No-show councillors letting the public down

By James Penn


Imagine that one day this year I just decided not to turn up for classes at school. Imagine that I, and my peers, all decided that "attendance is no indication of the merits" of a student. Imagine if we decided that the most important thing for us as students was what we deemed to be "effective action" outside of school.

I think the powers that be would get reasonably frustrated. And rightly so.

This is effectively the situation the Wanganui District Council is in. Two members in particular are 'wagging', 'bunking off' or perhaps, to use political innuendo, 'prioritising effective action'.

Councillors Michael Laws and Clive Solomon have, as the Chronicle revealed this week, been attending just 57 and 50 per cent of council meetings respectively.

Of course, the role of a councillor is not the same as the role of a student but there is a crucial factor that makes the two analogous: meeting when and where you are advised to is an important facet of the role.

Sure, Laws' defence of his "positive actions ... everywhere in Wanganui" goes some way to explaining the role of a councillor. But, crucially, it doesn't go the whole way.

As constituents who elected councillors to represent our interests, and pay them a respectable salary to do so, Wanganui has every right to demand both positive action in the community and attendance at meetings that can often affect the action that ultimately occurs on behalf of the council.

Attempting to make arguments which imply that the two are mutually exclusive is either attempting to pull the wool over our eyes, or attempting to do a job which you do not have time to do. This commitment is surely clear, considered and understood before one stands for election.

Laws states that there are "way too many meetings". Currently, he has averaged just over one council meeting a month over the last two years.

I don't think it is unreasonable to request that our councillors meet more frequently than the board of a local school.

Perhaps another refreshing parallel may be drawn with their youth counterparts in a more direct manner. Youth councillors in Wanganui attend nine meetings each year, as well as three-weekly informal meetings, working party meetings, workshops and the like.

The vast majority of members attend almost all of these meetings.

These are students who have 30 hours of school each week, and are not paid more than $25,000 to fulfil the role as our councillors are.

It would be nice to think that perhaps our councillors could follow their example - indeed, most do, which is fantastic.

Furthermore, it reeks of irony that Solomon and Laws can be so outspoken on a range of issues from the Beast of Blenheim to the rates we pay, yet they fail to attend meetings in which surely at least some of these issues are discussed.

Heck, Mr Solomon led the charge earlier this year in removing the Christian prayer that traditionally opened council meetings (a move I do, in fact, agree with).

Perhaps that is what has been putting him off going to so many meetings all year - did no one tell Mr Solomon that his initiative was successful?

It's understandable that there are other considerations in the lives of councillors, such as family and careers.

But these are commitments that surely can be managed, just as they are in any other job. One hundred per cent attendance is not what Wanganui asks for.

Just a tad more than 57 per cent would be nice - if nothing else, that's what I've learnt is required of a student during their five-year struggle for a school diploma endorsed with attendance.

James Penn is deputy head boy at Wanganui High School and captain of the New Zealand secondary schools debating team.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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