Mayoral Profile: Alex Familton

Alex Familton
Alex Familton Age: 68. Marital status: Married to Heather with two children and eight grandchildren. Occupation: Mayor. Council experience: Three years with Waihemo Community Board, three years district councillor (Waihemo ward), three years as Waitaki mayor. Describe yourself in three words: "Positive, community team-worker." Photo by David Bruce
Mayoral elections in Otago's "heartland" this year have attracted 14 candidates. The Otago Daily Times today begins a series profiling those candidates, with Oamaru reporter David Bruce putting the questions to the Waitaki District Council's mayor, Alex Familton.

He may not be out kissing babies, but Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton is an old-fashioned campaigner when it comes to winning elections.

In 2007, his campaign for his first term as mayor involved a lot of "face-to-face" - door knocking and meeting people on their own turf, an anachronism in this day of media-conscious and savvy politicians.

There was a reason then.

As the Waihemo councillor on the Waitaki District Council, he was not that well known in Oamaru - where the bulk of the votes are - and was competing against Oamaru businessman Alan McLay seeking his third term.

This time, Mr Familton intends "as much as possible" to do more of the same.

A self-confessed "people person", he "loved meeting people".

"I got so many stories and surprises knocking on doors last time - and such a welcome.

"People in this district are basically friendly. They don't glare at you when they open the door.

"They're more inclined to offer you a cup of tea."

"In fact, I got more offers for a wee snack and a cup of tea than I've possibly ever had."

Since then, in his role as mayor attending functions, he has become much better known.

But door knocking will still be part of campaigning.

Why are you standing again?

Because tasks I have done are full of interest and community involvement.

Many of them need completion.

Both Heather and myself are keen to be part of the completion of past projects we have begun.

Are any a priority?

There are a raft of projects around the district and town (Oamaru) itself.

The (Oamaru) harbour (development) - we need to keep going with that.

We need to complete the (erosion) protection between Oamaru Creek and the railway station and the whole harbour development.

We need to continue a focus on the business sector (development of industrial land) out the north end and we need to continue on what I call the general tidy-up.

We've done a lot of little things ... a good tidy-up, and that includes the focus turning back to Centennial Park.

We're also aware of the WaitakiValley and its projects, particularly the (Alps to Ocean) cycleway.

There's a lot of work yet, but we have $2.25 million in our hands.

It will be a bonus for the district and a bonus to all those little projects which will develop from that cycleway.

Look, I've heard of people already looking at setting up little shops, supply systems and drinking spots of one sort or another.

It will bring a lot of little industries and projects into the valley.

And south we have a really ambitious landscaping project around Palmerston.

Moeraki - we're going to take decisive steps about Haven and Tenby Sts and that Moeraki hillside.

Why do you think you will make a good mayor?

I'm positive and constructive, I like projects and I like people.

Heather and I are deeply interested in what happens to the district.

We have seen a whole new set of levels in our district we were aware of but had not seen in detail in the past.

We have become totally involved and that commitment is the basis of being a good mayor.

What are the biggest achievements in the past three years?

Ah well, ha ha. (He thinks hard and carefully.) In terms of projects, the (Alps to Ocean) cycle track has to open up a vista and set of finances that makes it notable. (A pause).

Then there's progress at the Oamaru Harbour area - the extension of Wansbeck St (to the harbour), small enough in itself, but in a sense a huge step for that area to turn it into a vital area.

It's very difficult to go down there now and not find people parked there and having a look around.

Outside of that, one of my best achievements is the contacts I have made outside the district - (Minister of Health) Tony Ryall, (Minister of Local Government) Rodney Hide and others in Government.

What about the next three years?

Continuing the success already achieved, particularly projects that draw in funding from outside the district rather than from ratepayers.

We have been financially prudent with a 2.65% rate rise (this year), but we have to cement that in the future because we still have an enterprising community and it's my basic belief we need to leave as much development finance in their hands as we can rather than collect more rates from them.

The biggest challenge is to stay within a reasonable financial frame.

The council itself is not the productive unit and needs to be constantly aware the best thing we can do is support the productive sector.

When elected in 2007 you said you would shift from Palmerston to Oamaru. Have you done that?

We have shifted.

But we are living in two places now - Reservoir Rd (in Oamaru) and Palmerston.

Particularly in the last six months we have found ourselves spending more and more time in Oamaru.

• The postal voting period is September 17 to October 9 (closing, noon).

• Tomorrow: Gary Kircher (Waitaki).

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