Newly elected Horowhenua District mayor Bernie Wanden and the new council say they are making great strides in their first few weeks.
Tasks have been distributed, committees have been selected, meaning a change in responsibilities for some incumbents, and the team have prepared a workplan outlining the issues facing the district.
Wanden said the choice of councilllor Jo Mason as his deputy was a collective decision based on his recommendation. Mason is the first female deputy mayor in the council's 124-year history. Wanden said at the council meeting on October 30 that Mason was the logical choice.
"It has been a pleasure working with her in the past term and the way she chaired meetings showed empathy to the public as well as her commitment to the role signalled to me she had the capabilities and qualities to be an excellent deputy mayor."
"It is great that seven out the 11 councillors are in their third term or more. I include David Allan in that because he was a councillor in the past. They all bring huge experience and knowledge to the table."
He said the three newbies, Sam Jennings, Todd Isaacs and Robert Ketu added real positivity to the group and were getting stuck in. Apart from the official council meetings they have had numerous meetings to get all up to speed.
"We achieved a lot in the first week alone," said Wanden, who stresses the need for openess and transparency. "We need to get on with the job. It is about the entire council. It is not about me and whatever vision I personally might have."
One challenge he sees in the near future is the growth of the district as more businesses move here and more people from outside the district buy a house in Horowhenua. "It affects our infrastructure, our finances. That is a lot to deal with. Then there are environmental issues, such as the landfill. At all times we must do what is best for our community."
He believes it requires a change of focus. "To be honest, we are not used to growth and the growth is happening a lot faster than anyone could have predicted. But this team are more than willing and ready to meet those challenges.
"There are pros and cons to growth. On the positive side it brings in more ratepayers who help spread the burden.
"Balancing infrastructure needs with financial anguish is tough and then there are wellbeing challenges. We must balance core business with social issues that are very real for our district, such as housing, family violence and deprevation."
The council meeting of October 30 adopted the Annual Plan, which according to Wanden is "a record of the past." The previous council should have done that but various issues involving the Auditor-General's office, who needs to audit all councils' finances by the end of October, this was left to the new council.
Wanden said he believed that council can have influence on many of the issues facing the district. "I would like to make Horowhenua a safe and happy and prosperous place to work and play in."
He said this election has ended the negativity that so often reigned and said the voters have endorsed positivity by voting in this new council.
"This team can do that, they are working together and include staff as well as council management."
Bernie Wanden has lived in Levin for the past 35 years. He grew up in Wellington and 'joined Sharon's family's business,' as he puts it 35 years ago. Sharon and Bernie have been marrried 40 years. Bernie was a keen sportsman when he was young. He played rugby and cricket at a high level well into his twenties he said. Sharon trained as a school dental nurse.
"I wasn't 30 yet when we moved here with daughter in tow. At the time we felt a change in focus as well as lifestyle was what we needed."
It is a decision they never regretted. While Sharon still work in dental, Bernie has been the face of Paper Plus for years. "Thanks to that job and the many, many conversation I have had with the public from behind that counter alone, I think I have a good handle on the community's expectations.
"The community has supported our business over the years so I have tried to support the community in various ways." He's a active member of Rotary, was on the Library Trust, served on school boards.
He said retail is really tough, "especially books." He felt the council needed a retail voice to express that and when he stood for council in 2016 he did that because he also felt he needed to step up to help the community.
The expressway is becoming important, though he spent 30 years being dead against it. He said that over the 35 years he has seen lots of changes, including good times as well as bad times.
"Levin and Horowhenua are undervalued and under-appreciated, even often forgotten, though we are halfway between Wellington and Levin. We have achieved some great things here.
"We have led the country with developments like Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom, Te Takeretanga o Kura-hau-pō and the hockey turf. Credit for that must go to the people who achieved this."