Surviving local politics

Daniel Hutchinson
From The Hutch

The problem with local body elections is that you haven’t got the foggiest idea who any of the candidates are but you really feel like you are supposed to vote.

At least in the general elections you have a few main parties with some different policies and you can kind of work out if they sound plausible or fun or they match your values or whatever. The personalities come into it when you particularly like a politician but that’s rare.

With the local elections it is totally the opposite. You’ve got 100 candidates with 100 different ideas and you have never heard of the vast majority of them. And don’t even get me started on District Health Boards.

After the hype of the election, the first full meeting of any new council can be a very sad occasion, especially if there are a lot of new candidates.

Once all the high fives are done and you are settled into your big, comfy chair, behind that big ‘knights-of-the-round-table’ desk, with a shiny new name plate, suddenly the euphoria of the campaign drains away and newbies are faced with reality.

New candidates are faced with the prospect of three years of meetings and endless reading of endless proposals and financial jargon and submissions and on it goes. Public servants tell you your ideas are unworkable or too expensive and snigger at your naivety. At least you get club sandwiches for lunch.

If you do happen to single-handedly fix congestion, people will simply tell you what a terrible job you are doing of the public toilets.

Meanwhile the Mayor gets to open all the new buildings, speak at the events and basically be the smiling face of the city or the town, while you’re fielding complaints about the new street lights in Papamoa.

Why do it?

I’m not 100 per cent sure why anybody runs for council. The one redeeming feature of the whole process is that only people with a genuine passion for their community would have a genuine reason for standing.

There are a few ways you can get a sneak-peak at candidates – right here in today’s The Weekend Sun and on SunLive we are running supplied profiles of many of the candidates. The councils and DHB also have brief bios of all candidates on their websites.

If someone piques your interest – dig a bit deeper, look at their website, Google them or follow their social media pages and see what they’ve been up to. With existing councillors, look at some key decisions, find out how they voted and why. Try and find half a dozen candidates that you like. Only rank the ones you want on council. Don’t give a number to the ones you don’t.

Selecting the perfect people for council is not a perfect science but here are a few things that I look for.


Nobody ever keeps rates rises to the level of inflation and the reason for this is that people are always aiming to keep rates to the level of inflation.

Basically, it’s a very mediocre goal to set yourself. It’s like saying you are only going swear four times a day or drink wine at the rate at which wineries are producing the stuff.

Of course, if you want more services, you will have to pay for them. It would just be nice if you could stop paying for those big ticket items once they are all paid for.


This is a very topical subject but make sure you blame the right people when the bus doesn’t turn up on time or the bus shelter leaks. In this area, the regional council is in charge of the buses and the city or district council is in charge of the bus stops. Confusing eh?

I often feel like the regional council gets a bit of a free ride because they only charge a few hundred dollars a year in rates and the local councils charge thousands. There are vastly different levels of service. But, if you pay $6 for your coffee and $25 for the main course, who are you going to be most annoyed at?

Survivor Island

Feel free to choose a skinny candidate – they are definitely not going to starve to death halfway through the show, because the one way you can boost your modest income as a councillor is to eat more club sandwiches and sausage rolls.

However, what you do want to be careful about is that they have the ability to build relationships with other “survivors”. They need to be able to share their lunch.

Councils are run almost exactly like Survivor Island – without the ability to network you are dead in the water.

Also, I kind of admire that councillor who can power nap during a council meeting and then vote at the end of the discussion.

Or, you can just vote for whoever your friend is voting for.

Good luck!


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