Overhaul of local govt long overdue

Russell Garbutt, the former Vincent Community Board chairman, offers his thoughts on this year’s local body elections.

The local body elections are almost done and dusted and, anticipating at the time of writing based on progress figures, have resulted in appalling levels of apathy.

I would argue there are two good reasons for this lack of engagement.

Firstly, there is a widespread perception that local body politicians are either ineffectual or unqualified, and don’t make much difference anyway.

Secondly, the process of voting, over an extended period of time, is archaic and flawed with inconsistencies.

In my almost six years on the Vincent Community Board, I heard some elected members acknowledge the only reason they were elected was because of name recognition by voters.

That is not the way to ensure competency in governing a very large business.

Council and board meetings always happen during the day which might suit staff, but it does nothing to attract the sort of person who is skilled, talented and has enough community spirit and energy to ignore their working life.

We are informed that councillors or board members can determine the direction of a region or district through policy decisions.

I don’t think this is necessarily true.

The process of raising an issue at a council or board meeting is subject to a staff report. Many times, history tells us what happens when a governance body rejects a staff report.

Many of us remember the TV series Yes, Minister which accurately echoes the actuality of who really does have the resources and time to determine the direction of a region.

It is inevitable every year or on the production of an annual or long›term plan that rates are going to rise, despite most candidates for office promising no such thing will happen on their watch.

The process of voting is long overdue for overhaul.

To continue with a process where voting papers are posted out and require posting back when faster more effective methods are available is puzzling.

I believe in local government for many reasons, but it does need reform.

Work is unnecessarily duplicated by adjoining councils but changing this could be likened to a turkey voting for Christmas.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is considering major reforms in addition to her determination to push for nationalising water infrastructure and co›governance of councils.

I foresee major change.

In the meantime, we can all ignore voting in local politics for another three years — and that is a real shame.