Dynes Fulton has never wanted to make claims about his achievements, but 15 years’ service to the Waikato district deserves some recognition. This story first ran in N8N’s community magazine Home Range.
He’s been called the voice of reason at Waikato District Council. Now, after 15 years—nine of them as deputy mayor—Dynes Fulton is stepping down.
Not long into his role as a ward councillor in 2004, Dynes received a shock. “They asked if I had a fax machine. I asked why not just email? They said some people don’t know how to turn on a computer so we fax everything. I didn’t realise we were so far behind.”
Council has transformed into a more professional organisation since then – no paper agendas, electronic communication – and Dynes has changed as well.
Every new councillor has a learning curve, he says. “It takes a few years before they can make significant contributions. It’s a 24/7 job now, there’s no down time. Everything is so much faster.”
He had no intention of staying five terms at council. After leaving school he went sharemilking, eventually buying the farm in Orini which his son Marcus now leases.
In 2003 an incident changed everything
“I was standing on a ladder, cutting limbs off trees with a chainsaw. Then… I fell off, and ruptured my Achilles tendon. I was hobbling around on crutches and made a conscious decision about where I wanted to be in 10 years’ time. And it wasn’t on the farm.”
He and his wife Coralie built a house in Tamahere, and during the transition from farming Dynes stood for council.
“I was very naive about what council actually did. I remember thinking – what is this big machine we are trying to manage here?”
An early insight which pleased him was how diligent councils are with ratepayers’ money. “I had a vision of rates being a big pool of money. I didn’t understand the financing is budgeted down to the last cent of income matched to the last cent of budgeted expenditure, it’s so totally managed. This was a very pleasant discovery. Everything has to go through a long-term plan, then an annual plan, so year by year we can see what money has been allocated for what.”
The three ‘r’s
It has been said that people are only interested in the three ‘R’s – rubbish, rates and roads, and he says that is true.
“People hate it when the rates go up, but if you don’t manage rate increases you fall far behind and then have to do a huge catchup. This was a legacy of previous councils. It’s always a juggling process, but we try to be fair to all ratepayers and will make adjustments to smooth this out.”
Overall, he says councils and their operation are often misunderstood. “They are very big targets and it’s easy to throw a dart at them. But all the decisions that have been made, the whole time I’ve been there, have been carefully considered and made for the right reasons.”
There were some very basic, fundamental functions district councils had to do, including fulfilling government policy statements.
“A classic example right now is the position we’re in with the inorganic rubbish collection this year.”
The service, which has been going for about 10 years, began with the belief it would pay for itself.
“But it didn’t work. Everybody helps themselves. Now the government is saying we need to reduce solid waste going to landfills. So – what do you do with it?”
He says people have not been charged a rate for the inorganic collection this year.
Communicating with the public is not always easy. “If you hold a meeting about speed limit bylaws, it’s not going to work. People don’t seem to be going to meetings as much any more. And brochures in the mail are easy to overlook. We’re seeking feedback from communities directly, and are working at being more proactive. It’s a two-way thing.”
The technology of communication has changed – people can make online submissions and contact their council via the website.
Most people or groups get in touch because they want help. “They just don’t know where to go, what the best avenue is. You can help them achieve what they what to do. It’s about helping at a community level.”
Back in 2003, Dynes campaigned to make the various councils in the Waikato into a united body.
“We had a huge amount of different bylaws and policies. The building codes are a good example. Depending on where you lived – Waikato, Matamata/Piako, Waipa and Hamilton – they were all different. Now, right across the board, there’s one code. There shouldn’t be different rules.”
The Waikato Mayoral Forum has been instrumental in bringing this together. “While there’s been a bit of argy bargy going on, by and large the Waikato now as a central body is a much more focussed place.”
The next important development is putting in place infrastructure for efficient, fast rail networks between Auckland, Hamilton and Waipa.
Dynes’ involvement with council will continue past October as he is a panel member of commissioners appointed to hear the District Plan Review, expected to run well into 2020.
“I’ll miss the camaraderie, the sense of achievement. But I’ll move on.”
He expects to get involved in the community, but there’s one project closer to home which is definitely getting his attention: restoring an old truck, currently in pieces on the farm.
“It’s a 1948 Ford V8 utility truck, my second restoration.”
If there’s one thing Dynes has shown in his years at Waikato District Council, he’s good at rebuilding.