by Jerene Watson, Deputy City Manager, City of Flagstaff
Last summer our city of Flagstaff was fortunate to be selected as an exchange city in the ICMA/State Department Professional Fellows Program. I strongly recommend exploring
the opportunity to compete for an exchange in this new partnership ICMA has developed with the State Department.
After hosting two women from New Zealand in October, I had the great fortune to participate in the return exchange this past February, and I can say it was a "wow!" New Zealand
customs and Kiwi-isms share commonalities and differences. It's a land without window screens, for the most part. None of the homes I stayed in and only one business had window
screens. Opposites reign in a different hemisphere. Not only is driving on the opposite side of the road including round-abouts driven reverse from the US, but left turns are
not crossing oncoming traffic; right turns do. Water flows in reverse and the night sky has the Southern Cross rather than the Big Dipper. And then there is the fun of Kiwi-isms
..."brolies" are umbrellas, "bogs" are a common term for restrooms, which they also call "toilets"; "wheelie bins" are trash containers and "white flat" is a strong coffee with milk,
but not the same as a latte.
Distinctions were noticeably part of the fabric of the country regardless which communities I visited. People were very open, friendly, and straightforward with a great sense of
humor. The country seemed especially far advanced in integration of the native and multi-cultures, proudly touting and including the Maori tribal communities throughout their
marketing, images and news. Finally, the whole country is a "feast for the eyes," like living/working inside a National Geographic magazine! But besides the natural beauty and
pristine condition of the countryside just about everywhere I traveled, there were highlights:
** Wellington-- SOLGM (Society of Local Government Managers, the equivalent of ICMA here in the US) was invaluable in educating us to their central (federal) unitary-Parliamentary
government and touring Parliament after a very interesting day-long tutorial on how local cities/districts (counties) are networked, resourced and organized. We also received a
briefing from their League of Cities equivalent (LGNZ-Local Government New Zealand) which proudly carries messages of "Be Brave; Build Bridges; Rattle the Right Cages" through
"collective clout" to fulfill their vision of "local democracy powering community and national success."
** Hastings-meeting again with a fellow city manager & Harvard KSG classmate from the summer of 2011; getting to know his family and community. Memorable moments were participating
in a new citizenship ceremony; touring the I-Way (their multi-modal path) on bicycle for 90 minutes; and, seeing first-hand their environmentally sustainable wastewater treatment
plant built for about $30 million instead of the typical $60-80 million for a traditional plant. This was also a collaborative with their Iwi (local tribal groups) to meet their
cultural norms and protect the sanctity of their lands with an acceptable treatment process passing through to discharge into the ocean.
** Christchurch/Canterbury-northern part of the island where the destruction of the 2010/2011 earthquakes in Christchurch and Canterbury Region is still very evident. A driving tour
of the region's "new normal" was sobering. The rebuilding has been strong, but ever-so- slow for those still waiting to settle with insurance companies, governments and decision-making
authorities. A windshield tour revealed the full range of damage, from small brick crumblings on many buildings still safe to inhabit, to the roller coaster dips in roads even after
repairs, leaning light poles or fences, lots and parcels fully demolished from any homes or buildings and fenced-off places inaccessible until repairs are completed. One still sees
street cones with bunches of flowers stuck in the top as memorials to the victims.
** Dunedin-spending an hour with a Labour Party leader/MP (Member of Parliament), learning about his passion and why he chose to run for Parliament along with being a professor at the
local university & an ordained minister, was inspiring. Visiting the meeting house, or "Marae" of the clan in a small community where one of our exchange fellows grew up was a special
It was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience with so much more than I have been able to capture. The program has much return on investment for any community; well worth the
efforts in hosting and being hosted, and a unique experience I highly recommend.