On October 8 last year Hamish McDouall won a seven-person Whanganui mayoral race following the retirement of Annette Main and set about leading a council with seven new members.

He speaks to Zaryd Wilson about his first 365 days in the top job.

Hamish McDouall was hanging out the washing when he found out he was Whanganui's new mayor.

And with three failed parliamentary elections behind him he savoured the moment as he walked down to the Red Lion where his supporters had gathered.


That was a year ago this weekend.

"I was absolutely thrilled," Mr McDouall says.

"I remember I was just pacing my house in Whanganui East like a panther all afternoon.

"My wife said 'just go out and hang out the washing' and while I was hanging out the washing I got the phone call."

Mr McDouall says it was a "bruising" campaign.

The $41 million construction of the wastewater treatment plant, signed off by the previous council, took centre stage as a battle between those who wanted all or various parts of plant reviewed and those that just wanted to get on with it.

Having been the deputy mayor of the administration which gave the plant the tick he was very much in the later camp.

"I've kept a lot of the campaign literature and the full page ads from a variety of different factions and it was very much fighting assumptions that weren't necessarily right," Mr McDouall says.

"It was funny having to fight just to get your perceptive out there.

"To be fair I grew a lot of respect for a couple of my opposing mayoral candidates who really were above the shenanigans."

Two months into the term the new council had thrashed out the wastewater debate again and things proceeded as planned.

The plant should be built by December.

"The fact is $42 million is an eye-watering figure and certainly I can understand the desire to go and examine what's happened before you commit.

"Of the course the reality was construction had already begun."

Mr McDouall says the wastewater issue was "the biggest challenge to cohesiveness for this council" and is pleased to have got through it.

"We're very collegial now," Mr McDouall says.

"And I think some people who didn't like me during the campaign or didn't like who they thought I was have actually realised I'm not the devil incarnate and vice versa."

McDouall was the campaign front-runner with experience and name recognition but with six other names on the ballot he says it was unpredictable.

It wasn't till after the Chronicle debate at the War Memorial Centre, an event which he spent weeks preparing for, he felt he had sealed it.

"I think I came across well that night as a rational, measured, experienced character."

Previous times where he'd had to step into the mayor's shoes under Ms Main's leadership had been valuable.

"Also during the floods when she was very much coordinating or being part of the relief effort she asked me to be her on a lot of matters. It taught me a lot."

But he wanted to bring his own style to the role.

"I always wondered if I'd be able to be as over everything as Annette was but, in fact, I think my desire was actually to use the skills that democracy delivered and also use the skills that are out there in the community a bit more," Mr McDouall says.

"I think I've tried to spread responsibilities around a bit more."

Mr McDouall changed the structure of council, bringing back committees to take care of much of the debate before matters come to full council.

In June council confirmed a 2 per cent average rates rise.

"In November I would've thought that was impossible," Mr McDouall says.

"That was all of us. All 13 got us there.

"Certainly some were pushing for it more but to get to 2 per cent was great and not one of us got everything we wanted and not one of us missed out on everything. It was a great effort."

Mr McDouall doesn't know how likely that is to happen again.

Local government inflation will always go up, he says.

"What we buy is concrete and gravel and labour of course. It always goes up and it often goes up at a much greater rate than the CPI which is what everybody out there pays.

"I've never campaigned on low rates. I want low rates but the reality is the only way we can get income is increase charges, sell assets and rates."

That's why one of his pet projects is looking for other revenue streams for local government.

Mr McDouall says he has largely enjoyed his time as mayor.

"It's been great but when it's not great it's terrible," he says.

The saddest day of the year came when former deputy mayor Rangi Wills died in December.

Mr McDouall found out just hours before council was to meet over the wastewater plant, a meeting which ended up being postponed.

"I'd got a text late the night before that I hadn't read. So I woke up, got the text, and realised Rangi was dead," he says.

"A very sad day to be honest and probably the saddest day I've had.

"That was not easy and you could see it on other councillors' faces. It was really hard. I had such a respect for Rangi."

There are big projects under way in Whanganui at the moment - plans for the velodrome roof, earthquake strengthening of major public buildings, looking at the moles and port - which Mr McDouall say is a great for the district.

"Economic activity is enormous. Everyone's feeling that."

A term as deputy mayor prepared Hamish McDouall for the responsibilities of the top job.
A term as deputy mayor prepared Hamish McDouall for the responsibilities of the top job.

Much of it is public spending but he hopes that will turn into private investment... eventually.

"We had a business circling around for a long time and we want it desperately to land and I worked really hard to get it to land and it didn't. That was the best part of 50 jobs.

"I feel that it's been a pretty good year but just that extra new business or a current business growing even bigger just hasn't quite landed and that's my biggest frustration.

"That would be the icing on the cake. If I got that I'd give myself an A- but at the moment I'd give myself probably a B+, which is what I got at university anyway."