With local government elections to be held this October Hastings District Council has appointed a new electoral officer - Jackie Evans.
According to corporate and customer services group manager Mike Maguire, the council's legal officer, Peter Woodroffe, has been acting in the position, with Mrs Evans coming in with election experience in both New Zealand and the United Kingdom. "It is considered that Mrs Evans has the appropriate experience to act as electoral officer for this council and that there is no other staff member who would be at the same level," he said.
The other option was to appoint someone from the outside to the position which Mr Maguire said could open the council up to additional costs.
Councillors voted on this at last week's meeting to fill a requirement under the Local Electoral Act 2001 for the council at all times to have an electoral officer. Mrs Evans' appointment comes at a time when Local Government New Zealand has launched its #Vote16NZ campaign in an attempt to get more people to vote in this year's council elections.
With voting numbers declining in many areas of the country since the 80s, the body's 10-month drive, running until the October 8 polling date, aims to lift voter numbers above 50 per cent nationally for the first time since 1998 - with voter turnout sitting at 41.3 per cent at the 2013 election.
The national body's president and Hasting's mayor, Lawrence Yule, said local body voter turnout varies significantly across different age groups and geographic areas. The main reasons people give for not voting is not knowing enough about the candidates, 31 per cent, "forgot or left too late", 24 per cent, and "not interested" or "too busy", each 14 per cent.
Mr Yule said in order to improve these statistics, the first step is to raise public awareness of the value of local government and the role it plays in the everyday lives of New Zealanders.
"Our aim is to grow citizens' understanding of the breadth of services delivered each day by local governments across New Zealand, and the impact those services have on their everyday lives," he said. "By making that connection, we hope it inspires Kiwis to take a more proactive stance on the issues they care about in their communities.
"Citizens can get involved by voting for their preferred candidate this October, and maybe even deciding to stand as a candidate themselves." Mr Yule urged New Zealanders to find out more about what their local council was doing in their own community and how they could get involved and have their say in how to shape it.
"Democracy is both a privilege and a responsibility," he said. "By participating in the local government process and casting your vote you help ensure it rests on the right shoulders. Our goal is that, for the first time in nearly two decades, local government will be elected by a majority of New Zealanders."