Editorial: Local elections your chance to bring change

Nobody should put their names forward in the belief that local government is easy or glamorous. Photo / Supplied
Nobody should put their names forward in the belief that local government is easy or glamorous. Photo / Supplied

Nominations for the local government elections opened on Friday and will remain open for four weeks. For those forever complaining about the calibre of their local council, this is the time to put up. Local government is easier to enter than Parliament. Political parties do not dominate the contest to the same extent. Even in Auckland, where two big tickets are thinly disguised expressions of National and Labour and enjoy their organisational assistance, it remains possible for independents to be elected. Non-aligned candidates loudly proclaim their independence, knowing it is an attraction to voters.

But nobody should put their names forward in the belief that local government is easy or glamorous. Conscientious council work means getting to grips with issues of finance, planning, engineering and the social and physical environment that require a great deal of concentrated reading and long hours in usually tedious meetings. The work is not so difficult that most people could not do it, but candidates must be prepared to do it.

Sadly, there are some people - often very well known people - who stand for local bodies and get elected on name recognition, then lose interest. They cannot resist the siren call of an election for a few weeks' publicity but when it comes to attending meetings they rarely turn up. Voters would be well advised never to tick the name of a celebrity or somebody not known for public service unless they have seen, heard or read something to satisfy them the person is prepared to work.

The great majority of candidates, whatever their political orientation, are dedicated to community work. They enjoy dealing with people, especially other community-minded people who are active in local causes and organisations. Councillors and members of elected boards give up many evenings for their constituents' meetings and events besides the hours spent on council or board business. It is selfless work, seldom coming to wider attention, and we should be grateful so many of these people will be putting their nomination in again.

Local elections can be a particularly cruel lottery. Turnouts are low and votes tend to be cast on nothing more than a name, photo and a few words in a brochure. Quietly conscientious sitting members know there is always a high risk they will be overlooked, especially if the first letter of their surname is near the end of the alphabet. It takes special dedication to serve on a public body with this possible fate awaiting. So when any sitting member says they are standing again, warmly thank them, but local government needs to be constantly refreshed too.

Hopefully, there will be plenty of people, and teams of people, picking up nomination forms for the first time this week because they are not content with what is being done for the locality and they are confident they can do better. Local government needs to be challenged by new ideas and new injections of energy. If you believe you can do a better job for your district, city or community, now is the time to put your hand up.

- NZ Herald

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