It always takes a while to get used to a new role, and local government is no different. I had grand plans to keep everyone updated via social media, and this blog, of what it was like to be elected and what the going's-on are in Council are but found myself preferring to sit back and observe before spouting off about it.
There was so much to learn, and so many relationships to build, but now that I am over one year in to only a three year term it feels right to start to deliver on this commitment in earnest. If you are interest please follow me on social media or subscribe via my website (www.jennifernickel.com).
As there is way too much that has occurred over the whole first year to recap adequately, here are a few insights that may at least help to set the scene.
First of all, it may seem strange but while I had a great time campaigning I hadn't mentally prepared to 'get elected', and thus the first few weeks were a bit of a haze. That may be because there is so little information out there for a young person about what it's like to be on Council (hence it's hard to know what to expect) or perhaps because I've become very good at simply just living in the present moment. Either way, I found myself able to enter this world with a fairly open mind which felt like an asset more often than not.
Fortunately my previous life experience - spanning scientific research, sustainability, environmental resource management and many years working in the dairy industry - meant I was able to catch on to most topics fairly quickly. Other topics that I hadn't had much experience in so far, such as Iwi relationships and formal governance processes for example, were very new to me but a joy to upskill on.
Overall, I love the role. Being on Council satisfies my big-picture thinking brain and sense of responsibility to bring about wellbeing immensely, and is flexible to enable me to spend time with my young family and follow other interests in a way I haven't managed to previously. There's a lot of reading to do and the art of debate only comes with practice, but for someone who loves learning there is plenty of opportunity. I highly recommend it to those who think they might be well suited to the demands of the job and wish to serve the public for the regions gain at some point. I firmly believe that a decent selection of candidates brings about the best outcome.
If anyone were to ask, I'd say the most important quality to have is an open mind. I have lost count of the number of times I've seen a report and expected to have one opinion, only to read it, or hear someone in debate raise valid points, and then reconsider. Tempered with the ability to critically assess credibility of the source of information, and weigh up whether you have enough to take a stand, it can lead to feeling good about (and sleeping easy at night) on which way you voted on an item. It takes a while though.
I feel very privileged to get to represent Hamiltonians at Waikato Regional Council and am committed to delivering on my election platform of pushing for the environment to be valued more, driving collaboration and partnerships wherever possible and sharing information in an easily accessible way to engage constituents, particularly young ones.
It was a dream come true to have my colleagues entrust me early on to chair the newly formed Climate Action Committee, and I am incredibly grateful to the support of the staff who have been working to ready the content for it over several years before its existence so that we have been able to hit the ground running to provide leadership to the region in a supportive and inclusive way. It's success is a team effort at all levels.
Now in year two, I am more aware of my strengths and weaknesses in this local government world and intend to use them to drive and engage others in our upcoming Long Term Plan consultation, as well as every committee meeting or other collaboration opportunity I attend. My exposure to the media so far has been positive and while I feel shy and apprehensive inside I know this must grow to do my role well. The same goes for ramping up social media communication. 'Daring greatly' comes to mind.
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Official photo at the start of the triennium - October 2019