1) Are the local elections too boring and beige?
The Auckland mayoralty election certainly is, according to deputy mayor Penny Hulse. She says she wants to hear some "genuine vision" but is instead "vaguely uninspired" by the candidates - see Toby Manhire's 'Strap them on and get a bit braver' - Penny Hulse's advice to would-be Mayor Phil Goff.
2) How satisfied is the public with their local government politicians?
Auckland Council has commissioned polling, which shows that "only 17 per cent of Aucklanders trust council to make the right decisions and only 15 per cent are satisfied with council's performance" - see Bernard Orsman's Auckland Council's $90,000 survey 'a waste'.
3) Is it a problem that few candidates are putting themselves forward for the 2016 elections?
Electoral officer Dale Ofsoske suggests some of the factors contributing to the low candidate turnout across the country:
"Not everyone understands the role of local government and the impact it has on their lives.... Also, we all lead pretty busy lives ... If you're working full time, it's hard, as a lot of the meetings are during the day" - see Alexandra Newlove's Disappointed at uncontested seat "low candidate turnout". See also, the Northland Age's Just one challenger for Far North's mayoralty., and Susan Strongman's Lack of candidates leaves Auckland unable to create a full council.
4) What happens when only one candidate stands?
There are four places where the sole mayoral candidates will be deemed elected without an election: Napier, Masterton, Hurunui and Clutha - see RNZ's Local body election nominations close.
5) Should elections be cancelled if everyone's happy with the status quo?
One incumbent mayor thinks so, saying their cost and distraction could be avoided - see Te Ahua Maitland's Mayor suggests no election for Opotiki. This mayor then "went to a rival candidate's home in his mayoral car and told him the region could save $50,000 if he continued in office unopposed" - see Simon Plumb's Opotiki mayor approaches rival about cost savings of not running.
6) What happens when a mayoral two-horse race is rather one-sided?
We'll find out with the Palmerston North campaign, in which incumbent "Grant Smith is going to have to defend his position after an eleventh-hour bid for the top job from pig farmer and convicted child assaulter Ross Barber" - see: Mayoral contest in Palmerston North to cost $30,000. This challenger previously won 151 first preference votes in a by-election last year for the same position - he's running under the label of "Team God".
7) How much of a role should political parties and central government politicians have in local elections?
According to Richard Harman, "Finance Minister Bill English has made a rare intervention in Wellington local body politics backing his sister-in-law for Mayor. But he says he has done so because he believes she is the best candidate" - see: English breaks with National Party convention and endorses Mayoral candidate.
8) Why is the political right in such disarray in Auckland's mayoral race?
Richard Harman explains how the "year-long attempt to unify various competing pro-National candidates in Auckland under the Auckland Future banner has ended in failure" - see: National Party Auckland Council plans fall over.
9) Are we seeing too much election campaigning on social media?
Some think so - see Aaron Leaman's Political hopefuls pushed off Facebook forums.
10) Are family legacies a help or hindrance for local government?
Two Wellington region candidates have direct family members also standing in elections - see Virginia Fallon's As Nick Leggett quits Porirua politics, his father Ross puts his hand up and Damien George's Mother and son both want a seat around the Wellington City Council table.
11) Can current councils become more demographically diverse?
Many are noting the narrowness of backgrounds of incumbents. For example, the Associate Minister for Local Government, Louise Upston, says "I think it's really important that they elect a group of people that reflect the community in gender, age, and ethnicity because those are the people making decisions on their behalf" - see Emma James'Young voters urged to stand as candidates in council elections.
One young female councillor in Napier says, there's a "perception that council is all about old stale, pale male at the top" and "there needs to be more people young people like her" - see the profile by Maja Burry of "four people under 30 who have put their hands up to change their cities": Step one to overturning a 'stale, pale and male' city council.
12) How well are local government politicians held to account and reviewed?
For a very good example of local media summarising the local council, see Georgina Stylianou and Tina Law's How has the Christchurch City Council's class of 2013 performed?
13) How competent or trustworthy do we expect candidates to be?
In Auckland there has been publicity around two candidates for "Auckland Future" - one who filled in the wrong form, and another about whom it was "revealed he had been convicted of stealing the identities of seven dead babies and using them to obtain fake passports in the late 1990s" - see the Herald's Mens' names will remain on ballot.
14) What will be the most interesting election campaign in the country?
Possibly John Minto's mayoral campaign in Christchurch. The Corbyneque and Sanders-like Minto is highly unlikely to win, but his campaign against incumbent Lianne Dalziel might still show whether there's any potential for Brexit-style revolts. As The Press has editorialised, his entry into the campaign is good for Christchurch democracy - see: John Minto's Christchurch mayoralty bid injects life into campaign.
15) Can bloggers help inform this year's election debate?
David Farrar is currently trying to get all the Wellington City Council candidates to fill out a survey on their views, which he will then share with his "75,000 or so readers of Kiwiblog" - see: Wellington City Council Candidates Survey ().
16) What insights can the outgoing mayors give about local democracy?
Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman is retiring after four terms, and "he fears who will take his spot" - see Grace Cocker's 'Fresh thinking' needed in Marlborough - Mayor. Meanwhile Wellington's one-term mayor, Celia Wade-Brown says "She hopes she leaves a legacy of lively laneways, the living wage and cat micro-chipping, economic deals and huge biodiversity improvements from greater pest control."
17) What's happening in the regions?
Invercargill's long-serving mayor, Tim Shadbolt, is facing a challenge from "a sitting councillor who is suing him for defamation" and "a man he once chatted to for more than a day" - see Dave Goosselink's Charismatic Tim Shadbolt facing two opponents as Invercargill mayor.
18) What about local election news for Kaikoura, Ashburton and the West Coast?
For an indepth overview of the whole of the South Island, see Georgina Stylianou and Nick Truebridge's Who are the South Island's mayoral and council hopefuls?
19) Should those running for election state a strong position on the issues of the day?
In Nelson the main election issue is whether or not to go ahead with a new arterial highway, with some candidates calling for a referendum and others stating a position. But the local newspaper, The Nelson Mail, says "The obvious way to test voters is to declare an unequivocal position and stand or fall by it. That's what political leadership is about" - see its editorial: The need to lead.
20) Do we need candidates to be more explicit about their political ideologies?
The Dominion Post thinks so, publishing an excellent editorial: In local body elections, voters need a clear choice (). The argument is made that voter turnout is invariably low because "voters often feel they lack the knowledge to make an informed choice. This may be partly due to their own shortage of spare time and curiosity, but it is also surely a failure of the candidates - to make it plain what they stand for. A little more ideology might be useful. That sounds like a sort of sacrilege in New Zealand local politics, but it shouldn't be."
What's more... "Bedrock beliefs always matter in politics. They are behind many of the big decisions councillors need to make - whether to back a city with a longer runway and higher rates, say, or one without both; one with more dense housing allowed, or one with tougher building rules; one with major new highways or one with generous walkways. All the candidates would do well to give a clear sense of their principles and priorities. Then it will be up to the voters to listen and choose between them."
21) Does local government have much impact on you?
About 3000 people in Havelock North might think so - having experienced days of vomiting and pain due to an outbreak of gastro illness due to contaminated water provided by local authorities. Politicians of both central and local government are coming under fire for how the problem has been dealt with, and there are questions about how local government deals with water issues in general. For the best items about this, see the Dominion Post's editorial, Hard look needed in Havelock North after gastro outbreak, Hawke's Bay Today's Gastro outbreak: Crisis questions for Hastings mayor, and RNZ's Mayor apologises over 'horrific' gastro crisis.
Finally, if you're in Wellington this evening and want to know more about the eight mayoral candidates, come along to the Candidates Forum at the VUW Old Government Buildings at 5:30pm, where I'll be chairing and asking some questions - for more info, see: The Wellington Mayoral Candidates forum.