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Waitaki District Council chief executive Fergus Power leaves his post today, after four years in charge. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

When Fergus Power walks out of his office today, it will be for the final time.

The Waitaki District Council chief executive is stepping down after four years at the helm of the council.

“It’s still not real for me. I think it’ll be real for me on Thursday afternoon,” Mr Power told the Oamaru Mail this week.

After spending three years in charge of the Wairoa District Council, Mr Power was looking for a change and was attracted to Waitaki as it was “soaked” in heritage.

The district had a richness of intertwining stories, leading him to pick up the work started 20 years ago by Vanished World to establish the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark.

The Geopark concept, he believed, was based upon those intertwining stories, and landowners taking pride in their land, wanting to protect and preserve it.

Despite some public push-back, he was extremely proud of the district’s application to attain Unesco global geopark status.

It was a project the entire district would benefit from, but it was now up to the community to decide how successful its future was, he said.

While it was a project close to his heart, he acknowledged those who did not want the council to support it.

“I think the answer to that is for them to just spend a little time actually learning about it.

“There’s really not much of an excuse for people not understanding what it is.”

Mr Power was proud of his focus on heritage from the start, elevating the position of heritage, planning and regulatory group manager to the executive team on his arrival.

That led to a raft of internal promotions – ”I’ve literally lost count of the number” – and had helped establish a sense of career progression at the council.

Watching Oamaru Airport become home to ground-breaking projects in Dawn Aerospace and the New Zealand Airline Academy was also a highlight, he said.

Mr Power was responsible for luring Rocket Lab to Wairoa during his tenure, and believed Dawn Aerospace had similar potential in Waitaki.

“If [Dawn Aerospace’s] audaciousness pays off, they’re going to .. show the rest of the world how it’s done.”

The New Zealand Airline Academy winning an AirAsia India contract was a “real success story’, as was the company’s growth to have 11 aircraft in Oamaru. Covid-19 was challenging for the academy, but the pandemic would pass, and he believed it had a bright future and wished them the best.

The Waitaki District Council punched well above its weight, and he was proud of the development of the communications team, and the introduction of an internship programme for international students.

“It was a really positive programme and it would be wonderful to see that re-energised once Covid-19 is put to be bed.”

He cited Covid-19 as his biggest challenge, and a once-in-a-lifetime struggle for the council.

However, 95% of the council’s staff were able to remain working during lockdown, many redeployed to other roles, and the council came out the other side well.

Abuse towards council staff had reached unacceptable levels, forcing him to introduce the use of body cameras and remote panic alarms for officers.

While the council had faced some criticism for the move, Mr Power made no apologies.

“The most important thing is that people actually return home safely at the end of the day.

“There’s never an excuse for abuse. Everybody should feel safe in their place of work.”

As he prepared to pack his bags and move to Thailand with his wife, Tri, he looked back over his time with a sense of pride.

There was one thing he was most proud of – his staff.

“I have had the good fortune of having a fantastic executive leadership team to support me during the past few years.

“I thank the mayor and councillors for their faith in me . and all of my staff. This district is blessed to be served by a highly capable team of officers will follow the district’s increasingly bright future with ongoing interest.”