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October 12 came and went without too much fanfare, not the least because the council was rather preoccupied with the aftermath of the Ohau fire. But the date marked one year on from the local body election.

It’s fair to say the past 12 months have been very busy – and just a wee bit challenging – with our regular workload and also a few unplanned events.

One of my focuses for our governance team has been to improve the standard of leadership we give to the council’s CEO and his staff, as well as working more closely with our community to develop our direction and engagement.

I have written relatively recently about some aspects of this, but here’s a brief recap of the steps we have taken to lift our governance responsibilities.

As a team, we have spent more time than ever working on our strategic direction and priorities, which has resulted in a graphic which will show council staff where we want to get to and clarify to our Waitaki community the things we believe are important as we take the district forward during this term.

We have also turned the focus on ourselves to determine where our collective skills lie, and how we can improve as a group and individually.

A full governance review has helped us better understand how we can work together better for the benefit of the district. We have also been going through a full review of our processes, with CouncilMARK assessing how well we link our decisions and actions to our vision and strategic priorities, and how well our council team members carry out their roles, both internally and externally.

All of this assessment will help tell us what we are doing well and will be very helpful in telling us where there are gaps and opportunities for improvement.

Of course, there continues to be a large amount of work happening in our other day-to-day business, which I believe is generally heading in a positive direction. That work includes such projects as the harbour plan, the roads speed limit review, the district plan review and so on.

As for unplanned events . . .

The past year has given us some of the greatest hurdles Waitaki has ever faced – Covid-19, the Ohau fire, the Livingstone fire and, within local government, the three waters debate.

Each has brought its own challenges and the impacts of each will be felt for years to come.

When it comes to the scale of them combined, I would say they have collectively caused the last year to be the most significant for our district for many years.

One of the greatest challenges we will face as a country, and on a global scale, is understandably Covid-19.

During the national lockdown, life changed significantly for many people. Even essential workers didn’t get off lightly, with changes to how their families operated, changes in how they did their jobs and numerous other challenges.

Many people have lost businesses, jobs, even homes. And sadly, lives were lost.

The Ohau fire would have to be our second largest challenge. Reportedly, it is the biggest fire for the destruction of property in New Zealand’s history.

More than 5000ha burned, 46 homes destroyed and another 15 damaged.

Of course, we are all so very grateful no-one was harmed during the fire. No residents, no holidaymakers and none of our magnificent firefighters. That record is miraculous, as it could have so easily been different.

But the destruction means homes will have to be rebuilt and further improvements made to protect a community that was already very fire-conscious.

That work will go on for years and it is possible the trauma of the fire that fateful night of October 4 will stay with those involved for years.

In each of these challenges, I continue to be proud of how well our Waitaki community stepped up.

Covid-19 was kept out of our district because so many of us did what we had to in order to keep ourselves and others safe. That war on Covid hasn’t been won yet, but we have faced the biggest battle and we came through it brilliantly.

Equally, the stories of heroism that came out of the Ohau fire have been amazing, and the stoicism of that community is most humbling. They love their piece of paradise and most will rebuild as soon as possible.

The past 12 months has been huge and for our team of councillors and myself, it has been demanding.

But like the rest of Waitaki, we love our place, and we will continue to work hard to make Waitaki the best place to be.