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New CE finds ‘perfect’ job

New South Wairarapa District Council chief executive Harry Wilson. PHOTO/STEVE RENDLE

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Harry Wilson has been chief executive of South Wairarapa District Council for about five weeks – but says every day still feels like a holiday.

Given the challenges facing the council, primarily in sorting out a long-term solution to Martinborough’s drinking water issues after two E.coli contamination incidents this year, that is a bright outlook.

“This is just a lovely place,” he said after his first official council meeting this week, on a perfect winter’s day.

Wilson joins the council after 10 years in different management roles with the New Zealand Transport Agency, and before that, time as chief executive of Waikato Regional Council.

His NZTA roles meant a lot of commuting to Wellington for meetings.

“I’ve spent a large part of my career on planes,” he said.

“It’s actually really nice to live in a town where I’m working. And this is just such a lovely part of New Zealand.

“I grew up as a rural guy, in Whanganui, and was living in Foxton Beach – I like small towns.”

He was NZTA’s regional director for Waikato and Bay of Plenty at a time of record investment by the crown in the likes of expressways, and also worked extensively in freight.

The yellow “H” sign on the front and rear of trucks, signifying long or heavy vehicles are permitted to operate on state highways was one of his projects.

“I do joke that it was H for Harry. But that was a huge lift for the freight industry.”

Wilson said the move to Martinborough came at the right time.

“Every 10 years I’ve switched careers – it was time to start thinking about something different,” he said. “I had a bit of a health issue, a little heart scare, and I thought it was time to de-tune, travel less.

“It was time to start focusing on the next 10 years.

“I looked around and when this job came up I thought ‘perfect’.”

A key attraction was being close to the community he was working in.

“The job’s all those things that I really enjoy,” he said. “It’s a small community – it’s one of those places you can get to know everyone and that’s really great. It’s got the large rural areas as well as the towns.

“Most importantly, I wanted to feel a part of something.

“Here, you can be a part of something as opposed to be apart from it.”

Wilson says there are strong connections between his regional council experience and his new role.

“I started as regulatory manager for the regional council – that was consents,” he said.

“I was brought into that role without local body experience, deliberately, because they wanted someone who could translate that tough edge of why you regulate, why the rules are in place, but also help people be successful in their business. Traversing that line is a critical thing.”

That experience, he says, will serve him well, particularly in relation to the council’s plans to irrigate Featherston wastewater to land.

“Things like the Featherston wastewater system, I’ve been the person who has granted consents for those types of activities, so it’s useful to know how both ends of the spectrum work – the council’s role as an applicant, but also what the regulator needs in terms of information.

“So, I’m hoping I’m bringing that to the table.”

Wilson says he has been well-briefed by acting chief executive Jennie Mitchell.

“I came in with my eyes open.”

That was clear at his first official meeting as chief executive when the issue of “consultation” over plans to move to permanent chlorination of Martinborugh’s water came up.

While Mayor Viv Napier had told the community there would be consultation before such a move, Wilson was clear on what that could entail.

A manganese removal plant is required before chlorination can take place as the combination can turn water black.

“The range of options you have trying to find an alternative water supply that is not going to have manganese is very small,” he said.

“We’re better to make sure that by Christmas we have a safe, secure, clean water supply for our community.

“With chlorination, we aren’t the experts in that area, it is public health. Why would we even try to second guess the advice we get from the Department of Health?”

But Wilson says the intended consultation or “engagement” with the community over the issue is genuine.

“The whole purpose of our engagement is to talk to the community. Because communities like this have a lot of people who have qualifications like master’s degrees in science and are connected internationally, not just nationally.

“If someone has ideas, we want to hear from them.”

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