness and transparency that I should tell everybody that I will not be seeking re-election next year,'' Mr Cooper says.
``I've been honoured to have served the district for six years to the best of my ability, it's been an honour and a pleasure and a memory that I'll treasure for a long time, however I've gone as far as I can and done as much as I can and feel that somebody else should take over the reins.''
By the time next year's local body elections roll around, Mr Cooper will have served two terms as mayor and he says that announcing his intentions a year out will give aspiring candidates time to ``show their mettle''.
But Mr Cooper said he had a warning for aspiring mayors. Despite his own determination to cut through red tape, he found that central and local government council processes were still acting as a brake on development and new ideas (he cites the refusal to allow local police to use segways as an example), and he wishes he could have done more.
``It's a very, very hard job. I said when I came in that the tail wags the dog and sadly, it still does. I've got people trying to start businesses and the council stops it. It's just not right.''
Central government requirements, like requiring Taupo to upgrade its water treatment systems because Lake Taupo is an open water source, were also adding extra costs and debt, he said. Past councils' decisions, such as committing $30 million of ratepayers' funds to the East Taupo Arterial highway were also extraordinary.
``But I'm proud of what this council's done this term. Unfortunately it's been a term when we have a world in recession. We just seem to be continually fixing things. $6 million to fix the AC Baths wasn't my council's doing.''
It is projects like that that make Mr Cooper feel he's been ``a patch-up mayor'' who has had to deal with his share of crises and debates. His mayoralty had a rocky start when two months after he was first elected in 2007, tourist Karen Aim was fatally bashed on a Taupo street by a local teenager and Mr Cooper found himself unexpectedly thrust into the international limelight. It was a hard time for everyone, and Mr Cooper's eyes still get shiny when he recalls it.
But he feels he's fought and advocated for the Taupo district as hard as he can, although he wishes there was better communication between the council and the ratepayers, especially because he believes the community gets very good value for its rates.
``I still think this council's been a very steady council, it's been a tumultuous time and will be for some time but having said that, we've fared very well.
``We've had to make some terribly hard decisions.
``We've made the district one district, we've gone from land value to capital value and it's been contentious but I believe it was the right decision to make.''
Mr Cooper says his retirement from the mayoralty will mark the end of his foray into politics, although he says Winston Peters approached him to stand for New Zealand First at the last election.
As for projects he would have like to achieved but didn't, he says he would have liked to have seen the Great Lake Centre extended. He'd also like more emphasis on keeping young people in Taupo.
After Mr Cooper's handed back the mayoral chains next year, he says he'll have plenty to keep himself occupied. Besides his business interests, he'd like to travel, spend more time at his Ohope beach house and ride his motorbike.