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He’s laying a marker down

Carterton Mayor Ron Mark speaks to Local Focus reporter Ellie Franco about the trials and tribulations of leading a regional council.

How’s it been as mayor of Carterton so far?

Crazy but cool. There are major challenges from central government – major financial challenges. The economy’s in trouble. We’re in the result of that.

All of these decisions around the emissions trading scheme [ETS] – you know, the government can say what it likes about wanting to hit goals and objectives set by government officials and ministers outside of the border of New Zealand. But the cost is borne here, and it’s not just beating the farmers in the guts. Anyone who goes down with a trailer-load of rubbish to the Carterton transfer station is now going to have to pay for ETS stuff. People can want, want, want, want, but nothing’s free.

If you want to change the climate – because, you, know New Zealand contributes 0.2 per cent of the CO2 emissions on the planet – by levering and taxing New Zealanders, then get ready, because that’s you, you’re a New Zealander. And you’re going to pay it through your taxes and you’re going to pay it through your rates. And that’s the reality because that’s what you want.

I’m only a public servant. My council, we’re all public servants. If that’s what people want, that’s what they get.

You know, one of my foster mothers said to me, “be careful what you wish for, Ronnie; you just might get it”. Well, that applies to ratepayers and voters and taxpayers, too. You vote for policies that have a financial consequence; now you pay the piper. And my job, as per election promises, is to try and keep those costs as low as I can for ratepayers and to make them justifiable. But hey, you know, I didn’t impose the ETS. I’m just now passing it on, and that’s reality.

The great thing about it is I’ve also got a solution for those people who don’t want to pay those ETS fees at the rubbish dump or the transfer station. Recycle – damn well recycle!

If I can get down to one rubbish bag every four months, with no wheelie bin, between me and my partner Chris, then you can too. Now that we’re recycling soft plastics at Carterton, if I can get down to one rubbish bag a year, you can too.

Tell us about why Wings Over Wairarapa was cancelled and what that involved?

It was a hard decision to make, and there were a few tears after that decision because it’d been two years’ worth of work on the back of completely restructuring the organisation.

We had personnel changes – some people decided they were finished, they wanted to go and do other things, and some people moved out of the area. And Bob Francis, who’d been such a stalwart for so many years as chairman and did a brilliant job, he decided it was time to pass the baton, and he passed it to me.

So we did all that stuff, and then we worked to create Wings ’23, and then Cyclone Gabriel hit.

You could not look north to our neighbours and not feel a degree of sadness for them, and I think the board felt it was inappropriate given everything else happening.

When you looked at the wonderful contribution being made by the Defence Force up there, it was pretty hard to justify pulling people out or making it more challenging for the Chief of Defence Force.

I’m the former Minister of Defence, I know what they’re doing. I got a great sense of satisfaction seeing ships that I had rebuilt or purchased and introduced into service, deployed, doing exactly what I predicted they would have to be doing. Seeing the NH90, seeing the three squadron working, knowing what’s going on at Joint Force headquarters. It’s a bit of a no-brainer. And as much as it hurt us, it was the right thing to do.

It was hard. My partner Chris is the operations manager – she worked her guts out. We were on stream to have a fantastic Take Flight programme where we’d bring in all secondary schools and all the schools throughout the whole of Wairarapa. And so now we’ve scanned the calendar and done our numbers and prayed to the weather gods. And I’ll go to church and pray for good weather please. And we’ll go 24, 25, 26 November. And we’ll use that time to build up our resources and make the event even better still.

I’m a bit worried because it’s the time when the secondary school term’s pretty much over, and so the people we really wanted to draw in to Take Flight are those young people who are looking for careers in aviation.

The great thing about the aviation aerospace sector is there’s so much opportunity. And I think sometimes young people might feel that they couldn’t do it, that it’s not an area they can get into. Damn hell, they can do anything they want to do – seriously!

The world is there for young people. They just need to be exposed to those opportunities; see what’s available; get to talk to people in that sector and hear their life story and how their career started and where they went, how it progressed, and what international opportunities lie there for them. Take Flight, our STEM programme, does all that.

A lot of what you’ve talked about dealing with could be pretty demoralising. What’s your advice to people who are going through challenging times? What keeps you showing up to work?

My practical advice to people is use your vote in October wisely – don’t make my life hell, because that’s what it’s been. The previous chief executive created issues, and the previous management of Carterton created issues. That’s the only reason I’m here as the mayor. I mean to fix things and clean it up.

We’ve got a CE whom I have a high level of confidence in. We have a good management team whom I have a high level of confidence in. Left to ourselves, we can do that – if the government would just piss off and leave us alone and stop dumping stuff on us. And if they’re going to dump stuff on us, give us the money to do it.

I know we’re in difficult times, right? It’s not all doom and gloom. And we live in a beautiful place. And when the sun is shining, it’s fantastic, you know? And we are a strong community and we look after each other. And that’s what’s going to carry us through.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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