In Rice Speir Radio’s latest podcast Taituarā Chief Executive, Karen Thomas, talks with Helen Rice about Taituarā and its role within the local government sector in New Zealand. Karen also shares a little about herself and her own varied leadership experiences.

During this wide-ranging interview Karen talks about the past and future of Taituarā — Local Government Professionals Aotearoa. She also discusses the distinctive roles that both Taituarā and Local Government New Zealand play within the sector, as well as the very healthy tension between politicians and administrators within the local government sector. She talks about the recent amendment that re-includes the Four Well-beings (social, economic, environmental and cultural) into the Local Government Act 2002 and re-imagining the possible future roles of local government in this country.

One particular focus of the interview is the work Taituarā does in the area of advocacy which Karen says is very much aimed at improving government policy. “The purpose of our submissions is to make sure that policy that’s being developed by the public service which turns into draft bills is going to be able to be implemented at the local level – so it’s not going to be a barrier to local government”. She points out that “we never advocate on whether something is a good idea or not. Our submissions talk about the effect this will have on local government, any problems that there will be in the implementation of the legislation, maybe not just problems for councils, but maybe problems for government departments because they haven’t fully understood how local government works”. One of the examples she cites is in the area of Three Waters reform, an issue that is likely to be a two- or three-year topic of discussion. She states that “it’s really good I believe that there’s a genuine request on the part of Cabinet that central and local government work together on this”.

During the interview Karen and Helen discuss some services such as our data warehouse, the Taituarā Community Well-being Service, a vast collation of measures and indicators that councils across the country use to make better decisions on matters specifically related to their own communities. She introduces the Navigating Critical 21st Century Transitions report which aims to assist local government decisionmakers in pivoting to key challenges facing Aotearoa now and in the future. She also discusses the Taituarā SectorGoodToolkit which offers practice advice, guidance and how-to manuals on how to run an election, how to do a Long-term Plan, how to set rates, how to ensure legal compliance and more; a service to which all 78 councils subscribe.

Karen also reveals some of her own thoughts on leadership development and describes some of her formative experiences in the Department of Justice and State Services Commission, as well as her own family background in local government. Finally, by way of getting to know Karen on a more personal level, and for a bit of fun, she answers questions on a favourite song and nominates some famous guests whom she would love to get to know better over dinner.

Rice Speir Radio is a monthly podcast hosted by partners of Rice Speir, an Auckland-based law firm with a particular passion for all things local government. Each month they invite a new guest to discuss hot topics within the local government community ranging from building and the RMA to executive leadership and communications. Some of their recent guests include John Edwards, the Privacy Commissioner; Monique Davidson, Chief Executive of Central Hawke’s Bay District Council; Leonie Rae, General Manager Corporate Services/Consents and Compliance at Christchurch City Council; and Barbara Mead, inhouse lawyer at Marlborough District Council.