Victoria Carter: Move on, career councillors, and let new blood in

Sadly, the way of elections tends to be how well recognised the name of the person is or how high in the alphabet their name is on the voting form. Photo / George Novak
Sadly, the way of elections tends to be how well recognised the name of the person is or how high in the alphabet their name is on the voting form. Photo / George Novak

• Victoria Carter was a top polling Auckland City Councillor in 1998-2003 before she retired to return to business. She is not standing this time. Nominations for the local government elections close on Friday.

Council is about more than the Mayor.

Last week, Judy McGregor encouraged more women to stand for councils at the coming local body elections. However, the only way they will get there is if some of those who have been at the council table for far too long stopped seeing the job of councillor as a career.

Over half of those on the Auckland Council have been around a council table for 10 years or more, either as a former mayor or councillor. Some have been in local body politics even longer, and it's the same all over New Zealand.

Auckland and many other councils desperately need some new, energetic, younger thinkers and more people under 55. They also need people who know how to question bureaucracy and some people who know how a business is run.

We know how disengaged young people are with local politics and perhaps it's not surprising when they can't relate to the council or are disillusioned by council decisions. It's not helped that one can read more on Twitter about the activity (or not) of councillors than we do in the media.

How many of us know what's important to our local councillor or have ever been asked for our view? How do they get their soundings for decision-making apart from squeaky wheels? Should ratepayers know the attendance rate at meetings and whether they constructively participate or doze off?

Sadly, the way of elections tends to be how well recognised the name of the person is or how high in the alphabet their name is on the voting form.

Performance, unlike in a corporate environment, goes unquestioned. No one appears to take councillors aside, as you might expect a good chairman to do, and discuss whether they are acting in the best interests of the ratepayers or whether it's time to let someone else come through.

The council needs to have a diversity of people to ensure a range of opinion.

We've seen some bitter debates recently on several subjects which have illustrated the generational divide - the Unitary Plan, whether Auckland should get more intensive housing, the cycleway over the Harbour Bridge.

Just like a healthy commercial or charitable board, the council needs to have a diversity of people to ensure a range of opinion. We need people of different age groups, work experience, ideally some with a business background so that there are voices at the council table who can add value.

Fifteen years ago I was one of the youngest to be elected to Auckland City Council. I was lucky that one third of us were a "new face". We came to the council with a bushy-tailed enthusiasm, desire to change the way things had been done and probably a naivety that bureaucracy wasn't going to get in our way.

The other good thing about that new group elected was that we had significantly shifted the dial on the age of the council and half the council were now women. Nearly half were under 50 too - a huge shift from the previous council age group.

That council team, despite being very diverse, managed to get a lot of good projects started for Auckland - the rethink around Britomart, the indoor arena, and many other projects which have been good for the city.

Let's hope this election we might see some long-standing or well-known names step down and some new brooms add their energy, enthusiasm and vigour to more council tables around the country.

- NZ Herald

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