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But at the first meeting of the new council yesterday, Stephen Woodhead faced no challenge and was elected unopposed.
The South Otago sheep farmer, first elected in 2004, was deputy chairman of the council in 2007-10.
Retired farmer and rural banker Cr David Shepherd was elected unopposed yesterday as his deputy.
Otago Daily Times inquiries last week indicated Cr Bryan Scott and Cr Woodhead might both chase the chairman's role.
However, when chief executive Graeme Martin called for nominations, only Cr Woodhead's was forthcoming, from Cr Gretchen Robertson.
Approached after the meeting, Cr Scott had little say.
He would not comment when asked if he canvassed councillors and found he did not have the numbers to secure the chairmanship.
"Today is about celebrating the positive outcome for the chair and deputy chair. Their elections have been endorsed by councillors, and I fully support that," he said.
Cr Woodhead said he took on the chairman's position with "a little excitement, a little nervousness and a little of 'how did this happen?"'
The council was in for a busy time with major projects such as the Leith-Lindsay flood protection scheme, water management issues, the Queenstown flood protection plan, a rating review and planning for a new council headquarters building.
It was up to all councillors to abide by the declaration each had made yesterday and faithfully and impartially work in the best interests of Otago, he said.
About 25 family, friends and senior staff members watched as the 11 councillors - Woodhead, Shepherd, Scott, Robertson, Doug Brown, Duncan Butcher, Louise Croot, Michael Deaker, Gerry Eckhoff, Trevor Kempton and Sam Neill - read and signed their declarations.
Cr Kempton is the only new face.
Among the audience were Cr Woodhead's wife, Bronwyn, and youngest son Aaron (17).
The couple have two older sons, Nigel and Scott.