John Burke has put down his Council papers and will soon be picking up sheet music.
Last night, 18 September, the Council held its final meeting of the triennium and the former Porirua Mayor, and current Porirua City Councillor, is standing aside.
It brings down the curtain on 33 years’ service to Porirua City – as a Councillor from 1971 to 1983, Mayor from 1983 to 1998, Councillor once more from 2013, and overall 48 years of continuous public life when his service to other public entities is added.
In between, he served on Greater Wellington Regional Council from 2007 to 2010, and has held numerous other positions in public service, including chairman of the Hutt Valley Energy Board, president of Sister Cities New Zealand, vice president of the Electricity Supply Association and Local Government New Zealand, national chairman of the Community Gaming Association, national councillor for Local Government New Zealand, president of the New Zealand Licensing Trusts Association and chairman of Hutt Mana Charitable Trust.
“There will be that inevitable period of readjustment with a vacuum to fill,” Mr Burke says.
“I’m a collector of guitars and was in a rock band in the 1960s, playing music from the Shadows, Hollies, Beach Boys, Beatles and The Searchers.
“There are clubs that have nostalgia music gigs so I really want to take up playing the guitar and get involved again – although some serious work will need to go into getting my fingers ready.”
Mr Burke says he made the decision to stand for Council again in 2013 as the amalgamation debate was raging and he felt he could bring his experience to bear if Porirua became part of a Super City.
“The Council was pushing hard for a Super City but I didn’t feel they were pushing hard enough,” he says.
In 2016 he put his name on the ballot again as he was asked to by a mayoral candidate, he says.
However, the 73-year-old decided this was his last term.
“I’ve had a couple of second thoughts, but those didn’t last long. Part of me was keen to give a newcomer an opportunity.”
It’s cliché to say things have changed plenty since his first year on the Council, in 1971.
“When I came to Porirua in 1968, I was playing rugby, and the fields without any drainage used to cut up badly with players often having lacerations that turned septic. Getting these playing fields sorted out was a high priority in my first term.
“Paremata, Plimmerton, Mana, Whitby and Pukerua Bay were part of Hutt County and came to Porirua in 1973, with Pāuatahanui following in 1988. So the landscape of our city has changed so much, in so many ways, and I was happy to be involved with that.”
In the 1970s the city had a town clerk, city engineer and treasurer, and a male-dominated, elected at large Council for the city with no ward structure. Fortunately the gender balance has improved considerably since that time, he says.
“At the time only one Councillor and one senior officer had degrees – we were not sophisticated in those early days and people were inclined to call a spade a spade.
“And the smoking – we weren’t allowed to smoke at full Council meetings but at the committee meetings you could. We debated the issues through a very hazy atmosphere which wasn’t very fair on the non-smokers, but that’s the way it was.”
Mr Burke recalls being “thrown in the deep end” by then Mayor Whitford Brown to open the then Northside cinema on the corner of Lyttelton Ave and Hagley St at one hours’ notice, and on another occasion being asked to host the Governor-General and his wife on a Vice Regal visit to Porirua on the morning of the visit.
“Those sorts of situations can make or break you but I think it held me in good stead and I’m grateful for those early opportunities now than I may have been at the time.”
Mr Burke says this term has been an enjoyable one, with a convivial atmosphere around the table and where, in the main, differences between Councillors were left in the Council chamber when the meetings ended.
The biggest challenges he foresees for the next Council?
“I was very pleased [during my mayoralty] to get the Wastewater Treatment Plant up and running. That was a huge achievement at the time but it has reached a point where it needs to be upgraded. The upgrade will cost more than the original treatment plant but it needs serious attention, which can be phased in.
“The eastern Porirua redevelopment will be important for our city, and I expect our Council to work closely with the Government to ensure it occurs in a way that meets the community’s expectations.
“The city's finances face some major challenges over the next two decades and will need managed with a great deal of discipline.”
Council Chief Executive Wendy Walker thanked Mr Burke for his many years' service to Porirua City.
"John can look around the city and take pride knowing that a number of important assets and developments are a direct result of his leadership. The Wastewater Treatment Plant was a game changer and major retail developments like North City Shopping Centre were built under his watch.”
This week was also the last for Northern Ward Councillor Dale Williams. A Councillor and Mayor in Otorohanga for over 18 years, he was elected onto Porirua City Council in 2016. He has had a long career in public service – especially with his focus on youth and employment – and hopes to continue that service by winning a seat next month on Carterton District Council.
Councillor ‘Ana Coffey was also acknowledged at last night’s final meeting. She is standing down as a Western Ward Councillor after nine years and is running for the Mayoralty only.
19 Sep 2019