Ways to be a good councillor

It was an interesting question.

Talking to a group of schoolchildren the other day, I was asked my view on what makes a good councillor.

I suppose I could have answered "having a thick skin" and left it at that but, in reality, it is a query those of us privileged to serve our community in such an important role should take seriously.

If there is one thing I have learned more than any other in the two years I have sat around the council table, it is that issues which may seem trivial to you can be anything but for others.

People generally do not complain simply because they are that way inclined, the vast majority who are upset about something are genuine in their concerns. And, when you investigate their beefs, it is remarkable how often the old saying there are two sides to every story rings true.

On the other side of that coin, good councillors have to be prepared to fight hard for what they believe to be the best for their community, despite how unpopular their opinions may be. The temptation to take a line simply to avoid flak, from ratepayers and fellow councillors, must be avoided at all costs.

You have to understand too that your views will not always be shared by those around you, that you will occasionally be defeated on the vote count even when you are convinced you are right and they are wrong. Democracy isn't always kind.

Above all else good councillors understand they are there to represent their ratepayers, that personal agendas must not be allowed to sway how they react in the decision-making process. This can be more difficult than it sounds.

In essence then a good councillor has to be approachable, open-minded, strong-willed and committed ... and every three years you get the chance to sack those who don't meet those expectations.

Gary Caffell is a Masterton district councillor.


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