How long is too long? That's the question that's now being posed by a leading Rotorua businessman and a candidate hoping to get on the Rotorua Lakes Council at the coming elections. Their calls for term limits for local body politicians have generated some surprising responses. Today journalist Kelly Makiha asks all sitting local councillors and mayor Steve Chadwick whether they think they should leave their roles after a certain period. Their responses canvas fresh faces and ideas as opposed to experience and knowledge. We also talk to a local government expert about whether New Zealand has the right electoral system.
A prominent Rotorua businessman and a council candidate are among those calling for term limits on our local council - and their idea is backed by most of the sitting councillors.
Government legislation does not allow terms limits for mayors or councillors and any change would need an amendment to the Local Electoral Act.
Most local politicians are backing the calls and say change is needed to allow new faces around the council table.
Ray Cook, a longstanding Rotorua developer who owns R&B Consultants, said all councils needed terms to get change and progress.
"We need to have a voting system where sitting councillors have a maximum term of three or four terms with a rotation policy so that changes don't all happen at once. This is the only way we will see change that will allow younger people out there to also put their names forward," Cook said.
He said voters tended to tick the names they knew, rather than the best person for the job.
"I think we have progressed as a city but it could be more beneficial with more change with the people who sit around the table. More than 12 years is a long time for people to hold these positions."
Rotorua Lakes Council candidate Mathew Martin said when he announced his intention to stand for the council he would like to see terms introduced.
"Term limits would ensure a healthy turnover of people, ideas and abilities and allow for generational change to occur. Each generation faces its own challenges and has different needs and priorities and this would be an effective way to address those needs," Martin said.
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He said for it to happen, he'd like to know what Rotorua residents thought, how long the terms should be or if they wanted them at all.
"We need to decide if the limit would apply over a councillor's lifetime, or only for terms served concurrently, and if the limit should be retrospective - provided we can get changes made to the Act."
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said the actual length of the term for local and central Government should be extended to four years. Councillors Karen Hunt, Charles Sturt and Trevor Maxwell - who is New Zealand's longest serving councillor, currently in his 41st year on the council - were against the idea, saying experience was key, it took time to build relationships and active councillors should be allowed to stay so long as they did a good job.
Local Government expert Professor Janine Hayward, from Otago University, said she sympathised with calls for terms because local government had high incumbency rates.
However, she said it would be more effective to change the electoral system.
"We tend to elect the same people over and over again," Hayward said.
"But introducing terms is not getting at the cause of that problem. First-past-the-post is used by most of our councils and it produces some of the most disproportional outcomes of any electoral system.
"FPP in local government elections allows a group of voters who are unlikely to be the majority of voters to be over-represented and to have an influence over the outcome of the election that vastly over-represents the size of that group in our community.
"Local governments can use the single transferable vote for local elections, the same system as we use for Health Board elections. Councils using single transferable vote, like Dunedin, are good examples of how incumbency rates have declined and councils are refreshed every election with candidates that reflect the preferences of almost all voters, not just the largest minority."
What the mayor and councillors say
Steve Chadwick - mayor in second term
I do think terms should be four years (instead of the current three years). If that were to come in for both central and local government, we could then consider fixed terms. So that is a staged approach rather than jumping straight to terms in office. Terms are irrelevant. It's about the contribution, not the length of stay.
Dave Donaldson - in third term
It's irrelevant what I think as I do not believe council could dictate elected members' terms even if it was of a mind to. Personally I make a call every election as to whether I have the motivation, support and the ability to make a useful contribution to council and then I leave it to the voters to decide. I would add that best practice suggests every governance entity should comprise a diverse range of skills and experience, but again that's over to the voters to judge.
Rob Kent - in second term
I support any initiative to restrict election to council (mayor, councillors and any advisory board members) to a maximum of three terms. This council has suffered for too long through lack of fresh input, ideas and skills.
Peter Bentley - in second term
I am firmly of the opinion three terms (nine years) are more than enough time on council.
Karen Hunt - in fourth term
I no longer support the idea of fixed terms ... There are points for and against. It takes time to develop the broad range of skills required to be an effective member of council and to understand the role of governance. Successive terms on council provide training opportunities for professional development. Restricted terms could result in a lack of cohesion with previous decision making and a reversal of decisions the community has fought hard for. An advantage I can see for fixed terms would ensure fresh thinking around the council table.
Trevor Maxwell - in 13th term
Definitely no to fixed terms. Let the people decide. I would prefer we work hard on increasing voter participation.
Mark Gould (served one term and was re-elected three years later. Now in third successive term)
I would abide by whatever decision is made and it would be far better to have a certain number of terms.
Merepeka Raukawa-Tait - in third term (elected in 2011 byelection)
I would personally like to see a limit of four terms, both for the position of mayor and councillors. As mayor you should have been able to achieve what you wanted within 12 years. The same with councillors. There will always be councillors who live and breathe their community. They are trusted too and will always add value no matter how long they serve as a councillor. But after 12 years in my view it's time to move on. If re-elected this year this will be my last term.
Charles Sturt - in 10th term
I don't like terms as it's anti-democratic. It may be good if you had a load of councillors who did nothing ... Councillors mature into a role and it takes a full term to understand the processes, the ways of council, community interaction and council is not like a profit/loss trading business, it's a services provider for the good of all residents and ratepayers.
Tania Tapsell - in second term
Yes, I support a maximum of four terms because 12 years is more than enough time to make the changes you've promised. A number of councillors have been at the table longer than I've been alive. As our community grows and changes we need to see this also represented on council.
Raj Kumar - in second term
I have been crying out for terms for a long time. Maximum should be six to nine years. There needs to be new fire so people don't become stagnant. If they are there too long, teams and gangs start to form.