As Director of Engagement and Māori Responsiveness at Gisborne District Council, Anita Reedy-Holthausen is always excited about what her region does. In this profile she describes her role as well as projects such as the Council's new website, ten town upgrades, new playgrounds for local tamariki, a council tool for 'cultural safety', and other campaigns that allow her council to connect with its community. She also reveals her deep sense of connection with Te Tairāwhiti. how she loves getting away from it all on the family farm is Ruatōria, and the immense joy she gets from her sons being able to return to their turangawaewae.

Tell us about your role at Gisborne District Council

My role is Director of Engagement and Māori Responsiveness for Gisborne District Council. The hub is responsible for Engagement, Communications, Customer Experience, Māori Responsiveness, Culture and Development, Funding and Contracts, Rural Township Upgrades and Events. It spans a lot of functions which are different but complement each other as the purpose of our hub is 'connecting through meaningful engagement to make our people proud'. It touches on all aspects of these functions and my hub works hard to make great things happen.

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

I’m always excited about what our region does. While some things might seem like wash, rinse and repeat, the changing environment means we reflect continuously to change and adapt. Straight off the back of the Long-Term Plan, we’ve just finished an early engagement on Representation Review with the inclusion of Māori wards. From an engagement perspective, a representation review is challenging at the best of times, but the team have done an outstanding job as we head into the next consultation stage.

Our team has developed the most amazing in-house digital tool to assist us with our cultural safety. We call it Te Matapihi – The Window. It’s part of our intranet so it’s easily accessible to all staff. Te Matapihi enables staff to engage in a culturally safe way, research locations and iwi areas of interest, discover iwi narratives and histories, access relevant documents, policies and agreements that guide our Tiriti obligations. Once they’ve gone through the learning process, it requests assistance from our Māori responsiveness team. One of the most important functions of the tool is that it holds information across Council on all our engagements with Māori. You can imagine how useful this will be, and make no mistake we aim to meet our objective to be a responsive Treaty partner. Who better to start with, than with ourselves!

In the world of Customer Experience we’re embarking on major changes in the way we do our mahi. We have recently restructured the team with an emphasis on staff skill levels and quality interactions that allow us to look across council and identify areas for improvement – using data. We’ve developed a Service Promise and with the move to online systems taking 50 per cent of foot traffic away from the front counter, our focus is on adding value at every customer interaction. The next phase of the project will be cross-council problem solving through quality circles. The development of improvements such as these are the types of things that get me really excited!!

We’ve also done a real rad ‘Reduce Waste and Recycling campaign, which you can view here. We’re really proud of this and also our new mobile-first website that we’ve just launched. Our team of one who did all the work to move from a Silverstripe platform to Squiz Matrix is an indication of the talent and dedication of our staff.

And as part of our ongoing township upgrades we’ve managed to secure extra funding through the Long-Term Plan to complete ten township upgrades over the next five years. Our first playground opened this year in Wharekahika Hicks Bay – just fabulous for our rural townships and our tamariki.

Our new Wharekahika playground

We’ve got some major projects ahead of us, not to mention changes at central government which is going to keep us incredibly busy – but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

The most challenging part of the role is also the most fulfilling. The diversity of what can come at you during the course of the day and the speed of which things need to be done – from media to a think piece on managing illegal dumping to high-level four waters discussions back to tsunami inundation zones. I know of no other role which takes you on the journeys that I‘ve been on in the last five years and I love it.

Why did you decide to work in local government?

Gosh, I always feel guilty about saying this, but I never intended to work for local government. I was a central government embryo. I came back to Te Tairāwhiti, after a couple of tragedies in my life because this is where I whakapapa to, and where my mother, father and brothers are. I am proudly Ngāti Porou, born in a small place called Te Puia, south of Ruatōria (locals call it Ruatorea). When returning here I’d decided I wanted to do something less… I don’t necessarily think this is what less is. What I’ve found since I’ve entered this world of council, is that I should have joined local government years ago. More people should start here because you feel the immediate effects of what you do for your community. The challenges are great, and the rewards even greater! Plus I have the bestest Chief Executive!!

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

I joined council just before the last round of a Long-Term Plan, which was also my first one. What an induction and I have absolute respect for all those that have done many Long-Term Plans. Through this process I had a lot to do with Taituarā, as our council won the consultation document (CD) competition with our ‘WTF Tairāwhiti – What’s the Future” campaign.

Me cuddling our 2018 SOLGM award for our CD document

What I value most about Taituarā is the information sharing that we’re able to do as local government people. We’re always challenged and always learning. It amazes me to hear what some of our smaller councils do – all on the smell of an oily rag.

There’s also the ability to have those strategic discussions that influence government direction, which takes my grey matter to another level. We’re not always going to get what we want for our region, but we’ll do a damned good job trying.

The sons building the chicken coop in Ruatōria (left) and my favourite Hicks Bay beach (right)

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

My mum and big brother farm in Ruatōria so I go up there often and defrag!! There’s no cell phone coverage and if there’s a power cut (often and for hours) then it’s a warm fire in winter reading, or in summer sitting on the deck watching the sun set over Mount Hikurangi. I’m a water baby so any time I can, when the weather’s warm, I can be found in the sea. I’m going to state the obvious and emphasise that our beaches are awesome, all around the East Coast and a must see and do. My three kids (adults) live in Wellington and I visit them often. I love it when they come back to their turangawaewae as it grounds them to where they’re from and who they whakapapa to. It also allows them to experience different things and appreciate other world views and forces them to relax by doing things like doing the hangi or helping their nan build a chicken coop.