Committed to his community

By ODT | Posted: Tuesday April 27, 2021

Former Dunedin mayor Dave Cull is being remembered as an articulate advocate for the city, an inclusive leader and a man who confronted challenges with assurance.

Mr Cull (71) died at his Portobello Rd home yesterday, after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

His public service included three terms as mayor, three years as Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) president and a curtailed stint as Southern District Health Board chairman.

He was also a television presenter and an author.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led the tributes.

"I found him to be a deeply thoughtful person, totally committed to his role of improving the lives of people in his community," Ms Ardern said.

Mr Cull’s wife, Joan Wilson, said he had recently had good days and bad days and fatigue took a toll.

However, he had just bought a new saw and spent some time in the workshop making furniture.

The couple had been together for 38 years and have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said he had talked with Mr Cull in the past week.

"He was a colleague, friend and mentor to many, and I’m devastated for his whanau who deserved more time with Dave after his mayoral duties were fulfilled."

The council’s relationships with iwi had developed from Mr Cull’s work and LGNZ grappled with issues such as climate change under his leadership, Mr Hawkins said.

Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt requested a minute of silence before the city council meeting there yesterday.

Mr Cull was elected to the Dunedin City Council in 2007.

Before winning the mayoralty in 2010, he described himself as a pragmatist with rose-tinted spectacles.

As his nine years in the top job were drawing to a close, he was happy to declare the city was in much better shape.

Issues dealt with during that time included financial fallout from the new stadium, management of council-owned companies, a fraud investigation that led to a council manager taking his own life, and flooding in South Dunedin.

City councillor Chris Staynes was deputy mayor throughout Mr Cull’s mayoralty and described him as an inclusive, effective leader.

He was able to draw councillors together and get hard decisions made, Cr Staynes said.

"He could quickly look at an issue and frame up what process might be needed to fix it."

Otago regional councillor and former city councillor Kate Wilson said Mr Cull was intelligent, well-read and had a quick sense of humour.

"Dave was a fantastic strategist," Ms Wilson said.

City councillor David Benson-Pope said Mr Cull was an articulate representative of the city.

"He always confronted the issues that needed to be confronted."

Former city council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose said he stood behind council staff and was prepared to back decisions based on good evidence.

Dunedin MP Dr David Clark said he was progressive, without being ideological.

Dr Clark appointed Mr Cull Southern DHB chairman at the end of 2019, after the Dunedin mayor had decided against seeking a fourth term.

Mr Cull stood aside from the health board in October 2020.

New SDHB chairman Pete Hodgson said in that short period, Mr Cull’s belief in people’s capacity to work together to effect change was palpable.

National list MP Michael Woodhouse said Mr Cull faced his illness with dignity and determination.

"Dave served the city he loved with unsurpassed passion and determination."

Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta said Mr Cull led the city council through a period of restrained financial management following the Global Financial Crisis and the added debt burden of the stadium.

"He worked to restore trust and faith in council following the bitter debate over the Forsyth Barr Stadium that divided the community,” she said.

Mr Cull was LGNZ president from July 2017 until August 2020.

His successor Stuart Crosby said Mr Cull connected well with people.

"His ability to communicate was something he no doubt developed across many roles he held in his life — as a carpenter, TV presenter, author, speaker and elected member, among many things."

Mr Cull had received chemotherapy treatment since October, spent about five weeks in hospital this year and was discharged in March.

He spent four nights at the Otago Community Hospice in Dunedin, before returning home.

Funeral arrangements have yet to be determined.

David Charles Cull

1950: Born in Invercargill

1960s: Attended Southland Boys' High School and began study in Dunedin for a BA and post-graduate diploma in political science at University of Otago

2000s: Worked as a television presenter for TVNZ, hosting lifestyle and home improvement shows including Home Front.

2007: Elected to Dunedin City Council.

2008: Votes against building a new stadium, arguing financial risks were too great.

2010: Wins the mayoralty, beating incumbent Peter Chin by about 22,000 votes to 14,000. Wins two more mayoral elections in 2013 and 2016.

2011-13: Deals with financial issues at council companies and the council goes into a period of austerity to keep rate increases down.

2014: Shake-up at council in aftermath of the $1.5million Citifleet fraud when a council manager was found to have sold 152 council vehicles

2015: Council responds to failures found in aftermath of flooding that hit South Dunedin.

2017: Appointed Local Government New Zealand president

2019: Decided not to seek re-election as mayor.

2019: Elected to Southern District Health Board, becomes chairman.

2020: Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October.

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