Who will you choose?

It’s a two-man race for Waitaki District Mayor, with existing mayor Gary Kircher running for a fourth term, while second-time candidate Paul Mutch puts his hat into the ring again, following an unsuccessful bid in 2019. The Oamaru Mail put a selection of questions to both men, and here are their responses. Voting opens today.


Age: 58
Occupation: Mayor
Background and family: Married to Kerry and living in Weston. We have adult children and young grandchildren
Hobbies: Football (while I still can), photography, building

Q Why do you want to be Mayor?

With three terms under my belt, I am as passionate about Waitaki and serving our community as I have ever been! Local government is going through massive change, driven by central government — changes which I have been working on closely. This is a time for stability and consistency, which I bring, and I’m keen to continue working hard to ensure Waitaki is well placed to make the most of the reforms, challenges and opportunities.

Q With the local tourism industry taking a battering due to Covid-19, as it bounces back do we aim to restore the status quo? Or is there a better way forward?

 The focus is on increasing the value of tourism — managing the numbers and maximising the economic and social benefit for our district and our people. We should not be seeking ‘‘bums-on-seats’’ at the cost of our environment or community wellbeing, but we have much to share with visitors who want to have a great experience while they are here. With the pending decision from education-based Unesco as to whether the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark will become an accredited geopark, we have the opportunity to do for Waitaki what Dark Skies accreditation has done for the Mackenzie district. It will enable us to tell our stories — Maori, European, geological, social and environmental. And not just to visitors but importantly to our own people! Done well, the geopark will become a flagship for Waitaki and our people, giving us a significant point of difference from any other district in Australasia and adding major value to our tourism offering. It will be a compelling reason for more people to come here and to stay longer.

Q The rural sector is the lifeblood of the Waitaki district and feeds our economy. is enough being done to support our local primary industries as they face numerous legislative changes?

Agriculture is, and will likely always be, the primary industry in Waitaki’s economy. It is one of my greatest concerns that councils have to walk a difficult line as they carry out their regulatory role around district planning rules aimed at protecting the environment, while at the same time being good servants of their communities. We are working on that, seeking a better balance appropriate for our district, with rules that protect what is important and permit land-owners to enjoy their property. Central government’s approach to ‘‘one-size-fits-all’’ legislation all too often fails to take into account local conditions. I want to see us continue to push back on overly-restrictive rules as we work with communities and regional councils to improve the quality of our waterways, and our biodiversity.

Q With you as mayor, what changes for the better can ratepayers expect to see in the Waitaki before the next election rolls around?

The past three years have seen important progress developing strategies and policies to drive the direction of council and its staff. This leads into the transformation of council itself, a programme of improvement to make the Waitaki District Council an organisation that our community is proud of.

It will deliver better services, more seamlessly and co› ordinated than it ever has before. It will be a bottom›up transformation that will improve efficiency and prepare the council for the future for local government which will bring greater decision›making to our community, along with greater funding from central government.

It will be largely through this work that the council will deliver better quality services and improvements to Waitaki, including greater opportunities for social and community housing, better healthcare, better employment opportunities, more targeted social services, and a thriving economy that is more inclusive.

While many of these words could be seen to be simply rhetoric at this stage, it is a process that we have been working on for the past two years and which has accelerated over the past 12 months.

We will see the events centre completed, with a quality facility that provides greater opportunities for our people, especially our youngsters, to thrive in a wide range of sports and activities that this new environment will provide.

I want to see our hospital properly funded and providing services that every other community of our size is envious of, and that connects well with all other aspects of healthcare to benefit everyone.

Within three years, we will have implemented our economic development strategy and it will be delivering benefits to our communities throughout Waitaki, helping lift average wages and improving our quality of life.

The future is challenging, but it is full of opportunities for districts which are prepared to make the most of them!


Age: 71
Occupation: Retired business director and farmer
Background and family: Married to my wife, Robin, with four children and 12 grandchildren. My working life has centered around land use planning, designing and building infrastructure. I have great enthusiasm for citizenship and volunteers projects, having served with the Agricultural and Pastoral Association, Field Days, NZ Environmental Awards, local NZ Deer Farmers Association, Woodturners, Duncback water scheme, Riding for the Disabled.
Hobbies: Tramping, canoeing, music, gardening

Q Why do you want to be Mayor?

I can productively benefit the outcomes for our community by bringing to council the unique experience gained from both my working life and volunteerism. My experience is grounded in organising teamwork and applying myself directly to the tasks at hand. I add value through creating connections: networking with professional expertise and local organisations. I have consistently demonstrated many years of authentic commitment to our community.

Q With the local tourism industry taking a battering due to Covid-19, as it bounces back do we aim to restore the status quo? Or is there a better way forward?

Tourism will continue to attract visitors to our natural beauty, unique geological features, wildlife and heritage architecture. Here is our chance to lead the way in social responses, enterprise, education and environment. The world is desperately seeking solutions to advance the way we live and connect with the place we have created. Tourism of the future will have a constructive emphasis and our people will demonstrate innovation and flair. Waitakians are a diverse and vibrant group who will grow to meet this challenge.

Q The rural sector is the lifeblood of the Waitaki district and feeds our economy. is enough being done to support our local primary industries as they face numerous legislative changes?

It is essential that council becomes more familiar with the agricultural industry markets, technologies and legislation. Change is a constant and today the pressure for it has never been greater. I chaired WWAG (WorldWide Agriculture), a forum drawing on the expertise of the most respected research scientists, field practitioners, marketers and producers. From this I have established relationships with those people whom we will draw on to provide the science and insights necessary. As president of Otago Field Days, I have steered our investments and energies into the development of a land use forum called Ruru (Resource Use. Research Update.). The purpose of Ruru is to deliver valuable insights and provide crucial information to our rural communities. Further investment has been made into a farm shed environment to enable conversation within an accessible informal environment. Both a lack of information and misinformation is causing needless stress to our communities and my council will regard this as a high priority.

Q With you as mayor, what changes for the better can ratepayers expect to see in the Waitaki before the next election rolls around?

 I will introduce an induction programme with evaluation procedures for all councillors, that enable delivery of professional and workable solutions. These are the formats that developers, planners, bankers and valuers use for pragmatic assessments to determine whether a project is worth investing valuable time and resources in.

We must use constructive frameworks that build a coherent picture of the tasks at hand and facilitate desired outcomes. This will be truly transformative. Through this, council will save millions of dollars ($2.2 million for 2021, $4.5 million set aside for the future) in consultancy fees and reduce wasted time with the lengthy delays generated from endless discussions that ensue from these documents.

Mayor and councillors will now be able to provide more guidance rather than defer to a CEO, who in turn defers to consultants, who in turn provide information which needs to be interpreted by management staff, who in turn seek clarity from mayor and councillors. This is simply too unproductive, incoherent and clumsy.

There will also be more transparency and less secret meetings. Last year, at least 32 items were discussed in secret. All of this affects community morale. I will also pursue proven, efficient procedures for the procurement of core services that deliver prompt, sound and less costly outcomes. Believe me, I am committed to delivering more performance at less cost. Council must operate profitably and with integrity. This will provide the foundation for ratepayers and investors to have confidence and build a dynamic new economy.