Have you ever wondered how the role of a local government manager differs in Canada, the United States, or Australia? Applications for our 2021 Overseas Manager Exchanges are now open and these are an opportunity to partner with a local government manager in another country to learn first-hand the challenges faced by each other's organisations. We spoke with Bob Vine who went on a Study Tour to the UK in 1978, and Emma Davis who went on an Overseas Manager Exchange to the United States in 2019 to find out how the exchanges have evolved over the years. Both describe their experiences as life-changing.

Bob Vine – 1978 – United Kingdom 

In 1978, the Institute of Town Clerks and Municipal Treasurers (merged with Institute of County Clerks in 1988 to form Taituarā) received an offer from the British Ambassador to send two chief executives on a UK Study Tour, funded by the British Council. Bob Vine, who was the Chief Executive at Upper Hutt City Council at the time, along with Harry Childs, Chief Executive of Rotorua District Council, were selected for this opportunity. This would be the first of many exchange opportunities offered to Taituarā members. 

Bob visited local authorities in England and Scotland over a three-week period including Lewes in West Sussex, Wychavon in Worcestershire, Christchurch in Hampshire (the sister city to Christchurch in New Zealand), Renfrewshire and Edinburgh in Scotland. 

What struck Bob the most during his time in the UK was that England, Wales and Scotland had all gone through a big reorganisation of local government in 1974 to merge municipal and county authorities to allow for a more efficient and effective local government. 

“There had been discussion back in New Zealand about a possible reorganisation along similar lines, and I realised that I could learn a lot from my UK colleagues and apply them back home.”

As it turned out it would be 1989 before any major reform in New Zealand when 850 local bodies were amalgamated into 86 local authorities. Some of the local bodies had included a ‘Rabbit Board’ to look after pest control of rabbits and a ‘Tussock Control’ authority to manage tussock amongst many others. Bob gained many insights from the Tour that aided him in his role when the local government reforms did take place. 

One of these insights was in relation to the UK’s budgeting and accounting systems where moves were being made to replace incremental budgeting with budgeting as we knew it expanded to a base of planning, programming and budgeting – ‘zero based’ and ‘budgeting by objectives’ was becoming the norm in the UK. 

“This meant that local authorities wouldn’t have their annual plans approved until well into the New Year which didn’t align with their budgets.” 

“I took what I had learnt in the UK, together with visits to a number of cities in USA and implemented a new planning, programming and budgeting system at Upper Hutt City Council, and at Lower Hutt City Council when I later worked there.”

Bob’s work on these projects earnt him the ICMA International Award in Memory of Orin F. Nolting, a City Manager at Kansas City, Missouri, for furthering the case of international understanding and cooperation and successfully adopting a programme based on the experience in other countries. Later, further recognition came with the 1988 reform legislation which included a number of Bob’s suggestions and experience in relation to planning, programming, budgeting and the requirement compelling local authorities to have budgets and financials signed off by 30 June. 

A large difference Bob noticed between New Zealand and the UK was the housing function with 70% of the UK’s housing stock controlled by local government as rental housing which was in stark contrast to New Zealand where at that time where 70% of housing stock was owner occupier. 

Bob describes his experience as invaluable. 

“I learnt so much from seeing first-hand how local government works in another country and picked up ideas that resulted in significant change for local government in New Zealand. 

“It’s great to see that these opportunities are still available to local government managers.”

Emma Davis – 2019 – United States of America

Fast forward 40 years, and exchanges for local government managers are still as important and rewarding as they were in 1978!

Emma Davis, Head of Strategic Policy at Christchurch City Council went on an Overseas Manager Exchange to the United States of America in 2019. Her first stop was Evansville, a small town in Wisconsin with a population of 5,000 people. The next stop was Nashville for the ICMA Conference which was a huge contrast to her time spent in Evansville. The ICMA Conference had 5,000 attendees – the entire population of Evansville!

Emma describes the ICMA Conference as one of the highlights of her exchange as she really got to experience the scale of local government in the US. Another highlight from her time in Nashville was a field trip she took to Gulch, a dynamic mixed-use Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified community with a strong focus on connectivity, walkability and public transport right in the heart of Nashville. The neighbourhood was the tenth LEED certified project in the United States. With the Gulch earning recognition for excellence in the built environment and a place incorporating the principles of smart growth, urbanism and green design, the visit and conversations were very inspirational to Emma who oversees the strategic policy around the natural environment as part of her role. The insights from this case study are as relevant for Christchurch as they are for Nashville, as we think about how we plan and build our cities for a sustainable future.

Emma is still in contact with the local government manager she was paired with for the exchange. 

“We continue to exchange emails about the approaches we are taking in our respective councils, says Emma.

“The experience goes beyond the exchange, I now have a long-term international connection that is valuable for sharing ideas. 

While the future of overseas travel is uncertain due to the worldwide pandemic, the 2021 exchanges will take place once restrictions have eased. Virtual introductions will take place allowing exchange recipients to communicate until travel is permitted. Our 2021 Overseas Manager Exchanges are offered with the support of our sponsors Marsh, Civic Financial Services and AskYourTeam.

Applications for our Overseas Manager Exchanges, along with our Awards and Scholarship, close on 17 February 2021 at 5pm. Find out more about applying.