Politics can be fraught at the best of times and perhaps no more so than when we are in the midst of local body elections.

As a first term councillor who does not intend to stand again (having discovered I am not a political beast) I have been able to watch from the sidelines as our so called democratic process unfolds – and from where I'm sitting it's not always a pretty sight.

Some of the concerning behaviour I have personally witnessed includes publicly criticising our council staff, not to mention the mayor and other councillors, and publicly releasing or discussing confidential information.

These actions go a long way to eroding the level of trust and confidence that our community has in the council, and that can take a very long time to restore.


These types of actions are not new or confined to this electorate, but for me they go to the heart of a conversation that cities like Napier should be having in terms of the values that they expect to see in their elected representatives.

While councillors have the ability to defend themselves and their actions, staff are not able to say anything at all as they are public servants. Therefore, they are fair game for councillors who need scapegoats for their own failures as governors.

I've held a number of governance and senior management roles and one of the highlights has been working alongside talented and committed staff, all pulling together for a common cause. In my experience, Napier City Council staff are no exception, and I have felt privileged to work with and learn from a wide range of skilled people across the organisation.

When these people are hung out to dry in public, with no right of reply, we not only trample on their good name and integrity, but that of their families. They are someone's son, daughter, mother or father.

As councillors we should never forget that, especially while we are exercising our power as an employer of our CEO, and by extension his staff. All of us want to be treated with dignity. Real or perceived errors in our work need to be discussed and remedied in private rather than used as political leverage.

That is the only decent thing to do.

I believe we should also be careful about our use of social media, especially when we see others resort to cyberbullying or spreading misinformation. We should never forget what a fortunate position we are in, and that members of the public, the community we are supposed to represent, take note of what we say and do. Elected members have an obligation, surely, to lead by example.

As councillors we are privy to confidential information. This is not because we are hiding things from ratepayers. At times we need to protect people's privacy, or commercial sensitivity, or allow legal processes to take their course. In my view, the minute we start playing fast and loose with confidential information, we demonstrate that we are not trustworthy and certainly not able to uphold the standards expected of an elected governor of a city.


Recently I met with some trustees of the Napier Pilot City Trust along with our CEO Wayne Jack and acting mayor Faye White. We had a wide-ranging conversation about how our council and the trust could partner to address some of the pressing social issues that are impacting on our people. As a small city, we have a unique ability to "pilot" new ways of achieving the trust's vision of a "kinder, fairer city".

I would like us as councillors to begin this journey by being kind and fair to our staff and to their families, even in the middle of an election campaign.

I would like us to be trustworthy with regard to confidential information. It is an incredible privilege to be a councillor and to have the opportunity to help shape the future of a city and its diverse communities.

I believe we should hold that privilege with great care, treat all of our people with respect and consideration, and take collective responsibility for democratic decisions even when we don't agree with them. Only then will we start to achieve the future that this city deserves.

* Claire Hague is a former school principal and deputy CEO of EIT. She is currently a first term Napier city councillor.