Long-serving Taranaki Regional Council head bows out


Departing Taranaki Regional Council chief executive Basil Chamberlain at his last meeting of the council.

Andy Jackson/Stuff

Departing Taranaki Regional Council chief executive Basil Chamberlain at his last meeting of the council.

Departing Taranaki Regional Council chief executive Basil Chamberlain was reminded of his first introduction to the province 40 years ago at his final council meeting.

He told councillors how he drove up from Southland leaving his father to finish lambing, and caught the overnight ferry still wearing a thick pullover.

“I got to Whanganui about 5am and the sun was shining. It was my first visit to the North Island and I decided to throw the jersey in the back seat because I thought I would never need to wear it again,” he said.

“Well I arrived in Taranaki and started work and didn’t see the sun for a month and I was thinking it was the coldest place I’d been in and it was something I wouldn’t forget.”

Chamberlain stepped down on Tuesday after 40 years of local body governance, including 31 years as TRC chief executive, making him the longest-serving current local body manager in New Zealand.

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Chamberlain was the first chief executive when the TRC was established in 1989.

When he took on the role, Yarrow Stadium was still known as Rugby Park, riparian planting and predator-free schemes were unheard of, and there was a charge to visit the region’s landmark gardens, Pukeiti, Tūpare and Hollard.

It was the council as a whole, councillors and staff, not himself, which enabled changes to be made, he said.

“I’ve been tremendously well supported by staff and councillors who have been good from top to bottom and have worked in the best interests of the Taranaki community,” he said.

Chamberlain’s first job was with the regional water board as water resources officer in 1980, then chief water conservator, and Taranaki Catchment Commission (TCC) general manager in 1988.

Alongside his council role he has been on a number of national boards and international delegations involved in biodiversity, natural hazards, resource and sustainable land management.

Taranaki Regional Council chairman David MacLeod (left) moved a vote of thanks to long serving chief executive Basil Chamberlain after 40 years of service.

Andy Jackson/Stuff

Taranaki Regional Council chairman David MacLeod (left) moved a vote of thanks to long serving chief executive Basil Chamberlain after 40 years of service.

He is a past director of the Taranaki Rugby Union, St John Bosco school trustee, and current Justice of the Peace, and has post-graduate management qualifications from Harvard, and Reading universities.

TRC chairman David MacLeod​ moved a vote of thanks, seconded by councillor David Lean, on Chamberlain’s “extraordinary” service to the regional council.

“The region has benefited immensely from his powerful intellect and his superb ability to strategise and develop robust and effective processes and programmes, MacLeod said in a later statement.

“The riparian management programme and Towards Predator-Free Taranaki are just two notable examples of his approach.

“Basil is always reluctant to claim any personal credit for council successes under his leadership.”

Former TRC chairman David Walter​ said Chamberlain’s Southland upbringing had “kept his feet on the ground.”

“He has built up huge amount of respect among his colleagues and politicians.

“He didn’t believe in bureaucracy if he could avoid it.”

Local Government New Zealand ceo Malcolm Alexander​ said Chamberlain’s “experience, wisdom and basic common sense has been an immense help” to people involved in local government sector.

This year he was awarded the Distinguished Management Award by the Society of Local Government of New Zealand.

Taranaki regional councillors and staff stand to applause retiring chief executive Basil Chamberlain's 40 years of service at his final meeting in Stratford.

Andy Jackson/Stuff

Taranaki regional councillors and staff stand to applause retiring chief executive Basil Chamberlain’s 40 years of service at his final meeting in Stratford.

But Chamberlain’s forthright leadership style also attracted criticism.

In 2002 Maori activist Peter Moeahu​ called for Chamberlain’s “sacking” after the TRC, in a submission on the Local Government Bill, called Maori wards and constituencies “undemocratic in a modern society”.

The next TRC chief executive is to be announced shortly.

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