Sam Fellows is currently on a one-year secondment as the Manager of the Sustainability and Waste Division at Tauranga City Council. With the recent announcement of a $20.5 million Ministry for the Environment grant to Tauranga to reduce waste and improve recycling it’s an exciting time for sustainability in the city and Sam is right at the heart of it. He shares some insights from working in this hugely important area, his love of Tauranga and passion for working with others in his community.

Tell us about your role at Tauranga City Council

I am currently on a one-year secondment as the Manager of the Sustainability and Waste Division, my usual role is Manager of the Environmental Regulation Division.

Our Sustainability and Waste Division has a strong education focus, and we spend a lot of time working with the residents of our city on sustainability and waste reduction initiatives. We also oversee the management of our two local transfer stations, a glass recycling service and a rubbish bag collection service. From 1 July 2021 we will begin a new kerbside recycling and rubbish service and therefore the main focus of our division at the moment is gearing up for the change, getting bins out to our residents and educating our residents about how we use the bins.

In my usual role I am fortunate enough to be the Manager of the Environmental Regulation Division. Our division consists of the Regulation Monitoring (Parking and Bylaws), Animal Services and Environmental Health and Licencing teams. Our division works with a huge range of individuals and businesses in sometimes difficult or upsetting circumstances, and I am always amazed at the professionalism, care and understanding everyone shows.

Can you tell us about some of your current projects which you are particularly excited about?

In my current role the most exciting project, and the one that consumes most of my time, is the introduction of a kerbside recycling scheme for our city. This is a hugely exciting project which will impact every single resident of our city and help us achieve our goal of halving the amount of residential waste we send to landfill by 2028.

When I moved back to Tauranga after studying and working elsewhere, I was surprised to find that there was no Council recycling system and rather that this was done by a number of private companies. On coming into this role almost six years later I was even more surprised to find that 65 per cent of residential waste in our city is divertible and that about 35 per cent of residents reported doing absolutely no recycling.

It is awesome to think about the huge benefits to our environment that are possible from a kerbside recycling system that has already been successfully introduced in a number of other cities around the country. I was fortunate enough to come into the project a week before the report recommending the introduction of the service went to Council in August last year after over 10 years of work by teams from across the Council and the community, and am loving being part of something that will truly transform Tauranga for the better.

During this project I have been blown away with the support of other Councils across the country who have recently rolled out, or are rolling out similar schemes. Hamilton City Council in particular has been so helpful and open about their journey and have gone out of their way to help in any way they can. It has shown how amazing it is to work in local government where rather than competing against each other we are all working to serve our communities.

Another hugely exciting project in my current team is an upgrade to one of our transfer stations. While less than a year ago I would have thought it was a bit strange that I would be getting so excited about waste projects, this is a project that will support not only our city but also our region to reduce waste to landfill.

We have been fortunate enough to partner with the Ministry for the Environment to upgrade our transfer station, which is also used by contractors and residents of neighbouring councils, to a fit-for-purpose resource recovery park. While this is currently in the detailed design stage, it is something we are very much looking forward to.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

I think the most challenging part of any manager’s role is looking after the people in our teams. In both of the divisions I am lucky enough to work with we interact with our community multiple times a day on difficult and contentious issues. While the teams deal with this very well it is always challenging to understand truly how this affects people and how I can ensure that they continue to grow and enjoy their jobs.

In Councils we are lucky to work with passionate individuals who love their communities and strive to do what is best for them, and the most challenging part of my role is to keep these people passionate about what they do and safe both physically and psychologically as they do it.

Why did you decide to work in local government?

In 2018, I started a secondment to Tauranga City Council half a day each day to cover a vacancy in the legal team following the manager of the team leaving. I was hugely sceptical about the secondment thinking that I would spend all day talking about fencing disputes. However, I was amazed to find that Tauranga City Council was filled with passionate, intelligent and all-round incredible people that go above and beyond to serve our community every day. I loved that in doing my legal work I was able to walk across the building to talk to an expert in almost any field who were more than willing to help, a big bonus was also not having the six-minute time recording system which tracks work in the legal profession.

Nick whose role I was backfilling was appointed to the manager role, and Tauranga City Council were looking to fill the role I was covering. I was lucky enough to fill the role. The partner managing the team I was in even made the comment that the only reason they sent me on secondment was because they thought I would be the last person who would want to work at Council.

Therefore, the reason I decided to work for Council is because I love our city. This is the city my wife and I decided to move back to, and in which to bring up our children. It is the city both my wife and I were born in and grew up in, it is the city my mother and grandmother were born and raised in, and even my grandmother was born just outside the city in Oropi. Tauranga City Council provided a wonderful opportunity to work to make our awesome city even more amazing each day and to do that alongside incredible people.

In what ways have you been involved with Taituarā so far?

I have only been a member for less than a month, but my main involvement was in 2019 as a member of Tauranga City Council’s Australasian Management Challenge team. While our team was pipped at the post by our neighbours in Western Bay of Plenty District Council it was an amazing programme to be a part of.

As someone fresh into local government, having only been employed by Tauranga City Council for a few months at that time, this was an incredible opportunity to learn about all the work that our council and other councils do and get the opportunity to push and test myself in a mock environment. Each day the skills I learnt come in handy and I have an even greater appreciation for all the different teams across our organisation.

I fully encourage anyone who starts here, including an increasing number of former private practice lawyers like me, to put their name forward for the challenge as it is invaluable and a great way to form an amazing bond with an incredible bunch of people.

In 2019, as a new manager to three teams whose work was unfamiliar to me, the LGSectorGoodToolkit was incredibly helpful to help me get up to speed so as to work constructively with these teams. It was also incredibly useful as a reference tool while I was in the legal team advising the rest of the organisation.

I joined to continue my learning and connection with others, in particular working on our shared kaupapa of serving our communities.

When you are not working, what do you enjoy about living in Tauranga?

I love living near my extended family and spending time exploring the amazing parks, reserves and beaches across and around our city. I also love that we have the pleasure of living in a city filled with so many passionate individuals. While at times this can make our roles difficult or frustrating, people truly care about our city and this extends to their community involvement. I enjoy helping out community organisations from a governance level, using the skills I learnt from my legal career and our shared passion for our city.

On the weekends, in addition to running around after my two boys, I also run around after a rugby ball – refereeing local club rugby. This is a great way to not only keep active, but to meet people all across our region particularly the volunteers that give so much time to make the rugby clubs, which are often community hubs, successful.