BY SUSAN BOTTING, LOCAL DEMOCRACY REPORTER FOR NORTHLAND
Dorothy (Dot) Gorrie reckons she isn't addicted to attending council meetings.
But she has been to about 60 in the past three decades, is now seeing Kaipara District Council's sixth mayor in action and has watched eight different council elections come and go, with new councillor lineups each time.
The septuagenarian is Northland's most prolific council meeting attendee, going to almost all the local Kaipara District Council (KDC)'s Dargaville-based meetings.
"It's about keeping informed," Gorrie said. "A lot of people complain about councils but don't take the time to find out what's going on."
Rain, hail or shine, Gorrie turns out to the council meetings, having checked out their agendas prior. She also attends a smattering of council briefings.
"You really get to know what is going on in council by going to meetings."
Her meeting attendance started in the mid-1990s with going along to just a few meetings a year to present about local issues or to hear more about a matter of local importance.
Her attendance shifted up a few gears when she started regularly attending almost every council meeting about a decade ago.
Gorrie has seen a procession of elected Kaipara mayors since 1995 – Peter Brown, Graeme Ramsey, Peter King, Neil Tiller, Greg Gent and now Dr Jason Smith.
There was also a stint when then Deputy Mayor Peter Wethey took on the interim mayoral role before a byelection due to Gent retiring a year into his term.
"They've all got their own strengths and unique ways of dealing with things."
There have been about 30 different councillors through the council chambers in that time, and Gorrie has also lived through KDC's four years of management by government-appointed commissioners.
She was approached to stand for the council not long before the commissioners' 2012 appointment.
"But I sensed something was wrong and as a result didn't want to," she said.
The government appointed four commissioners whose 2012-2016 tenure is still the longest of its type in New Zealand. They focused on cutting debt and addressing governance issues.
This came after major governance and financial management concerns in the wake of Mangawhai sewerage scheme's massive debt blowouts.
Mangawhai ratepayers were initially told the scheme would cost no more than $10.8 million when it was first announced in 2003, but that rose to $37 million by 2009 and more than $60 million by 2013.
"It's probably the best thing that could have happened to the council in the circumstances," Gorrie said.
"The council's official auditors should have picked up the council's financial issues earlier."
Making sure debt is under control was the biggest lesson the council needed to learn from that time, she said, and KDC had "pretty much" learned it.
Roading, rubbish and water were the three big issues now facing the council, she said.
She was not in favour of New Zealand's water sector reforms which could see local councils lose the management of drinking water and wastewater.
She said these functions should stay with local councils, fully aware that the reforms could result in KDC's demise.
"It's about accessibility for local people."
Gorrie moved to her Mamaranui lifestyle block 20km north of the Dargaville with her husband Andrew in 1994. She is on tank water and reckons the council needs to provide more education to get urban residents on reticulated water more wisely using the increasingly scarce supply.
"They might have a 15 minute shower, whereas people in the country and having to rely on their own tank water might take only a five minute shower."
The hugely contrasting nature of Kaipara's east and west coast populations were another council challenge.
"It's like a tale of two halves."
One half was the very fast-growing east coast's Mangawhai, predominated with Aucklanders and lots of money. The other was the west coast's more low key Dargaville and surrounds, dominated by retired people and less wealth.
KDC was being helmed reasonably well, given its capacity and funding levels, she said. Councillors and staff worked together better than they had at some points in the past, but the council was not perfect and everybody had their opinions.
"We've got 24,000 consultants. We've all got our views about what the council should be doing," Gorrie said of Kaipara's residents.
At times, the council could better listen to people before it acted.
"Sometimes it does something a little back to front."
Having her say on issues of local importance got her into council matters initially.
It was building the Waiatua dam for Dargaville's drinking water supply. This was very close to her home. She and other locals heard on the grapevine it was happening and knew nothing about it.
They went and talked to Northland Regional Council (NRC) about the dam and their thoughts – both KDC and NRC were involved in its development.
Gorrie was also part of community campaigning against the council selling the Kaihu Valley war memorial hall. She eventually ended up on the hall committee.
She has also been part of KDC road panels – people's panels providing community feedback about roading projects.
"A lot of it boils down to local knowledge."
Gorrie said KDC was being led reasonably well.
"But no matter what, there will always be something council is getting wrong in the eyes of the community. That's just how it is."
KDC in October voted for a separate Maori seat. Gorrie was not in favour.
"Why do we need them, Maori can stand for the council the same as anybody else."
Her almost three decade attendance allows a longer term perspective. Some issues took a while to come to fruition, council meeting discussions part of a process with results several years down the track.
"This was the case for the kauri coast swimming pool in Dargaville."
She said meetings brought council agendas to life.
Gorrie is a multi-skilled and passionate volunteer with almost three decades involvement across many areas of the community. She's been volunteering for about the same amount of time she's been going to council meetings.
Her first volunteering was with the Mamaranui Bowling Club where she is now patron and life member. In 2019 she won the Barry Markwick Memorial service to sport award at the Kaipara District Sports Awards for her club involvement.
She started out playing bowls, was a stalwart of "take a plate" for the women’s bowling and was secretary and treasurer.
Today she no longer plays but is still is a mainstay of the take a plate tradition for bowls tournaments and helps in the kitchen. She provides the chocolates for the club's regular Friday quiz sessions.
Gorrie is also a Dargaville Museum life member and committee member and treasurer, doubling as on-site manager once a week. She has volunteered with the museum for a decade.
Her council attendance helped inform this mahi, she said.
In the early days of her Kaipara community involvement Gorrie had no computer at home.
That changed about 15 years ago when she bought a second-hand computer that was for sale at the Kaihu Hall.
Gorrie is now SeniorNet Dargaville's deputy-chair and tutors others in how to use computers. The terminology of computer use rattles off her tongue.
"My PC is my work horse, my ipad my toy, and my phone is just that, for phone calls."
The Northern Wairoa Genealogy Society is another passion. She is also on its committee.
"We call ourselves the genies."
Her Sunday mission is historical researching to help others in the community who are involved with a project attaching resin Anzac poppies to the headstones of World War soldiers buried outside the Dargaville RSA cemetery.
So why does Gorrie participate so actively?
"It's all about communicating with people. If people don't do things in their community their mind stagnates doesn't it."
You really get to know what is going on in council by going to meetings, says Dot Gorrie. PHOTO/LDR/SUSAN BOTTING
“We've got 24,000 consultants. We've all got our views about what the council should be doing.”