As published in the Waitomo News on Tuesday 13 November 2018. Story by Jenelle Burnell
As Dave Clibbery's tenure at the helm of Otorohanga District Council draws to a close on November 23, the departing chief executive is ending an era of nearly two decades at the council.
He describes his time as one of service to the community.
"I've found it [ODC] a very good organisation to work for. When I came in here we had a great partnership between the elected members and staff. I was really happy to be a part of that and help the elected members do what I could to help the district more forward," he says.
"I felt I had certain skills which could be useful to the council and it was just a really good feeling that we had a team all working towards the same objectives."
ENGINEER BY TRADE
By profession, Mr Clibbery is a mining engineer.
Born and raised in the United Kingdom, his passion for mining saw him travel the world with his job, including South Africa and Australia. However, when a job lecturing at the University of Auckland came up, Mr Clibbery took the opportunity and it was there he met his wife, Maree Bublitz.
The couple moved to Australia, but when she became pregnant with twins, they moved back to New Zealand.
"I worked as a consultant mining engineer here for a few years, but it was really hard because we don't have a lot of mining in this country so I thought I had better find myself some normal paid work."
Mr Clibbery's introduction to local government came in 2000 via Waitomo District Council. He spent about a year there as the asset management systems administrator before taking a position at the ODC in 2001.
"I came here first as a Services Manager, which meant l was in charge of all the engineering activities — water, parks, reserves, buildings — everything other than roads.
"In 2005 I was promoted to Engineering Manager and was in charge of all the engineering stuff, including the roads"
In 2008, Mr Clibbery stepped into the council's top job and during his time at the council, he's worked under three mayors — Eric Tair, Dale Williams and Max Baxter.
Mr Clibbery describes the chief executive role as being a servant of the council.
"They [the council] set the direction and I try give it effect — I'm just the hired help — its really about those people who sit around the council table and I've always been very conscious of that" he says.
"Some councils get the feeling the chief executive u actually giving all the direction. Your councillors and mayors are elected to do that and there's different views around that table.
"You've got to have a mixture and what I think is important, is that even though you've got different views, you work as a team, not just with councillors, but with staff too because we're all on the same page."
He also admits the role doesn't come without its challenges and says at times it's been a struggle.
"In a way there's been less change than I would have liked," says Mr Clibbery.
"One thing we've always been chasing since I've been here is to get the community to grow, and there's a long trend of us actually losing people from the district.
"It's been at times frustrating, because there's lots of growth up the road in Hamilton and Waipa and we've been trying to get our share of that, but for the likes of ourselves, it's challenging because people don't necessarily want to move with that part of the world.
"Our facilities are good, our services are good and we're starting to get some housing development, but the council can only do so much to get people to come.
"It's really in the minds of the people whether they think it's a good investment of their lives and money in a particular area and that's been the challenge."
However, one of Mr Clibbery's greatest achievements is reducing council's debt.
"I'm personally proud I've contributed to us being financially very strong.
"I guess I've always held the purse strings quite tightly and that's a good thing and a bad thing, [but] I'm leaving the council in a very good financial position - the best position it's been in since I've been here.
"We're on track to virtually have no debt in two years and we've kept our rates at the lower end with steady modest increases, so I think that's something we can all be proud of.
"And that gives us opportunities for the future councils and future CE to do things."
Another highlight for Mr Clibbery is the introduction of metered water charges.
"That's been good in terms of fairness and efficient use of water. When we introduced the concept, I thought it was very good how the community generally accepted it," he says. "That said, we have not yet put the charges in place, that will happen next year, but I'm please with how we've conducted that.
"The proof is in the pudding when people get their first bills, but it's a good improvement towards being fair."
Mr Clibbery is also proud of the improvements to Otorohanga's parks and reserves.
"Huiputea is turning into a lovely area. If you see the number of people walking their dogs there on a Sunday morning, it's wonderful.
Looking to the future, Mr Clibbery believes ODC - like all councils - will face its challenges.
"In 10 years or so, a lot of council's roads and pipes are forecast to come to the end of their life and they'll need to be replaced, and so a lot of money is going to need to be spent at that time," he says.
"That is why it's really important that we get rid of all of the debt now; if we have some money left in the bank, we're prepared for those future times so you don't find yourself ending up with a huge debt that you're trying to keep on top of."
Mr Clibbery says there's also a belief in the council that they need to engage more.
"We don't get a lot of feedback from the community in terms of what we do and there is a desire amongst our elected members to engage better with community.
"I'm not sure how you do that and if that's what council wants to achieve, there may be CE out there who's got a set of skills to do that."
Mr Clibbery says the person who replaces him will need to be practical.
"You've got to be realistic about the challenges we have.
"It's great to be a visionary and to have great dreams about what you want to achieve, but they have got to be grounded in reality. Those are things I think are important."
Mr Clibbery says stepping down from his role was a hard decision to make and although he has not decided on any future plans, he'll miss working with the ODC staff.
"I've been in the role for 10 years and I think it's important that the chief executive needs to bring ideas and visions in a certain length of time, then it's time for someone else to come and give it a go."
"I want to step down before I'm too old to do anything else.
"We've got some really good people here and I've really enjoyed working with them and the relationship with the elected members has been really good.
"You don't always get that in local government"