David Clapperton must have looked out of his office window that morning, at the train tracks and totara trees on Cambridge Street, and wondered if the job was worth it.
As chief executive officer of Horowhenua District Council (HDC), he knew the gig came with a level of scrutiny and needed thick skin, but everyone has a limit.
Clapperton had just been verbally abused while in town with family. Social media was awash with misinformation and criticism of HDC, and some of the tirade was personal and directed his way.
He couldn't look to the mayor at the time, Michael Feyen, for support. Much of the unease was being fuelled by Feyen himself, who was openly critical of council before he became mayor in 2017, and continued to be a prolific social media agitator during his three-year reign.
That same morning four years ago, Clapperton turned around to see a throng of council staff members standing outside his office. They presented him with a large piece of paper with written messages of encouragement and support.
He said he would never forget the gesture. He had the piece of paper laminated. It was a turning point that strengthened his resolve.
"I was going through a pretty tough time last triennium during the email saga and questions over the structural integrity of the building," he said.
"I looked out my office window and saw a wall of staff showing their appreciation and with a powerful message that they had my back."
Numerous independent engineering consultant reports found the new council building met earthquake safety standards, and Clapperton maintains the vetting of emails was only to protect staff from the very abuse he was acutely aware of.
"Being a council CEO is a tough gig. You have a high public profile. You are seen by some as public property, which is why I avoid the supermarket during the day, and sometimes you are a bit of a punching bag," he said.
"I've had some pretty tough experiences over the years."
With 16 years at HDC - the past eight as CEO - he announced his resignation late last year. His office will be cleared out today to make way for incoming CEO Monique Davidson, who starts on May 2, 2022.
"It's important to have fresh blood, people coming in with new ideas. I have achieved what I wanted to achieve in supporting the community in some major and transformational projects," he said.
Clapperton was given a farewell last night at the council chambers on Oxford Street, where he thanked councillors, council staff, and members of the community he had met and worked alongside.
"Have a look around the room. This is a room of Horowhenua people who have had visions of doing something that has made a real difference for our district in the last 16 years," he said.
Clapperton saw the role of CEO as serving the community, and he was proud to have helped enable some major developments including a new council building, library centres in Levin and Foxton, a health centre at Foxton, and significant investment in infrastructure.
Te Takeretanga o Kura Hau pō and Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom were multi-functional community facilities that were arguably the best in provincial New Zealand, he said.
Other projects he was proud to be part of were improvements to Foxton's Main Street, the state of parks and reserves, the establishment of the Horowhenua New Zealand Trust, the Foxton River Loop Development, the Industrial Business Park on Roe Street, Foxton and Shannon land-based wastewater disposal systems, and the Horowhenua Taste Trail.
Unfinished business included a new water reservoir for Levin, a new road through Gladstone, the opening of the channel on the Foxton River Loop, and a new expressway to the north of Levin.
"We can't take our foot off the pedal on that one," he said.
When he first started working at HDC, at the old council building on Bath Street, heavy rain would flood the upstairs hallway on the way to the council chambers. The new council building on Oxford Street was badly needed and built at the right time, he said.
HDC had secured premises on Oxford Street South that were largely empty shops, and within 18 months was operating from the new base.
While council debt had risen to a current level of $92 million there had been strategic investment in infrastructure, such as the new building, which put council in a healthy position for the future.
Clapperton said he was proud to be part of what was a growing relationship between council and tangata whenua and the increasing involvement of iwi as partners, including the establishment of two Māori wards for the election later this year.
The journey in working towards a partnership with iwi was ongoing, but massive strides had been made in recent years, he said.
"It's about partnership, protection, and participation. It's about understanding and working together to find shared solutions," he said.
He was grateful for a number of local iwi for their guidance in helping understand tikanga and Kaupapa Māori, singling out a korero with Hayden Turoa one afternoon as significant in understanding the importance of that relationship.
"He took me to the top of Paretoa where we sat under a tree overlooking Matakarapa Island for an hour and a half," he said.
"He told me the story of Māori input to Te Awahou, the importance of Matakarapa Island to Māori, especially Ngati Turanga and Ngati Whakatere, and most importantly the principle of partnership.
"That experience sent me on a journey of learning, relationship building, and understanding."
As an outgoing council employee, he was in a unique position to provide an opinion on the future of local government.
Clapperton said there were some major issues on the horizon for the sector, including the Three Waters reform and an overhaul of the Resource Management Act.
"It's going to be a really tough time for the sector. It's going to be a challenge, and change will be transformational," he said.
Clapperton was a strong advocate of localism and giving local bodies more power and resources to better serve their communities, not just with infrastructure, but with social services too.
He believed councils should play an even bigger role in the future with health and other social services.
"I don't have confidence that central government can do it as well as local government. A key example is housing, where local government can have a greater understanding around some of the challenges and have greater input to identify solutions and better outcomes."
He said decentralisation and localism would achieve better outcomes for communities such as Horowhenua, and that the local government sector should be given more funding and more resources.
There were fiscal constraints for councils tasked with delivering major infrastructure services with funding from a finite amount of ratepayers, he said.
"There should be a shift in some of the funding. It's not new money, it's a redistribution of existing funding that's available, delivered in a better way.
"The time is right to think outside the square as to what could be if you are lateral in your thinking. There are things we can do locally that would provide better outcomes … there needs to be a collaborative voice coming from the sector."
One noticeable change he had seen in the district was hard to measure. As a newcomer to town 16 years ago, he remembered being surprised by a general mood that seemed negative, where locals were often self-deprecating about where they lived.
He felt there had been a massive change in that time, where people were now generally proud to live in Horowhenua, and the region was seen as a vibrant place to live and work.
"I have noticed it. People had said to me, why are you shifting here? Now people are saying, why wouldn't you?"
The 61-year-old was moving to Hawke's Bay where his daughter was schooling, and to be closer to his mother and extended family, which he refers to as he proudly recites his pepeha.
"The timing is right," he said.
He was planning to pick apples while applying for other jobs, but had recently been appointed chief executive of Eastern and Central Community Trust, based in Hawke's Bay.