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Leading through adversity

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen, left, Carterton Mayor Greg Lang, and Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson. PHOTO/FILE

As covid-19 presents challenges to Wairarapa, council leaders have fronted the battle locally. Midweek reporter LISA URBANI delves deep to see what makes them tick.

Carterton Mayor Greg Lang says we should turn “challenges into opportunities.”

Despite the uncertainty of covid-19, he is committed to helping the people of the Carterton district through this difficult time, using his influence as mayor.

“I am in a privileged position, I can utilise information in a positive way, and make things happen.”

Greg is a man of action, and for Carterton, one of the challenges would be to “reboot the central business district”, working with building owners and businesses addressing earth-quake prone regulations.

A mayoral task force would address the economic covid-19 recovery plans, and to this end, discussions are being held with businesses to find out what problems they are facing, and what their needs are.

This involves a lot of talking and meetings, but his love of triathlons has given him the discipline to persevere.

Just before the lockdown in March, he had completed his fourth New Zealand Ironman, reaching a personal best time, and a good result in his age group.

He is not one to let the grass grow under his feet.

Once settled in Gladstone in 1994, where he lives and runs his wheelwright and carriage building business with his wife Ali, Greg set about making his “investment” in his community.

Becoming involved in promoting the Gladstone area was the first step, and Greg was instrumental  in the organisation of the annual Scarecrow Festival.

Later, he served as a councillor for Carterton and then ran for mayor.

Despite the fact that a Carterton council staff member was the first person to be affected by the coronavirus in Wairarapa, Greg said that the management team had handled it well because they already had a pandemic plan in place, and he praised them as “a great team to work with.”

Greg says believing in yourself is the key to good leadership.

He has great admiration for Gary Riddell, a “great leader”, who has worked tirelessly and selflessly on the Gladstone Sports and Social Complex.

He also marvelled at how New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has led the country through difficult times.

For him the “biggest joy is to give joy”, and in serving his community as mayor, he said that “the residents of Carterton district had been fantastic in supporting the covid-19 instructions” and he hoped that as Wairarapa moved through the levels, everyone would think local and support Wairarapa businesses.

Lyn Patterson

Lyn Patterson has been serving Masterton in her capacity as mayor for two terms and is on her third.

Before that she was a councillor for two terms, a total of 12 and a half years.

She is motivated by the belief that, “your working week takes up a good part of your life, and you must enjoy it”.

“Working in the public sector, you can have a say in making a difference.”

Her life experience has been varied, a stint in nursing, factory, and cleaning work, and gaining her chartered accountancy qualification – while raising her two children – which she then put to good use, working in the financial sector, mainly for not-for-profit organisations.

Accounting training has stood her in good stead in understanding council budgets, but Lyn’s focus in on the people of Masterton.

Although she says water and roads are very important to a community, it is looking after people that counts the most, and she is proud of the commitment made to people by means of the council’s ‘Well-being Strategy’, which focused on the social, economic, environmental, and cultural aspects of Masterton.

“Our council was one of the first to have an iwi representative, it was a brave decision, but it was important to have all the voices at the table.”

She has learned that compromise is the name of the game in her role as mayor.

“Someone told me you have to ‘be prepared to lose a battle to win a war’.

“Sometimes things don’t go the way you want, but that is democracy in action.

“To date I have never had to forsake my own values.”

Acknowledging that she has learned from her mistakes too and sees them as an opportunity for personal growth, Lyn says she admires the willingness of people in the community to volunteer and serve on the many different organisations in Masterton.

Recovery from the repercussions of covid-19 is at the forefront of the council’s agenda, with meetings every second day, and engagement with all sectors – be they sport, businesses or not-for-profit organisations – to assess the needs.

They are “working on a ‘Wairarapa Recovery Plan’ with a focus and energy on support in a targeted way”.

Having spent three years in Newcastle, Kwa Zulu Natal, in South Africa working as a financial adviser to the municipality, Lyn developed a great respect for South African leader Nelson Mandela, whose example of compassion and leadership were an inspiration worldwide.

In her precious free time she enjoys reading biographies to learn from other people’s experiences, but she and husband Phil are most looking forward to being able to see their three grandchildren, who live in Porirua, once travel to other regions is possible.

Alex Beijen

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen “took a bit of a punt and threw my hat in the ring”, when he stepped forward to run for mayor in the district.

He had not been a councillor – the traditional path to the mayoralty – and so it was a bold strategy that paid off, in part because he made the time to meet and greet his potential constituents, and get the lay of the land.

His message of “transparency in local government” also resonated with voters.

“People need to understand the information, they can’t comprehend it if it is kept secret, and they have a right to know what is going on.”

Using his background in business studies, he felt it was important to “be practical in deciding what must be done in the region, and then working out how to pay for it”.

“We need to be open and make sensible decisions and explain why we made them – communication is very important.”

He also wanted to hold councillors to a high standard of openness, but said the public also needed to work with the council in a co-operative manner.

There seemed to be an impression that council staff were too prescriptive, when they were simply doing their job and were bound by law to follow regulations.

Alex was originally from Christchurch, but his wife Julie, was born in Martinborough, and they have raised their family in Wairarapa, so their roots are firmly planted here for the foreseeable future.

With a Bachelor of Commerce degree and experience in property valuation and management, Alex will be keeping an eye on how the housing market will be affected by the expected economic fallout from covid-19.

However, as he pointed out, there had been a 22 per cent increase in property prices earlier in the year, so the district could probably cope with some adjustments.

The important thing was to make sure that “people most affected by the coronavirus – the elderly and vulnerable – would be supported”, as he predicted that there might be after-effects of the virus for years to come.

Real leadership would be required post-covid-19, and in terms of leaders he admired, he cited Helen Clarke and Jenny Shipley for the fact that they “broke barriers as female leaders in a male dominated area at that time and coped with a society in massive change”.

“And hindsight showed that, in general, they did a good job.”

For the most part, he was glad that “everyone was doing amazingly well” and he hoped that “everyone would be tolerant of opinions and accepting of differences, since we are living in a complex world”.

“If we could be forgiving, we would have a better society.”

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