Community role important

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For someone who says community boards offer a chance to be connected with ratepayers in ways that councils do not, it may come as a surprise to hear that Clair Higginson predicts the eventual demise of community boards, and says councils will be the stronger for it.
‘‘I believe that in the long term community boards will fade out . . . but councils would be stronger without community boards. They [councillors] would be considering things about all aspects of the district, they would have to even more carefully consider things from all the different areas within council, rather than some of those things being decided by those on the community boards . .. [fewer] things are being decided at acommunity board level and I personally don’t think that’s a bad idea. It’s good to have a district-wide philosophy.’’
Ms Higginson has served three terms as acouncillor for the Central Otago District Council and four as a community board member — one for the Earnscleugh Manuherikia Community Board and three for the Vincent Community Board (she was chairwoman for all three VCB terms) — but is not standing for election in this year’s local body elections.
She considered her time representing the community a privilege, and said community boards, in particular, offered the chance to work closely with the community.
‘‘In community boards you’re more connected to the community [than in councils], the [community board] members are on lots of local boards and community groups and in touch with what is happening at a very local level.’’
She does not view the term of her local body service as especially long, saying there are other elected members who have served for longer than she has, but says that, for her, now is the right time to stand down. She says it would be good to get some ‘‘new blood’’ on community boards and the council, and is encouraging people to stand for election, considering it almost a responsibility for people to ‘‘take their turn’’ in local government’’.
‘‘It would be good if we all thought of our responsibility to represent our community.’’
Ms Higginson is, in particular, encouraging women to stand for election, citing their underrepresentation and importance.
‘‘While women as a club may not do anything differently from men, their shared experience will be different from the shared experience of men.’’
This in turn could provide a different outlook within local government and other organisations, Ms Higginson said.
‘‘Gender makes a difference. There’s plenty of research about that.’’
As well, women happened to number half of the population, she said.
‘‘If you cut that 50% off, there’s a whole bunch of perspectives that aren’t being introduced.’’
Having diversity within local authorities in areas such as ethnicity, age and vocation was also needed, and Ms Higginson hoped a good range of people would stand this year. Being a councillor or community board member also gave those wanting to see change, or who were unhappy with the status quo,the chance to have an impact.
‘‘Saying something is wrong and then not being prepared to be part of the solution is not particularly helpful. As the saying goes, be part of the solution, not the problem.’’
She has valued her interaction with ratepayers during her local government tenure, as well as the chance to work with so many groups, and says she feels respected by the community, although realises not all are happy with all the decisions councils and community boards make.
She plans to continue her work and passion in various sectors, including heritage and the environment, once her council involvement has ended.
The three main things facing the Central Otago council and community are demographic change, ageing population and climate change, Ms Higginson says.
‘‘These are going to impact incredibly on us and we all have to factor them into our thinking and planning. They’re not ‘today’ issues, they’re ‘50-year issues’, but they’re not things we can wait 50 years to think about.’’
After her council involvement, she will still remain a committed environmentalist, heritage-lover, champion of community projects and feminist.
‘‘There’s been a historic pay gap and difference in career advancement between women and men that hasn’t been sorted. We need to make sure that we keep articulating these things, because it seems we say ‘we’ve got that now’, but actually, we haven’t. Some say it’s sorted but it hasn’t been sorted.
‘‘Being a feminist is important — it’s a key movement that has helped bring women equal status. I like the quote from [British writer and feminist] Rebecca West that says ‘people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat’.’’