AFTER three decades in arguably the city’s top job, Invercargill City Council (ICC) chief executive Richard King is retiring.
Officially his last day in the role is February 17.
Mr King said he decided to retire because he was 65 years old and because his contract was due to expire next month.
“I have been here long enough,” he said.
“It is time to move on.”
Mr King first became interested in local government while attending Southland Boys’ High School, thanks to his book-keeping teacher Norman Jones, who was also a city councillor and chairman of the finance committee at the time.
As a way to derail the lesson, the pupils would ask Mr Jones how the previous night’s council had gone and soon he would be regaling the class with a “blow-by-blow account” of what had happened, Mr King said.
“I was fascinated.”
It was Mr Jones who encouraged him to apply for one of four commerce bursary cadetships at the city council. He did and was selected.
After completing his Bachelor of Commerce, Mr King worked in the treasury department at the Dunedin City Council for five years before becoming Gore’s town clerk and then general manager at the Blenheim Borough Council. It was while working at the Blenheim council in 1986 that Peter Jones’ position as ICC town clerk became available.
Former ICC town clerk Leo Best, who had retired to Nelson, encouraged Mr King to apply for the role, and the rest is history.
When asked why he had stayed in the same role for 31 years, Mr King said:
“After leaving high school, I wanted to be the town clerk of Invercargill and I have never had any other ambition apart from that.”
During his time in the job, Mr King worked alongside three mayors – Eve Poole (1983-1992), David Harrington (1995-1998) and Tim Shadbolt (1993-1995, and again from 1998 to the present day).
Mr King said he had had a good working relationship with all three.
He conceded his relationship with Mr Shadbolt had been “rocky” to start with, but they had developed an “excellent” working relationship over time.
“It is critical you do. The relationship is pivotal to the whole organisation.”
Mr Shadbolt agreed.
“We have had our moments, but 90% of the time it is a good working relationship,” he said.
“I asked Richard to keep the ship of state steady, while I launched into 101 projects I would like to be involved in and, on that basis, it has worked really well.”
Mr King said the highlights of his time as chief executive included the formation of council companies which contributed $6 million to the council coffers every year, the development of the Splash Palace aquatic centre and the upgrades of the Civic Theatre and the Branxholme water treatment plant.
The lowest point of his time as chief executive was in 2009 when he was involved in a two-car collision, resulting in a drink-driving conviction, aged 57.
“I thought: ‘How stupid. You are meant to be a mature individual’.”
He did not consider other controversies which have surrounded the council in recent times, including council staff travelling to China to purchase Christmas lights for the city which were later found to be non-compliant with New Zealand standards, and his contentious comments about cat trapping in 2014 as low points.
It was decided to purchase Christmas lights in China because of Invercargill’s sister city relationship and because the council wanted to get them as cheaply as possible, he said.
“We ended up paying $250,000 [for replacement lights] and no one said anything.”
As for the cat drama:
“I don’t particularly like cats. I live in Otatara and prefer native birds.
“It was a brash comment I lived to regret, but it is not a low point.”
The proposed A2B yacht race was a failure, he said, but the council had had successes, including resurrecting the Burt Munro rally proposed by The World’s Fastest Indian director Roger Donaldson.
Mr King was humble when asked what he would like his legacy to be.
“Invercargill is progressing to be a great city. It is a great place to live.
“We are [only] cogs in the machine and contribute in some way to making the place better.”
On retiring, Mr King said he had no intention to move away from the city, as it provided a great lifestyle and quality of life.
Initially, he was looking forward to “waking up with nothing to do and having all day to do it”, but over time he said he would miss the “camaraderie with the staff, Tim and councillors”.