If ever there was a career path that would give you exposure to all the skills needed to be a fine local government Chief Executive, it would be Harry’s. Having worked across environmental management, infrastructure and social services, Harry sees his new role as ‘coming home’.
Harry’s passion to see his council as part of the community with a genuine partnership between council and community is truly inspiring.
We sat down with Harry Wilson, recently appointed Chief Executive at South Wairarapa District Council who shared what his priorities are for the role, what he thinks some of the biggest challenges facing local government are and what he loves most about his new home town of Martinborough:
Tell us about your career – what do you do prior to being CE at South Wairarapa District Council?
My career started out working for the NGO, IHC. I was then employed by the Department of Social Welfare originally in the area of Disability Policy as a Policy Analyst. That morphed into working for what was formerly Child Youth and Family (now Oranga Tamariki) which then morphed into leading child protection for about 10 years. I ended up as the Child Policy Manager at Child Youth and Family.
For family reasons I wanted to relocate to Hamilton so I applied for a job at Waikato Regional Council and started in the regulatory side. After five years there I was appointed as Chief Executive where I spent the next five years.
I then moved on to the NZTA as the Regional Director for Waikato and Bay of Plenty where I spent the next 10 years. Coming back to the sector where many of my early colleagues were still alive and kicking, was a bit like coming home which is great.
So the initial years of my career NGO, then into Central Government then working in social services – not many people would have experience in each of these areas and they all come together well in my current role – you have the environmental management, infrastructure and social services – so if you look at the four well-beings, through my diverse background I’m basically ticked all of them off”.
What are your priorities for the role?
I’ll answer this in two ways – firstly, a lot of my career has been influencing policy or influencing regulatory settings in a number of different ways and I’ve never actually been part of a community.
Secondly, why am I here? I wanted to make a choice around where I wanted to live and the South Wairarapa is such a wonderful place to live.
One of my priorities for the role is to make the council part of the community. We want to be seen as adding value to people and businesses so there’s a genuine partnership between the council and the community trying to achieve the community’s aspirations.
So there’s a link between my personal motivations and career aspirations and wanting to be a part of something I can be proud of.
My aspiration is that the community see the council as a willing partner, a trusted adviser and a supporter of the four wellbeings that the community aspires to and that the reputation of the council is seen as adding a value.
Why are professional organisations like SOLGM important for the sector?
Developing the capability of leadership and management in local government is crucial to the success of the sector. Having SOLGM focus on the issues at the management and executive level of local government is crucial since Local Government New Zealand supports the aspirations of elected members. So something to work on is local government capability and it is a challenging environment so professional support and networking are two crucial things.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing local government at the moment?
I think the future of agriculture and climate change and the links between zero carbon targets are the biggest challenges.
New Zealand’s economy is based on commodities and largely on agricultural and forestry and that is due to change – some for the positive - with forestry in terms of zero carbon and how agriculture will impact the environment. That will, in small communities like ours, change things as it’s what our rural economy is based on.
Understanding the environmental need and the drivers for change and how that change is actually managed with our agricultural producers is most significant thing that local government will have to adapt to.
What do you enjoy most about working in local government?
Being local. Being part of a community. Being able to listen to the issues and concerns that individual citizens and members of our community have and being able to help them and being able to respond; and that goes from the high level matters like managing growth and providing infrastructure right down to the day to day concerns like is their rubbish being collected on time. Local people have local issues and we need to be able to respond.
And last but not least, what do you think of Martinborough so far?
How hard is it to live in paradise? That’s my answer!
The South Wairarapa has three towns: Featherston, Greytown and Martinborough and they are all marvellous towns. Apart from that South Wairarapa has a large hinterland with undisturbed coasts, large remote areas and it’s just an unbelievably beautiful place to live, which is one of the reasons I chose to come here. Where better than here to have a nice meal and wine but also the ability to get out and roam around the countryside and go for walks, go fishing? It’s just a magnificent part of the world!