Richmond Borough Councillor 1983-1989
Deputy Mayor 1986-1989
Tasman District Councillor 1989-2007
Nelson Marlborough Regional Councillor 1989-1992
Serving as a councillor wasn't on my bucket list but a lack of women candidates for the forthcoming Richmond Borough Council elections in 1983 saw me offer. Later, finding myself elected I entered foreign territory.
At my first meeting I observed that standard procedure included the Mayor giving permission for smoking to commence once the minutes of the previous meetings had been approved. Out came pipes and cigarettes and soon a smoky cloud enveloped everyone.
I was quietly relieved when I found even the long-serving councillors didn't know everything. When asking two councillors about the term 'Sinking Fund' used in financial reports both suggested I ask at the meeting so I did. Later I realised neither of these men knew and they had been voting on 'Sinking Funds' for years!
In my second term as a Richmond Borough Councillor I was appointed Deputy Mayor and I became a member of the Nelson-Bays United Council. At about this time I and some others started agitating for an aquatic centre in Richmond. 20 years later the pool opened.
Juggling council duties with bringing up a young family, volunteering in the community and completing a university degree was a struggle. A man then asked me at an election meeting if I knew about good time management!
In 1989 the Local Government Commission amalgamated the Richmond Borough Council with three other councils to form the Tasman District Council (TDC). While the Borough Council was old-fashioned and courteous I was dismayed to encounter bullying and frequent attempts to undermine some councillors at the TDC. There were also some very supportive and caring councillors, both male and female.
Not all council work is conducted around the council table. Meeting people in their local hall to hear about their views on issues both local and district-wide was always interesting. Some meetings could get quite feisty! I discovered roads in the back-of-beyond that involved traversing rivers in four wheel-drive vehicles and visited many places I would never have set foot in if I had not been a councillor.
Council matters like upgraded libraries, better footpaths, adequate walk-ways and the Richmond Aquatic Centre were very important to me. However other behind the scenes issues like relocating the Richmond Plunket to better rooms, putting members of the public in contact with the appropriate staff, the arts, and listening to people's concerns were just as important. It's not the size of the task that is important. It is the effect it has on the community's wellbeing that is important.
I was elected to the Nelson Marlborough Regional Council from its inception in 1989 until central government's politically-driven decision to abolish it in 1992.
Do I regret my time on Council? Never. It was hard work - great for expanding my knowledge base, exhilarating and rewarding at times, devastating at others but always interesting and mostly fulfilling.
This was published in: Women Decision-Makers Nelson and Tasman 1944 -2018, p. 20. Compiled by Dr Shelley Richardson, Elaine Henry, Gail Collingwood, Hilary Mitchell.
Sources used in this story
- Image: Elaine Henry 12 September 1995. Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Mail Collection: C28827.
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Further sources - Elaine Henry
- Bohny, S. (2018, Nov 23). Call for more women and diversity on local councils. Nelson Mail, p.4.
- Henry, E. (2007, October 13). A time of change: both regional and personal. Nelson Mail, p. 12.
- Karen, C. (1998, Jul 29). Race for mayoralty hots up. Nelson Mail, p.1.
- Praise for councillor. (2007, Oct 5). Nelson Mail, p. 2.