FORMER council staffer Kari Graber has put her hand up to run for the Invercargill City Council (ICC) at this year’s local body elections.
“I am a very selfish person. I want to make this a city I would love to live in… and my children would love to come back to.”
New Zealand and Invercargill had been good to her and her family, and this was a way for her to give back and help the community thrive, she said.
“I have been lifted up and now I want to lift others up.”
And, she already has a host of ideas of how to go about that.
Among them are strengthening council’s relationship with the Southland Chamber of Commerce, making the process for business setups easier, implementing an economic development strategy specific to Invercargill and changing council’s focus from a regulatory role to one more focused on implementing strategies to invigorate the city.
“If regulation becomes our focus, we can’t survive. Let central government do that.
“Council’s job should be to encourage, to support and to advise, and it is to open doors. We should be solution-based and solution-focused.
“I don’t want to be a councillor that sits there and can’t make a decision because it is not popular and who is more concerned about if it doesn’t go right they won’t be re-elected.
“If we don’t have the conversation and try things, the city will die.”
The mother-of-two said her focus would be making positive change for the city rather than being re-elected.
“I want to see how much I can achieve in three years.”
Among her strengths was an understanding of how council operations and governance fitted together, she said.
Before coming to New Zealand six years ago, Ms Graber had worked in state government in the United States and for Scottish National Party politician Alex Salmond.
“I bring a full circle of skills and a knowledge of how government works across three countries, not just one.”
Ms Graber had worked at ICC for five years, firstly as a policy and planning analyst and then as ICC city centre co-ordinator.
As city centre co-ordinator, Ms Graber spearheaded and implemented numerous initiatives and events designed to reinvigorate the inner city and support central city businesses.
Those initiatives included a rebranding for Invercargill, developing an e-commerce site promoting the city and its retailers and Food Truck Friday, Matariki and Halloween trick or treating events.
She resigned from the position in September last year.
“I did as much as I could as city centre co-ordinator and it was like running up hill all the time.
“The final straw for me was when I was told if I talked to the media about struggles businesses were facing, I would lose my job,” she said.
“I knew I needed to shift how I am approaching and initiating long-term changes for the city.”
Ms Graber now runs her own business, Squircle, which works with businesses and non-profit organisations providing services in consultancy, promotion and event management.
Ms Graber has set up a Facebook page – ‘Kari Graber for city council’ so Invercargill residents could discuss their ideas about how to make Invercargill a more vibrant city. “We have to share ideas, that is how we grow.”