Mayoral column June 2022
It is June already and I have a lot that I’d like to say before Council heads into its “pre-election period” and I pause these mayoral columns for a few months. So please bear with me as I cover a few short things in response to questions and comments I have received recently.
I am pleased to hear about a few new community groups that have been formed to benefit their members and to help understanding and information flow with council – for example, the Ratepayers Association and a small group out at the Drifts.
I applaud this – I appreciate that sometimes council processes can be hard to navigate and I am all for groups that want to get more information, find out what’s possible and work more directly with council. These groups can be a great way to make sure you have your questions answered, gather more facts and background, understand the role of council and create the changes you think the community needs.
But you don’t need to be part of a group if you want to work more closely or know more about council. We always encourage people to be hands-on and involved in local democracy and constructive feedback is encouraged. Of course, it is much more useful if the feedback is actually constructive and directed to the right place, not only a moan on social media. As always, your Councillors are happy to meet or chat about questions and concerns.
In addition to elected representatives, Council frequently asks the community for their views and thoughts directly, for example the Harbour and Wharf master plan currently open for consultation or the Annual Plan. Feedback is welcome any time on any topic through the website, letters, emails, online, Antenno or face-to-face. We are always open to general feedback, but also specific feedback such as on Long Term Plans, changes to bylaws and so on. It is an open door policy so please just ask.
You can also let council know when you appreciate something. For example, I’d like to express how incredibly proud I am of all the work that has gone into a whole calendar of Matariki events. They are outstanding and very well attended and much appreciated by so many of us in the community. Thank you to everyone involved in this mahi.
Elections will be later this year (which is why this will be my last mayoral column for a while) and so it is a timely reminder of what a councillor does because I am sure there will be a few out there who are keen to put their name forward for this important role.
We are all elected to make decisions on behalf of our entire community and that means we sometimes need to deal with things that we would rather leave in the “too hard basket”. As a councillor we need to bring an open mind and set aside personal interests. It also means listening to a wide range of views and not just bowing to a noisy minority or the people we spoke to most recently. It is sometimes difficult, but we need to look at the bigger picture, not just the latest opinion we heard in the supermarket. That is why the more people who give feedback to council, the better.
We make decisions for our grandchildren’s children. As the saying goes – we plant trees in whose shade we do not expect to sit.
We get reports from council. They are neutral, lay out a problem for us to consider, provide technical details and advice on the process. It is then our job to ask questions or ask for more information or to clarify things that we don’t understand. We need to make sure we have everything in front of us for an informed decision with a solid understanding of the outcomes. We can ask for more if we don’t have that.
When Councillors make a decision, they must consider what is best for the whole district, current and future. We often must balance competing interests, with many limitations for example central government rules or financial constraints, so there is rarely a situation when everyone gets exactly what they want. The point of having seven different voices at the table is that we bring different values and skills and solutions to issues.
We need strategic thinkers – people willing to look ahead, think carefully and look for long-term solutions to our complex issues. There is rarely one “right” answer and our job is to find the “best” one – most affordable, most long-lived, most benefit for the most people. Some people not getting what they want is not that council “hasn’t listened”, it is just that we may have chosen a different path or a different priority. As I said – there is rarely a solution that makes everyone happy. And that is often the nature of local democracy. It certainly makes the role of elected representative a challenging but rewarding one.
As Councillors we should also have a clear understanding of our role of governors not managers. We provide clear and consistent direction to council on what we want to happen. And we hold council responsible for spending and how they are meeting the priorities we set. We can’t get caught up in the day-to-day operations of council, but we provide a vital window in and out to the community.
In short, what I am saying is that with elections around the corner I would encourage people to start thinking about what they want in their elected representatives and make sure that you are enrolled to vote when the time comes. You’ll start seeing a lot more advertising about this over the next few months. There will also be a poll about Māori wards for Ōpōtiki and there is a lot to think about and consider in that space as well.
We are not the same as The Government (although we do have quite a few jobs they give us to do). We are your very own LOCAL government, made up of your own community. You get to decide who that local voice should be by voting.