Although Hamish McDouall won back his mayoralty with ease, retaining the position unopposed, the time since has been the opposite as the mayor has been kept busy in what he describes as an "absolutely crazy" three weeks of preparation for his second term. McDouall sat down with reporter Abe Leach to discuss the current state of the council and district, and the future of Whanganui.
The mayor has yet to meet with all 12 councillors, but said inductions had begun and were running differently to what the previous council experienced in 2016.
It was a time when divisiveness was present among councillors around Whanganui's wastewater treatment plant.
"Last time we didn't have much of an induction because it was straight into trench warfare, so it's quite good to be able to settle down and get some collective agreement about behaviours and how we're going to operate," McDouall said.
"It's [a] slightly younger and slightly more diverse [council] and that's a good start.
"I've made no secret that I wouldn't have minded more diversity, and the lack of an iwi voice around the table is so blindingly obvious to me.
"But what we've got is a lot of experience; we've got two newbies while last council we had seven newbies and then we had three others who had only been on for one term."
McDouall said having a significant amount of experience presents opportunities to retain or change the structure of council.
Ten of Whanganui's 12 councillors stood for re-election and successfully retained their positions. New faces at the council table are James Barron and Brent Crossan.
At Thursday's council meeting, McDouall named Jenny Duncan as deputy mayor, retaining the position she held for the previous three years.
"She's really proved her worth last year when we had the gang shooting," McDouall said.
"[Council] had someone experienced who could handle quite intense media pressure.
"And she just effortlessly filled in for me when my father died. She's not the most vocal person around the table but she's solid, she's always got my back."
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McDouall will name committee chair positions at a council meeting on November 19. The appointments will be reviewed in July 2021 following the review of the long term plan.
"It might be that some councillors aren't going to stand again so maybe that's time to look at bringing through some of the young ones.
"Josh [Chandulal-Mackay] and Hadleigh [Reid] both got massive endorsements with their votes so we really have to look at their futures because they're both young enough to contribute for a long time."
Looking back at what aspects of the district were progressed over the last three years, the mayor highlights upgrades to infrastructure, successful funding applications and improvements to democracy as standouts.
"Getting the wastewater treatment plant over the line was really important to me and to the city, and I think it's proved in hindsight to be the right decision.
"Another achievement is trying to open up the democratic process to people. Obviously the live streaming has helped, the public engagement forum at the beginning of meetings, and I've put out the mayor's report.
"If [a meeting] is confidential then it's really in confidential for a reason. There's nothing happening behind closed doors that shouldn't be and it's really just commercial sensitivity and private information."
Although McDouall believes an iwi voice is lacking at the council table, he said providing support to iwi was another achievement.
"Council has been very overt about its support for the treaty settlement process and supporting Whanganui iwi towards that.
"It could've been divisive but everyone recognises that we're all running after this Provincial Growth Fund money; in fact, the Treaty settlement is likely to be well beyond any amount of money we can get out of the Provincial Growth Fund and it's coming in to Whanganui.
"It's government money and it's fantastic."
When it comes to Whanganui's population and median house prices, McDouall indicated more work is needed to facilitate and capitalise on the increases. It's a boom he said no one could've foreseen.
"I didn't see it and I was sitting around the council table as deputy mayor.
"It happened very quickly over a period of two or three months, and a lot of that was [former mayor] Annette [Main] who worked very hard on the reputation of Whanganui.
"Since then, particularly in the last two years, the population has just exploded."
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Figures from the 2018 census show Whanganui's population increased by 7.5 per cent to 45,309 people since the previous census in 2013. However, more recent Statistics NZ data estimates Whanganui's population at around 47,300 residents.
McDouall acknowledged it's the type of growth that brings challenges.
"While our population has risen, only 2.4 per cent more dwellings have been built so there's a lag and that's why people on the margins have been pushed out of rental accommodation," he said.
"That's why we brought the housing strategy forward because we need to put an action plan in place.
"Council can only pull three or four levers. Central government and developers have other levels they can pull."
McDouall said Whanganui is limited with where it can expand, and referred to rich soils in Brunswick which he believes should never be designated for housing.
"It means a lot of infill and looking at different ways we can house our residents."
Considering what type of city Whanganui can be, how many people it can hold, and highlighting the city's points of difference is a focus for McDouall heading into his second term.
"We do have to get on to something, whether that's making a stronger connection to the [council's] leading edge strategy, giving it teeth and clear timelines, or to actually go out to the public and ask where do they want Whanganui to be.
"We've probably got the best arts and sports facilities of any regional city in New Zealand.
"We've got our heritage buildings, we've got a stable workforce, we've got the river, and we've got incredible soil where you can grow anything.
"They're our points of difference so let's grab those."
Working with Horizons Regional Council to improve Whanganui's public transport is another focus, alongside more work to enable the council to properly acknowledge climate change.
"That's one of the things I was disappointed we didn't get across in the last term.
"I really wanted a dedicated climate change officer who can run a lens across all council decisions that impact on climate change, as well as looking at our own process."
Embarking on his second term at the helm, McDouall is unsure whether he'll seek re-election.
"I don't want to get stale on the job and I think you can get stale if you stay too long, and I've got other things I want to do in my life.
"Equally, there are a couple of things that I think I'm the best person to squire through, and I'd really like to be making sure they get through.
"I don't see legacy as bricks and mortar, and a big statue of me on the corner. I see it as actually getting things across the line that will be good for Whanganui."