Jason Marris was winner of a Taituarā Overseas Manager Exchange in 2021. Jason is General Manager for Engagement and Transformation, and currently interim Chief Executive at Kaipara District Council. In this second of three pieces, Jason reports back from Texas City. 

Photo: ET meeting, Texas City – the Executive Mayor is in purple

On the Wednesday, I was picked up by Jon Pearson who was hosting me for the next couple of nights. He took me to Texas City, which is located on the coast about 45 minutes' drive out of Houston. This city is completely different to Pearland (see my last post) in that it is an industrial city dominated by oil refineries, with about 52,000 folk living there. The Council employs around 500 staff.

I had a busy schedule here too;

  • Executive team meeting – This city has an Executive/Strong Mayor model where the Mayor is also the City Manager (Chief Executive). The current Mayor works for one of the refineries and comes in to work on Wednesdays to meet with his staff. A very different model.
  • Met with the Mayor – He only earns $1,500 USD per annum as the Mayor/Chief Executive. In both cities, elected members are only paid small allowances, no salaries.
  • Planning and engineering – Basically, planning and infrastructure are combined into one area. Interestingly, they built their water and wastewater treatment plants years ago, but built them assuming that the city was fully populated, so they have no capacity issues.
  • Communications – They surprised me by doing an impromptu podcast with me. Apologies for my poor pronunciation but I had no warning...!
  • Flood defences – The city has a significant drainage system as it is susceptible to flooding and hurricane damage. I went on a tour of the dyke they built to keep out storm surges as well as one of the rainwater pump stations. They are basically large Archimedes' screws run by diesel engines that remove floodwater to the ocean at the rate of 1 million gallons per minute.
  • Parks and recreation – Visited their community pool and gym centre (they charge only $60 USD per annum with classes like yoga, spinning etc included in that cost), golf course and convention centre.
  • My presentation – I also gave a presentation on New Zealand and our local government to their staff.

Photo at right: Rainwater pump station, Texas City

The team who hosted me were all incredibly lovely and went out of their way to make me feel welcome and show me around.

Alongside my busy ‘work’ schedule, I was also taken into Houston and shown the sights, visited many different restaurants and bars, was taken to a Houston Astros baseball game, and of course toured both Pearland and Texas Cities and all that they had to offer. I am looking forward to repaying the favour when they come to New Zealand for their exchange next year.

It was also interesting that hardly anyone was wearing masks or even talking about COVID-19. It was like it had never existed in the US. There were no restrictions anywhere and everyone was simply getting on with their normal lives. COVID-19 was still around but it wasn’t reported in the news anymore. My travel through all of the various airports also went without incident and everything was all very busy! It was quite a change from New Zealand.

Overall, it was a truly amazing experience and one I am incredibly thankful for. I was blown away by their infrastructure, economic development, facilities and funding, however, it was a very complicated governance picture with state and federal government as well as various drainage districts, education districts and all sorts of other districts that are not at all geographically aligned. The locals also struggled to explain it all, so it was very complex.

I learnt a lot and would definitely recommend members putting in their applications for Overseas Manager Exchanges

A huge thanks to Taituarā and Civic Financial Services who sponsored the exchange.