Meet your Councillors


​Get to know Waitaki's newly elected Councillors a little better in our series of profiles by Lisa Scott:

Kelli Milmine

Super-friendly and very approachable, what possessed Kelli to decide to stand for the Waitaki District Council? “I always wanted to do it,” she says, “and the time finally became right.” After 20 years in the military, starting out as an accounts clerk before changing tack five years later to train as a pilot flying Iroquois (including a couple of overseas tours), then recruiter: there’s not much that would stress her, she admits. One to trust her gut, turns out she was right about the timing; one of the biggest surprises so far being how much she already knows. “I think it helps to have worked in the planning department of Defence Headquarters and having a background in accounting, but I really feel that all my life experience has led to it being the right time for me to do this now.”

Owner/operator of One Agency in Oamaru, married to Darren, who works as an engineer at Top Flite, and mother to 9 year old Fletcher, after living in plenty of spots around the country, Oamaru is the only place that felt like home, she says. Home now too to horses Wilbur, who hails from Birchwood Station in the Ahuriri Valley and Charlie, an ex-trekker, as well as easily-exhausted French bulldog Betty and ‘puppy’ Cash (who has David Bowie eyes, one brown, one bright blue). Her first impressions of life as a councillor? “The reading is huge, and I’m not a big fan of meetings but I have to say I’m loving it.” What else does she love? “I’m passionate about communication. It’s really really hard for the public to ‘get’ what’s happening at council and I want to get the word out about that, and I think our harbour area is a jewel, if we’re going to grow, and you can’t stop growth, let’s make sure we grow the right way. Ultimately, though, it’s not about what I want, it’s about what the community wants”.​

Peter Newton

The beach at Shag Point is where Cr Peter Newton likes to walk 12-year-old Ace, a retired Seeing Eye dog (now part time reading dog at Palmerston primary school). He loves the fact that there’s so much more to the place than first meets the eye. “A lot of people don’t see what’s here until the tide’s low,” ‒ which is when he and Ace enjoy the rock pools and the sheltered quiet of this untouched place. Ace no doubt secretly enjoys time away from the Newton menagerie of two dogs, two sons, cats, rabbits and chickens. Their other dog is a cocker spaniel, which the family took in after Peter’s Mother-in-law had a fall. “She answers to Muppet,” he says, meaning the spaniel. “Not the mother-in-law, who only answers when her (selective) hearing is on”.

Peter and his wife Megan have long been involved in projects that enhance community wellbeing – she’s a teacher and he runs the Palmerston resource recovery centre and is helping set up the community gardens. Does he have a green thumb? Hmmm. To a certain extent, although he’s more about building the structures needed to make things grow. While serving as a councillor he hopes to grow the capabilities of his portfolios, especially waste management and roading, issues that regularly come up on the radar in Waihemo; that and keep the community involved and informed. “It’s all about accountability.”

The time commitment involved in being a councillor requires a family juggling act but his enthusiasm for the next three years is clear. “I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve got a really great team, both in council and on the community boards.” What does he bring? “Openness, transparency, being there to listen … I’m hoping to give a direction for our people in Waihemo so they feel a vital part of Waitaki and bring back a feeling of unity and togetherness." A bit like Ace, he's there to guide the way.​

Bill Kingan

Councillor Bill Kingan feels most comfortable in a paddock, but his second home, apart from council chambers, is the Awamoa Bowling Club, where he is one of their top ten bowlers, not that he’d ever tell you.

“Just like council, all the different personalities come out on a bowling green,” he says. “It can get passionate, you’re arguing for your principles, and I respect that. Thing is to know that if you’re in the minority that you need to take ownership of the decision of the group. Group dynamics are something he’s no stranger to. “One of the advantages of having been born into a big family is that we’d have great debates around the dinner table, mum was the Chair and you’d have to wait to speak.

Having been a farmer, I know about water, pipes, roads, tracks, fences, etc.” and this stalwart rural knowledge goes deep. The land’s in his bones. “And it continues, I’ve got two daughters married to farmers. I get my dose of farming now by visiting, having a look around … and then going away.” He never tries to give advice. “In some ways my father never let go – you’ve got to be able to, everyone needs to learn from their mistakes.

I call myself ‘experienced’ now I’m 70,” he says, putting his youthful appearance down to the fact that he’s been well looked after, “first by my mother, then Shirley.”

Bill and Shirley spent 4 years and 3 months (to be precise) abroad volunteering their agricultural expertise during the 2000s, mostly in Papua New Guinea, where he towered over the Melanesian kids and encountered malaria. A departure from his own childhood growing up at stately Windsor Park the eldest of 7, in a homestead so large he was able to have a new bedroom every 6 months if he chose. He now lives on a lifestyle block at Enfield, ‘sort of’ retired. A voice for farmers on council, he says they definitely need one. “Farmers are actually going through a pretty tough time right now, worrying about what’s in store in the future, with added pressure to look after the waterways.”

Bill can remember what it was like when things in the district weren’t looking quite so positive. Drought for years on end, “my grandfather farmed through the depression, my father had a gun put in his hand and sent away, every generation has tests along the way. We now have 3 grandkids and if I can be involved in making things better for them, that’s great.

It took a bit of time in my first term to figure out what it’s all about, now, knowing the process, I feel I can contribute more.” To know-how he adds perspective, and having worked in a Third World country helps too: “When people talk about potholes, I think, ‘I can tell you about potholes!’”

Hana Halalele

Councillor Hanna Halalele

A colourful dresser and a deep thinker, Cr Hana Halalele spent 18 years at Corrections, helping people one-on-one before moving into government roles designed to help an entire community. After completing her BA, PGDipGrad Social Work she started work as a Probation Officer in Oamaru, coming home to where she was raised by her mum and now raises her own daughters, 11 and 12 and reaching the age of stroppy.

She’s stroppy about Pasifika youth and the wellbeing of our wider youth and community. “We want our youth to stay here and it starts with school. Having to grow up in an education system that doesn’t understand diversity creates deficit thinking. Things are slowly changing, but a lot of kids still leave their identity at the school gate. We need to support them; encourage and empower parents to speak up and be advocates for their kids.”

Up until this week Hana was working 5 different jobs including mentoring in the high schools for Pasifika and Maori students, Coordinator for Talanga ‘a Waitaki PowerUp educational programme and Chair role for Oamaru PI Community Gp Inc, Secretary for Oamaru PI Network, Board member for Community Health Council, Sunday school leader at St Paul’s, trustee for Waitaki Safer Community Trust … “I’ve lost count because I’m tired, lol,” but she’ll have a tiny bit more time now as her lectureship at the University of Otago comes to an end. It’s something she has really loved and while she has goals to do her PhD down the track, there’s work to be done here and now.

The seed for her decision to stand for council was sown at an Oamaru Pacific Island Network Meeting when she decided it would be good to have representation that reflects the council’s Long Term Plan, especially goals around housing, employment, education and welfare, all so needed in a small town not as exposed to the drive for equity that bigger centres are experiencing and perhaps not realising the increase of our Pasifika population.

“It’s quite difficult for a Pasifika person to come and work in this space, even though the governance structure is similar to those I’m familiar with, but I’m really grateful for the support of Mayor Gary Kircher, Dep Mayor Melanie Tavendale and my Council colleagues, and the time’s right, our community is more mobilised.

Now it’s time to put theory into practice, speak truth to power and actively promote that which benefits the wider community economically and educationally. “I gave a talk at Waitaki Girls’ High School last week,” she says. “I told them to ‘live your purpose, every day, use your passions and talents,’ so for me, I need to walk the talk and do the same thing.”​​

Melanie Tavendale

A big fan of high heels (we can’t tell you how many pairs Deputy Mayor Melanie has for reasons of marital harmony, but it’s quite a few) and from stone sawing to a three-legged race, able to do pretty much anything in them, Melanie is serving her second term as Deputy Mayor and her third on council. Despite her forthrightness around the table, Melanie’s actually quite shy and outside council duties shuns the limelight, preferring to off gas at home in Kakanui. “You give so much of yourself, sometimes you just want to get right out of the public eye, go back to the family nucleus.”

Her two kids, aged 6 & 8, love bodyboarding at Campbells Bay and the family have just bought a little boat for Melanie to potter around in and teach them to sail, when her husband isn’t using it to catch elephant fish, and competing against the local sharks for his catch.

Hey, they live here too, and making a place for everyone to call home is really important to Melanie. Always socially conscious, she trained as a journalist before running the community awards for Trustpower, and stood for council because she was frustrated there were no younger ones - a trend she's happy to see changing, with younger people becoming more politically aware, volunteering, standing up and giving back. “Social responsibility is becoming more fashionable, I think.”

It’s a very good thing she loves reading, because her role is all about taking mind-bendingly complicated documents and drilling down to get to the nitty gritty and then communicating that gritty to the community. “Like the District Plan: if you don’t spend time really unpicking it, there are consequences.”

Pragmatic and people-focused, Melanie is not afraid to speak plainly. “We can talk about the sexy stuff like economic development and attracting people to town, but can they find somewhere to live, is it safe? We know as a country we’re not building enough houses. It can’t be done by council, but we do need to make it easier to build affordable housing.”

What’s something not everyone knows about her? “I speak Dutch.” True, after a year in Belgium in 2000 on AFS study abroad, she learnt the language and has magically retained it. Ironically, her host mumma was a politician, so maybe Dutch wasn’t the only thing she picked up! “Veel liefde van Kakanui” - lots of love from Kakanui.​

Ross McRobie

Confessing he’s “Not the kind of person who can sit down and read a book,” (and he would be hard pressed to, the number of times his phone rings over the course of an hour), Cr Ross McRobie would rather be doing; the saying, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ pretty much summing up his attitude to public service.

With a focus on economic development, “I’m in Council to be a conduit for others,” he says, “to help the community do the things it wants. A listener a facilitator … if there are issues, I look for answers, solutions, try to be understanding, help put people in touch and be an advocate for issues.”

It’s a far cry from the awful days of radio restructuring when he was known as ‘the hatchet man’ - and more of a coming home to the altruistic ethos of his parents, vegetable growers who gave most of their produce away.

After ten years in Wanaka he’s enjoying making a new beginning, living permanently at the 2nd home he and his wife Petrea have owned in Otematata since 2004.

“There are not too many places where you’ll find 2 major hydro stations within 20 kilometres of each other and 2 lakes on your back doorstep. Otematata has a really great Kiwi camping flavour, he says, and Ross spends his down time with family, boating, walking the dog, or riding his bike through the wetlands on the new track built by volunteers.

At the same time he acknowledges his is a district-wide role. “I’m a councillor for the whole of Waitaki, so I need to know what’s happening from Ohau and Hampden, what’s happening down the road and around the corner." When he’s not doing, helping and connecting, he can be found in a shed out the back, working on his model train set. He’s passionate about European and American trains. “I had a Hornby train when I was 8 or 9, and on my birthday in January my daughter brought it down with her after 30 years in storage.” It was the start of a five year plan, small in scale, big on commitment. A member of the Whitestone Model Train Club in Oamaru, Ross plans to include a scale model of the Aviemore dam in the finished diorama. For now, he’s right at the start, laying the tracks: “There’s a fair bit of work to do, that’s for sure.”​

Jim Hopkins

A lover of art and beauty, Cr Jim has a passion for architecture and more than anything wanted to be an architect when he was at school. “Unfortunately, University Stage One Physics and Maths were a prerequisite for architecture school and those were my worst subjects.” Second on his list was pilot, so he enrolled in the ATC number 19 squadron at Wigram with dreams of flying a Spitfire. “You! Why are you here?” shouted a beardy instructor. “Please Sir, I want to be a pilot,” said Jim. “With those milk bottle specs? Never!”

And so Jim became a broadcaster, author, compere and councillor instead. But he did write a book about the history of aircraft in New Zealand.

A regular visitor to Oamaru as MC for fundraising debates for IHC, Jim became besotted with the town; when the time came and he had the opportunity to move here he said, sod it, I’ll do it. A natural raconteur, he regales us with marvellous histories as we take his photo at the former Northern Hotel, now HQ for The NZ Whisky Collection. “The Northern was the first hotel in Oamaru. Before that there was grog shop where a guy called McLean sold watered whiskey, otherwise people drank bilge water flavoured with cabbage tree juice and matagouri.”

First elected to council in 2007, Jim is known for dotting the Is and crossing the Ts, checking everything and checking it twice. “You might describe me as analytical, critical and sceptical too. New projects are always turning up. No one ever says, ‘This isn’t very exciting but maybe we should do it anyway.’ They say ‘Hey! This is the best thing since sliced bread!’ So you need to be a bit cautious and careful.”

Which is why he is a fan of pragmatism, best combined with perambulation. “I constantly love walking around Oamaru, the town is a time capsule in stone. Heritage like this has a shared character. The architects understood how buildings could complement each other, be friendly to each other, coherent, linked, warm. I love the way it has changed and evolved and will continue to. You could argue the precinct now is a kind of specialised mall, providing different offerings and enjoyments for people, enhancing their experience. Any building will serve a purpose if people are drawn to it. The key thing to do now is to get a plan that allows for evolution and new uses, create rules that allow for possibilities.

“Corbusier said, ‘God is in the details.' Well the devil is too. Dotting Is and crossing Ts is something you do for a reason. It’s about getting the result you want. If you want the rocket to get to the moon, every little bit of it needs to work.”​

Gary Kircher

There’s not many of us who would apply for the same job four times, but when its mayor of the district you love, it’s easier to make that call. First elected to council in 2001, Gary spent three terms as a Councillor, including one as Deputy Mayor, before standing for the mayoralty in 2010, only to miss out. “Losing is always difficult. It hit my family pretty hard too, they had high hopes and I’d gone all or nothing by only standing for the Mayoralty and not for Council.”

Persuaded by people in the community to try again three years later, he persevered and this time won. His kids (he has 5) were happy for him, because they know how much the job means to him, but with reservations. “It’s tough for them when they read comments where I’m getting slammed. Fair enough if the criticism has been earned, but our Councillors and I are all sitting around that table trying to do good things for the community.”

Mayor Gary and wife Kerry live in Weston just outside Oamaru. They know all their neighbours, not just because they live in a small rural enclave, but because they sold a couple of them their houses, which he and Kerry actually built! Gary’s dad was a carpenter and he certainly inherited the DIY gene. “We started with 6 acres and carved off bits as we moved onto our next house.” He’d know the ins and outs of the building consents process then? “Ha! It’s got a lot more complicated in recent years.” Now in their third house on the small lifestyle block, Gary says this will likely be their last for some time. “It’s the one we have done the least work on ourselves, though building decks and landscaping has filled in some of our spare time." For now it’s concentrating on building a future for Waitaki? “Doing a few renovations, maybe,” he quips.

Happy to be hammer hand for the district, Gary's aim is to spend this triennium getting projects finished. “There’s stuff that’s been hanging around too long, sometimes for a frustratingly long time. More improvements to our roads, raising funds for the Forrester Gallery and the museum, continuing the A2O trail, making progress on the proposed coastal cycle trail, and progressing the sports and events centre project - all things that will benefit our region - there’s a lot of planning and fundraising to be done.”

What are his stress levels like? ”They vary.” Like many Waitakians, Gary prefers actions to words, and had to overcome his own natural reticence when taking on the mayoralty. Luckily there are plenty of results to be seen, not heard. “I look around, and I see many small, and not-so-small projects that I’ve played a part in… people often talk about leaving a legacy, for me it’s about working with the team to bring vitality to Waitaki. It’s the satisfaction I get from seeing kids having fun at our new bike parks, people enjoying events that I’ve been part of, and seeing cyclists staying in the accommodation that has popped up along the A2O trail.

It’s difficult being a small population spread across a very large area. But we have to keep asking ourselves, what improvements can we bring to Waitaki which are affordable and benefit the lives of our people?” Not to mention, ask whether Gary and the Councillors can keep up the momentum needed to get it all done. His answer has a familiar ring to it, “Yes we can!”​

Jeremy Holding​

Taking some time out of his busy schedule to combine the two things he hates most: talking about himself and having his photo taken, at 40 Cr Jeremy Holding is the second youngest Waitaki councillor. He went to school here in Waitaki but learnt to surf down in Colac Bay, and runs the surf school when he’s not running his business, Soul Surf Skate.

Like all surfers he would never dream of admitting to being any good. “I’m competent for the conditions,” he says, best placed through his love of the outdoors to appreciate the natural assets of Waitaki, its reserves and parks and the wildlife he’s often up close and personal with: Hectors dolphins, penguins, seals, sea lions.

On the warm apricot sand of Campbells Bay today he’s teaching a class from Waitaki Girls High School the basics of surfing: where best to lie on their boards, how to paddle, where to stand for better balance. While they’re practicing pop ups and hand signals, he tells us that being a councillor takes some balance, too. “I feel I get across quite a diverse range of people,” he says, glad to have another 3 years to accomplish more, after the learning process of a first term. In his spare time he volunteers for the restorative justice programme, acting as the community panellist. “I like to bring the community perspective to the conversation, making it clear that crime isn’t faceless, it’s personal and affects people, the perpetrator included. It’s something that’s insightful for identifying needs in the community and a win if there’s restoration for both parties.”

When it comes to being on council, “I enjoy being part of the team building a better district. When I started working in the shop I got more involved within the community, it’s been really gratifying and it’s always rewarding making new relationships.”

Kids Archer 9 and Sabre 6 and wife Cristy would say he’s an open book, that what you see is what you get – he says he brings some real life business experience to the table, attention to detail and a desire to grow the fortunes of Waitaki, “a place that has soul, still.”​

Colin Wollstein

Oamaru born and bred, after leaving Waitaki Boys’ High, Colin went off to Otago University to do Accountancy with no real desire to come back. Offered a job here, he returned with the intention of moving on, but stayed. “It had improved out of sight,” he says, “after having gone through some very hard times. And 40 years later Brenda and I are still here. It’s a great place to raise a family, good schools, the outdoors, and wildlife.” Colin and Brenda’s own chicks are repeating the cycle, having gone away for further education, one has come back to Oamaru with his family, joining those returning to Waitaki for the good life. Having them home is “a blessing.”

Arguably the fittest councillor, when he’s not spending time with family, Colin’s a Good Keen Man – happiest when he’s off tramping, skiing or cycling, and there’s nary a corner of the district he hasn’t explored. The Waitaki, Ohau and Ahuriri valleys: he knows them like the back of his hand. It’s given him an appreciation of the whole region that’s of enormous benefit as a councillor. “When we talk about the Lake Ohau Village water supply, I know the area intimately.

“I’ve tramped a hell of a lot of places, I only wish I’d kept a note of everywhere I’ve been, but you tend to get back, put your gear away until the next time.” He’s had some hairy moments; flooded rivers, been exposed above 3000ft drops in the Milford Sound area, and other experiences that focus the mind on the task at hand.

Well placed to comment on Waitaki opening up to adventure activities and further tourism, he is resolute, “It requires facilities: toilets, infrastructure, shelters … out in the backblocks you’re self-reliant, as a visitor you need a bit more security.”

Contemplative, like anyone who’s thinking time is spent atop pinnacles or off-piste, and now in his third term as councillor he says, “You’ve got to put the work in, be considerate, listen to other people’s ideas and be prepared to change your opinion if convinced there’s a good reason. It’s a dialogue, and all councillors must be reasonable, rational and listen to and respect other’s viewpoints.” When it comes to those who oppose growth there’s a motto he lives by: “You never stand still. You’re either going forwards or going backwards.” And as someone used to sheer drops and vertical slopes, he’d certainly know the difference.​

Guy Percival

Brutally honest, with no time for those who call a spade a shovel, Cr Guy Percival worked as a Musterer, meat hunter and Milford Track guide in his youth before heading overseas to embark on an even more diverse employment history – with stints as an Internal auditor for large retail & wholesale merchandiser, managing a coffee factory & plantation in Papua New Guinea, working for the Zimbabwean Tourism Board and as a professional hunter. He spent 11 years camped next to the Zambesi River, where he learned to water ski and never fell off, “the crocs (known as ‘flat dogs’ in Africa) in the water were a great incentive,” he says. He had hippos on the lawn, leopards in the kitchen and now he has Guinea Fowl … everywhere. “Africa gets in your system,” he says, the flock of 30-40 Guinea Fowl (not quiet birds) wandering his 25 hectare lifestyle property a hangover from his time spent there, where you’d routinely get mobs of 2-300 birds.

A trooper in the Rhodesian Army Selous Scouts, Guy left Rhodesia after a raid on his camp hinted at violence to come, arriving in New Zealand in 1983 with a thousand dollars and three tin trunks. “And it took 35 years for me to owe the bank as much as I do.” The barn contains a Chrysler, a Chevrolet, a Dodge and there’s a Jeep in one of the sheds, all projects needing the devotion of time, “but you can only do so much and council takes up a lot.” Lest you think him unduly fond of Americana – “there’s a Series One Jag over there.”

He stood for council “because I wanted to sort sh*t out” and he isn’t there to be lauded, or be liked. “I’m just doing a job like anyone else.” Quite possibly with a little more directness, though. “If I feel someone’s not pulling their weight, I’ll tell them.”

A tough guy who cries at emotional movies, “I don’t think I could watch Love Story again,” he’s definitely a man of strong opinions. How does that work around the council table? “Not very well at all,” he says. “And it’s COMMON SENSE and strong opinions.”

In this, his third term, what is he hoping to achieve? “First, tighten the purse strings, second, follow up on projects that are currently shelved, in lieu of more adventuresome projects. Third, concentrate resources on our core responsibilities.”

Democracy meaning the voice of all, Guy values the importance of squeaky wheels, as long as they squeak instead of grumble – “I tell people, ‘you’ve got the opportunity to make an appointment and sit down with someone, to speak at the public forum’.” When it comes to his own role he is adamant that he represents the voice of his constituents, and not his own view, “unless it’s one of common sense.”​

Page reviewed: 17 Jan 2020 10:32am