With the country currently in a COVID-19-induced lockdown, councils across the motu are working extra hard to look after their communities. Kāpiti Coast District Council's James Jefferson tells us about how he is helping get the All of Government (AOG) COVID-19 key messages out in Kāpiti as well as things like stepping up the work of their foodbanks. James, who has served a long career in local government, also talks about how rewarding he finds the 'intimacy, immediacy and impact' of working alongside those in his community. He is also not short of praise for the Kāpiti region and what it offers. 

Tell us about your role at Kāpiti Coast District Council 

I’m blessed to hold the position of Group Manager Regulatory Services. My group is responsible for building services, LIMS, the fencing of swimming pools, resource consents, compliance with our local bylaws, environmental health, animal control, noise control, liquor licensing, trade waste and a whole lot more. It’s all the real sexy stuff, but on a serious note it’s the stuff that helps make our communities safe and enjoyable places in which to live, work and play. 

As a group we are focused on 4C’s – customers, conversations, collaboration and continuous improvement.  We want to be clear about who our customers are (and aren’t) and how we prioritise conflicting customers when that occurs.  We want to create more opportunities to hearing from, and listening to, our customers. This will help us to better understand their needs and what they expect from Council. To help us on our way we’ve engaged in some ‘customer journey mapping’ and this is already proving to be a powerful and insightful tool.   

Collaboration is key in our world and we recognise the need to be better aligned internally, and more explicit and clear with our expectations of customers, especially developers who we need to work with to deliver good growth outcomes for our community.   

And lastly, we’re focused on making it easy for our customers to navigate the regulatory environment. Once we have a clearer picture of what it’s like to walk in our customers and stakeholders’ shoes, we’ll look to continually improve our processes, especially those critical few that are fundamental to our customer experience.   

In summary, our 4C’s is our noise reduction strategy. It aims to create more space to get closer to our customers and stakeholders and to improve the stuff that really matters. 

And when I’m not wearing my Group Manager Regulatory Services hat, I am Kāpiti’s Lead Controller for Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM). 

What are you doing to help your community deal with the current COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown?  

Ultimately, our mission with COVID-19 is to stop the spread of the virus – it’s that simple really.  How?  Our key function is around Public Information Management (PIM), getting the agreed All of Government (AOG) COVID-19 key messages out to our community.  Not everyone tunes into daily Ministry of Health 1pm media briefing or is tapped into official government sources of information, so we’re making sure we fill that communications gap.   

In CDEM we talk about situational awareness. This involves making sure we are well-connected to community groups to enable us to develop a good picture of what is really happening on the ground, and taking that information and turning it into insights and, when required, action.  For example, at our Emergency Operations Centre briefing today we learned that in DD7 (Delta, Day seven) foodbanks across our district are starting to see an increase in need, especially from residents they wouldn’t normally see come through the doors.  So our role is to ensure that we have plans and relationships in place to coordinate and deliver support for when those foodbanks start to run low. It’s exciting, challenging and rewarding mahi all at the same time.   

Why did you decide to work in local government?  

Three words spring to mind - intimacy, immediacy and impact.  In local government, there is nowhere to hide, you are and should be open to a level of community scrutiny that central government agencies won’t experience.  We’re able to get really close to the communities we serve, to get intimate with them.  Sometimes that exposes you to a bit of pain but those situations are few and far between.  Largely, it's really rewarding to sit alongside community and kōrero together the things that are important to us all. 

Whether we believe it or not, local government can be and often is agile. When we are at our best, we see the immediate impacts of our mahi, whether it’s a new wastewater treatment plant or a refurbished park and play area that is full of whānau and fun.  I didn’t experience that sort of immediacy in central government, it’s not a criticism just an observation. 

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

I received an email earlier this week from Taituarā asking if I could confirm twenty years continuous service in local government.  I can’t, I took a few years out to manage the District Courts in Auckland with the Ministry of Justice, but it did remind me that I left Police in 2001 and joined local government.  Am I getting old or what?  But from the start of that journey, SOLGM has been extremely valuable, both in terms of their leadership development opportunities that I’ve taken advantage of over the years, as well as the networks that one develops along the way. 

The toolboxes that Taituarā provide are an invaluable resource that I refer all of my managers and staff to as a way of expanding their thinking and learning. 

Thinking ahead, when international travel opens safely again, I’m keen to explore opportunities to participate in an international exchange to share both knowledge and insights with other jurisdictions and gather insights and learnings to help improve the way we deliver services to the Kāpiti Coast community. 

When you are not working, what do you enjoy about living in on the Kāpiti Coast? 

Actually, I live just south of the ‘coast with the most’. It’s an easy commute, soon to be much-easier when Transmission Gully opens, but I can’t get my wife to move out of our current house, although we are having an active conversation about whether it’s too big for the four of us – the cat and the dog are included in that muster. 

But Kāpiti is stunning and I’m envious of my colleagues that live there. It really has been Wellington’s best kept secret for decades but is emerging as a beautiful destination in its own right. Anyone who lives in Kāpiti will confirm that the climate is so much better than Wellington's, a good 2-3 degrees warmer and the wind… what wind.  Don’t miss the wind when I’m at work that’s for sure. 

Kāpiti also has four distinct beach-side villages, each with their own unique vibe. Great cafes and eateries also feature highly with many offering stunning views out to Kāpiti Island, a stunning world class eco-sanctuary accessible only by boat and steeped in rich cultural history, but don’t take my word for it, book a holiday and experience it first-hand. 

Lastly, while I have been very privileged to have worked for some great organisations and with some wonderful people throughout my career, especially in south Auckland where I worked alongside some amazing predominately Māori, Pacific Island and Indian women who were the breadwinners for their families, I can say without reservation that the Kāpiti Coast District Council is a great place to work. They really are a fantastic bunch people who are 100 per cent committed to their communities.   

Moving up and down COVID-19 alert levels has challenged us all in more ways than one, but the Council team never ceases to amaze me in their efforts to genuinely ‘care for Kāpiti’,  calling on existing relationships and partnerships to ensure everyone has access to the support they need. That’s making a pretty damn good impact if you ask me, thank you team.