The Nelson City Council's new chief executive, Clare Hadley, is not even here yet, but appears to have a firm grip on what makes the place tick.
The local government professional, who has been immersed in the sector for two decades, will soon be leaving her job as chief executive of the Rangitikei District Council to take over the NCC's top management job.
Mrs Hadley said she was grateful for the opportunity to rekindle her aim of coming here so soon after she first toyed with the idea in 2008.
"I saw the job advertised when Keith Marshall was appointed, and I thought Nelson would be a dream location, but it wasn't the right time.
"Then I saw it advertised again and I thought, ‘I'd really like to go there'. I had a very strong sense of determination and diligence, and I gave it my best."
Mrs Hadley was appointed from a field of 56 applicants from around New Zealand and overseas, and after a unanimous decision by councillors.
She has previously worked at the Palmerston North City Council, as general manager of community and commercial services, and as economic development manager at the Hutt City Council. She has also worked in managerial roles for the Porirua and Dunedin city councils.
She moved around the country too often as a child to lay claim to any "home town", but describes herself wholeheartedly as an "Otago person".
Mrs Hadley has visited Nelson "infrequently" over the years. Her desire to move here was driven by a number of factors around the nature of the job and Nelson itself, as well as a sister who lives in Tasman district, and nieces and nephews she is looking forward to spending more time with.
She said Nelson was not only an attractive place, but imparted a strong sense of community.
"It has a strong sense of knowing who it is. It's a beautiful place, not just geographically, but in the sense of how the community comes together and is active on issues."
She was impressed by the level of community engagement in recent council matters, particularly the dog control policy and bylaw and long term plan consultation.
Mrs Hadley said Nelson was one of the first places she and her husband brought their family on holiday when they returned from overseas.
She acknowledged the support of her husband, who is coming here with no concrete job plans. Their four young adult children are now occupied elsewhere, including two who are overseas.
"My husband's future is ‘wait and see'. He's very supportive, and I'm very lucky to have that support. It's very difficult to move and accommodate a family and spouse."
Mrs Hadley said she was drawn to local government by its complex dynamics and the intellectual stimulation it provided. She also sounds adept at upholding an apolitical role in a keen political environment.
She said resilience was an important character trait for a council chief executive.
Adapting to central government-driven changes to local government were part of the nature of the job, she said. She was waiting to see the entirety of change from the Government's eight-point reform programme for local government.
The Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill aims to refocus the purpose of local government, introduce financial prudence requirements, strengthen council governance provisions, and streamline council reorganisation procedures.
"Change is something you expect in this sector and you need to be able to constantly adapt.
"It's been made clear that despite the changes, councils have to remain responsive to their communities."
She said amalgamation was a question being asked in many communities, not just Nelson. Answers were needed on whether it would leave local government stronger in cases where councils already had close working relationships with their neighbours.
Mrs Hadley said an initial challenge of the job would be getting used to the complexities of a unitary authority, and its diverse responsibilities.
Nelson city is one of four single-tier local authorities which combine territorial and regional authority functions.
And, if the going gets rough, she can seek respite in the waters off Nelson's beaches.
"I love sea swimming. I feel at peace."
She will take over as CEO on December 17.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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