Well, the local body hustings season is upon us. The aspirants for high office have been declared and their photos were shown last week. Colourful hoardings will start to appear, and many people will make strange statements – including making promises that they will never be allowed to keep.
A third bridge (but no details of the connection to main roading systems) – stopping the move to frustrate lovely suburbs by interspersing ugly three storey RMA-free dwellings when the national government has already decreed it – and endless and frequent bus services, when it is a regional council matter. You will hear it all in the coming weeks. All will be in the mix.
And no doubt there will be a mass meeting of aspirants in a central facility embracing all the hopefuls who will each obtain absolute minimum time to declare their pitch. All good fun and then what? My personal experience of these during my 12 years of local body elected membership was that you would be better off splitting the mayoral, council and community board gatherings into separate groups and give the voters more time to understand what makes these grandees tick.
Waipā District Council now supports (initially due to Covid) screened live gatherings of the council meetings and main committees and what an enthralling episode those are! But this is ‘open government’ at play and an opportunity to see which elected people contribute and which do not. Yes, sadly, there are at least two (one of them a Cambridge representative) who sit in mainly stony silence yet strut the streets as evidence of making headway on behalf of the people.
There are four who have thrown their hats into the ring for the opportunity of inhabiting the mayoral office in Te Awamutu – (well paid, car etc) – but some far from enjoyable lengthy hours associated with the role. Of the four one is highly experienced now seeking his fourth term with a wealth of involvement professionally as a previous local body employee. Another is an active elected councillor currently who chairs meetings well and shows her professional mettle as a barrister. The third has no previous track record in local politics and some may say that is perhaps a good thing – but has ample experience in running large sized commercial companies. With the fourth one who used to work for the council, writes grumpy letters in the paper from time to time but is using his democratic right to ‘have a go’.
The departure from the council of well-known Cambridge leader Grahame Webber will leave hard boots to fill, and I wish him well – he has constantly been fair, open and willing to help promote an improved Waipa over many years. So, do we need to decide on experience (the current mayor), a younger well-educated and positive debater – or move towards someone with prime ideas but no experience of digging through the morass of local body bureaucracy? This opinion piece is not to be seen to back any single candidate but asks you to do more homework than just attend a talk-fest during September.
Whatever emerges at the close of voting mid-October remember you have them attempting to understand and interpret your interests for the next three years. Much has been said that three years (nationally and locally) is too short a period to gain balanced, far-sighted and effective government. There are arguments both ways and wiser people than me have debated them for many years. But a degree of continuity is important provided that those occupying the high-backed seats at the council table do not see themselves as being incapable of being shifted.
This is the time that the permanent letter-writers will seek for their moment of glory – in some cases attempting to hide their true political colours. But they too have a right to be heard (or at least read). The Oxford Dictionary defines democracy as ‘a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power’. Summed up by the Latin phrase vox populi. Exercise that vote carefully but, at the very least, do take an interest and do vote. Crying ‘foul’ later when you did not care to vote is no excuse.