Local Government Magazine
Elizabeth HughesLG MagazineLocal Democracy

Should I stay or should I go?


Show off or shoo-in? What kind of elected member will you be?

I am addicted to local government live-streaming. There. I’ve admitted it. (And, apparently, I’m not much fun at parties either.) What’s not to love? For example: the new-fangled ideas, the insightful debate, the enthusiasm and respect for all views, the big picture/long game focus instead of visibly micro-managing, the energy being devoted to outcomes not outputs, and the quality leadership and decision-making in action.

LOL. Live-streaming provides a widely accessible opportunity to observe the contributions of effective versus not-so-effective elected members. (Apologies but there is no better way to discriminate between the two.)




My observation is that the not-so-effective elected members come across as jaded, grumpy, tedious, nit-picking and largely irrelevant noisemakers, as opposed to dynamic, energetic, influential, and effective governing community leaders.

And this is simply because they might have been there just a bit too long.

As this is election year, and assuming some of you will continue to keep your heads down or will snipe at any decision the majority of your colleagues support (headlines are cheap), you’ll probably get voted back onto the council by the same (sometimes very few) people who voted you in last time.

There are elected members out there who have been in the job since last century. Some have even been there since amalgamation in 1989. That’s more than 30 years of great and noble service. Thank you.

Research tells us that there are six main reasons people get elected in the first place:

• name recognition type one (“famous for…”);
• community contributions in other areas (and your ability to network);
• slick marketing (nauseating but it works);
• heroic promises (and how well did that go?)
• your eccentricity or general awesomeness; and
• name recognition type two.

This last category is when your name has become so synonymous with your local council – not necessarily in a good way – that voting for you is automatic.

How would you know this? Here’s a little quiz to see if you should stay or you should go. Yays or nays will do.

• In all your years of contributing, has your network expanded to include new and different people – or has it stayed pretty much the same?
• Do you honestly believe that, without your input, council decision-making might be worse than it is now?
• Are you bursting with fresh ideas? (Even one?)
• Do you have any other employment options?
• Are you flattered when people acknowledge your ‘length of service’?

Last question:

• Which do you consider the most significant measure of your personal success every three years: (a) visible and progressive steps towards outcomes agreed in the Long-Term Plan (b) getting re-elected?

Perhaps to make it easier to determine length of tenure, a maximum of four elected terms, per person, per council could be introduced. Extra time could be allowed for graduates from councillor to mayor/chair.

The first term would be to learn the ropes (standing orders, the media, codes of conduct, strategies, plans, policies blah blah). The next two terms would be to turn these learnings into progressive collaborative action. And the fourth would be to focus on a legacy (your time to be brave and bold – which was probably your original intention anyway).

Admittedly there are some long-time elected members who ooze vision, charisma and success. They collaborate to achieve tangible outcomes, and whose districts, cities and regions benefit from their leadership. These are the community leaders who deserve the confidence of voters, and who probably should stay on as long as they can.

And then there are those that should not.

Live-streaming provides you all with the opportunity to review your performance and that of your colleagues and to reflect on the question: “should I stay or should I go?”. I highly recommend it.

Note: if you do decide to go, and with all that spare time on your hands, maybe you could invest it in supporting or endorsing a fresh community leader or in finding ways to increase voter participation in local government?

“Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation.” Simon Sinek.

This article was first published in the July 2019 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.


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