Malcolm Alexander: Have a say on how your city is run

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Local authorities oversee many services including roads, swimming pools and libraries. Pictures / Dean Purcell, Sarah Ivey, Richard Robinson
Local authorities oversee many services including roads, swimming pools and libraries. Pictures / Dean Purcell, Sarah Ivey, Richard Robinson

If you were a shareholder in a huge business, one with $120 billion of assets and an annual budget of more than $8 billion, wouldn't you want a say in who should run it? Well, effectively, that's what you as a shareholder in your community have the chance to do every three years in the local authority elections.

Local authorities in New Zealand own vast assets and even small councils' annual budgets run into the millions.

Once every three years you have the opportunity, by casting your ballot, to play your part in deciding who will be running New Zealand's towns, cities, districts, regions and health boards. Democracy really does not get much better than that. Yet just over half of New Zealanders who are eligible to vote will not do so.

Research has revealed that 31 per cent say they do not vote because they do not know enough about the candidates. A further 24 per cent intend to vote but forget and around 14 per cent were too busy. Only 14 per cent were genuinely not interested.

These statistics are surprising - apathy is the enemy of democracy. It appears many people have lost sight of the democratic process by which our local authorities are run, and simply take for granted this vast range of services, without understanding the processes behind it.

Local government needs to better tell the story of what we do - providing and managing the vast local infrastructure that supports the very fabric of New Zealand's communities.

Supported by skilled council employees, elected representatives oversee a huge range of services. It is the water you drink, wash your clothes in and shower in. It's the pavements you walk on, the roads you drive on, the swimming pools and parks where you exercise, and the recreation grounds where you cheer your kids on.

Local authorities oversee many services including roads, swimming pools and libraries. Pictures / Dean Purcell, Sarah Ivey, Richard Robinson
Local authorities oversee many services including roads, swimming pools and libraries. Pictures / Dean Purcell, Sarah Ivey, Richard Robinson

Your local authority takes your rubbish away, manages your sewage, provides street and traffic lighting, the libraries where you borrow books, and much, much more.

Frequently, tough decisions have to be made about how to prioritise use of the rates you pay. By voting for those who have the skills and leadership to strengthen local communities and revitalise our communities, you are providing your personal input into how your money is used.

This is how we have our say on the value we receive.

If something doesn't go the way they want it to, New Zealand ratepayers are quick to complain. Pretty much any hiccup in the system will see council switchboards light up like Christmas trees and letters to the editor increase tenfold.

That is good. It's healthy for people to hold their elected representatives to account. But exercising your democratic right as a citizen to vote and select those representatives is much more effective than simply complaining if you don't like what they do.

If you want the best value from the services your council provides then you need to ensure that the people who are elected best represent your values and your ambitions for the community you live in.

It is time to find out about whether the people standing in your area are open-minded, sensible and can effectively weigh up the pros and cons on an issue, and then vote for them.

Finding out about what your local candidates stand for has never been easier. Read the voting papers or simply go to vote.co.nz, key in your postal address and you will immediately be provided with details about the candidates standing in your area.

Local authorities oversee many services including roads, swimming pools and libraries. Pictures / Dean Purcell, Sarah Ivey, Richard Robinson
Local authorities oversee many services including roads, swimming pools and libraries. Pictures / Dean Purcell, Sarah Ivey, Richard Robinson

All local authority elections are conducted by postal vote - you are not required to go to a polling station. You can simply fill in your voting form, slip it into the prepaid envelope provided and next time you are passing a post box, drop it in.

It needs to be posted in time to reach the electoral officer by midday on October 12 - but there's no need to wait.

Why not fill it in tonight and post tomorrow morning? Voting is pretty straightforward and in 2016 it will get even easier when the local authority elections will be trialling an e-voting system.

I've already cast my vote, weighing up candidates standing in my local area and those which best reflect the leadership I'm looking for.

I accept that mine is only one of many votes and my chosen candidates may not be elected - but that is democracy - I've had my say.

- NZ Herald

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