New QLDC councillors - A Wānaka call to action
A Wānaka duo is on a mission to motivate residents to be brave and get stuck in at the upcoming local government elections as the district’s departing mayor puts a call out for would-be councillors to step up.
Meg Taylor, a farmer, and her mate Andy Oxley have this afternoon launched a how-to handbook for Upper Clutha residents considering throwing their hat in the ring for local office.
Ms Taylor says the community’s getting an extra seat around the council table this year – as part of the Representation Review the council undertook last year, there’ll be four councillors from the newly named Wānaka/Upper Clutha ward, plus the Wānaka/Upper Clutha Community Board was retained – and a choice of strong local candidates is needed to fill them.
“It’s important that the Upper Clutha makes the best of both those opportunities.”
So far, the pair hasn’t heard of enough people keen to stand up, she says.
“We want to turn that around, as much as we can anyway.
“We want to encourage people to stand and to make it easier for them to do so.”
Alongside the handbook they’ve put together that helps connect would-be candidates with useful go-to people and groups in the district, the women’s Stand Up Wānaka campaign is aimed at generating interest in general in the upcoming elections.
Local government has a tangible impact on people’s daily lives, and that’s a reason for people to get involved in the process of electing who represents them, Ms Taylor says.
“It’s different from national politics. It’s not faceless. These are people in your community and you can have an effect.”
QLDC Mayor Jim Boult, who has announced he will not stand for re-election in October, says three strong candidates have indicated they will contest the mayoralty, but he’s disappointed at the lack of candidates putting themselves forward for council.
“A number of our existing councillors have indicated they will not be standing again and at this point we have only one new candidate signalling their intention to stand.
“A strong council is vital for the district’s recovery and again I strongly encourage community-minded people to consider their availability.
“Yes it's a challenging and demanding role but one that’s incredibly rewarding if you genuinely want to make a difference in the future of the Queenstown Lakes.”
Crux has asked all sitting councillors whether they intend to stand.
So far, Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson, Quentin Smith, and Niki Gladding have confirmed they will stand, Glyn Lewers has announced he’ll have a crack at mayor; Penny Clark and Valerie Miller will not stand; and Esther Whitehead is strongly considering it.
Several say it’s not surprising possible candidates are biding their time to make an announcement - Nominations for the local government elections do not officially open until July 15.
Councillor Niki Gladding says she made her initial decision to run for council the night before nominations closed.
“I wouldn’t be too worried about a lack of candidates at this stage.
“It’s a big decision and people may wait to see who else is throwing their hat in the ring.
“It’s not a role that will suit everyone, but if your skin’s not too thin, if you like reading (that’s key), have relevant skills or areas of interest and have the time to put in, then the community needs you.”
Her advice: not to come at it with a singular focus, wanting to change one thing.
“Because you’re going to be reading about everything from easements and draft plan provisions to government strategy and Excel budget spreadsheets.
“The job is governance – staying informed, hearing the community, setting the direction and making sure it’s being implemented, making sure we’re following good processes and holding management to account - constructively.
“But it’s more fun than that sounds…It’s a diverse and busy job - never boring - governing an organisation filled with extremely capable people who are generally slaving away in local government because they want to make a difference.”
Councillor Quentin Smith says there’s no doubt these are challenging times for anyone in governance to navigate, so he can understand why some people may be reluctant to out themselves forward for election.
And, on top of that, people’s frustrations in tough times are often directed at politicians, he says.
But he hopes people who are “community-minded” and “prepared to do the work” will step up, because there’s plenty of satisfaction that comes with being a local representative, he says.
Voters and would-be representatives do need to be realistic in their expectations, though, he says.
“Understanding the scope of the actual power that counsellors do have to fix problems and equally the constraints in which they work - the Local Government Act, the funding structures, the competing demands.
“People may have great ideas that may have widespread support for, but they may be either challenging or even not within the scope of what local government can do."
Consensus building and finding workable solutions that reflect broad community sentiment can be key, he says.
Councillor Esther Whitehead, elected to council in a by-election this term, says she's "most likely" going to stand for re-election in October.
What she wants to see around her is a diverse range of candidates standing for the council seats, younger and more ethnically diverse than what it's been in the past, and reflective of the community the council's meant to be representing, she says.
The QLDC has launched a "local legends" campaign to encourage people to stand for election in October.
"But those heroes - sometimes we need to be explicit about what that means in our community. It's not always someone that's particularly well known," Councillor Whitehead says.
"I really want to support other people from different communities and different backgrounds coming forward, who may not think that they are able - I want to enable them."
It's a huge decision for someone, she says.
"And people are really reticent, because it's in the public eye...But, I think, as a community, we're kind of coming of age, we've got this collective wisdom going on, and I just feel that, actually, that's something to get excited about."
Anyone considering standing in the Wānaka/Upper Clutha in this year's local government elections can email to request a copy of Stand Up Wānaka's handbook.