Marianna Brook is Senior Advisor to the Otago Mayoral Forum which aims to coordinate joint action between Central Otago District Council, Clutha District Council, Dunedin City Council, Otago Regional Council, Queenstown Lakes District Council, and Waitaki District Council. This big-picture role therefore makes her well-placed to be a member of the new Taituarā Resource Management Reform Reference Group (RMRG). In this profile she talks about her current work and the journey that brought her to working in local government. She also talks about some favourite sights and activities in Otago and her family's passive house project.

Marianna pictured at far left with her teammates - winners of the New Zealand leg of the Australasian Management Challenge at the 2021 Gala Dinner.

What is the Otago Mayoral Forum and what is your role there?

The Otago Mayoral Forum is the key mechanism for local authorities to coordinate and collaborate in the Otago region. I manage and advise the Forum, which comprises the region’s five Mayors, regional council Chair, and Chief Executives. In between meetings I work alongside Forum members and council officers to progress regional issues, and engage with central government on behalf of Otago councils.

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

A large part of the Forum’s work programme is driven by central government initiatives. We’re knee-deep in Three Waters; RM reform and the Future for Local Government review are looming. One project which is entirely homegrown is a region-wide analysis of solid waste issues and opportunities. So far we’ve found that the biggest gains could be made by thinking in two sub-regions – one coastal, one inland. We’re especially interested to know whether there are things we can do together to manage waste that wouldn’t be possible working as individual councils.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

The biggest challenge is finding the time and the right settings for regional thinking when local demands never sleep. A mix of formal and informal channels is what works. Meetings and delegations are important, but six one-on-one phone calls in a day can achieve a lot. I'm frequently asking people to imagine that the district boundaries don't exist - it's a tough ask.

Why did you decide to work in local government?

Prior to my current role, I worked as a policy researcher at Motu Research and for central government at the NZ Treasury. In 2018 my family and I moved to my hometown of Dunedin. My work for the Mayoral Forum helps to connect central and local government which is a great fit for me.

Marianna pictured at far left with her teammates - winners of the New Zealand leg of the Australasian Management Challenge held in Lower Hutt in April 2021..

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

This year I joined the Otago Regional Council team for the New Zealand leg of the Australasian Management Challenge, organised by Taituarā. My main goal was to learn more about local government as a sector, but my team and I are now getting ready to travel to the bureaucratic wonderland of Canberra for the finals. Wish us luck! I’m also a member of the Taituarā Resource Management Reform Reference Group. I’m especially interested in the regional collaboration underpinning the future system, and how councils can be supported to fulfil sometimes conflicting roles as both standalone organisations and participants in a larger system.

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

It’s mid-winter, so that guides life outside of work. My family and I loved the Dunedin Midwinter Carnival lantern parade in the weekend. We’ll also be packing our winter clothing for a trip to Albert Town (near Wanaka) to stay with family and play in the snow. I’m hoping that next winter we won’t need quite so much of the winter woollies as we’re self-building a certified Passive House in the garden of our 1900s cottage. The scaffold comes down this week, which feels great.