Local Government NZ (LGNZ) says it is concerned that some roles won’t be filled, or key roles will go uncontested at this year’s local body elections unless more candidates throw their hat in the ring before nominations close tomorrow.
Last election saw the lowest number of nominations in relation to available seats since LGNZ began collecting data. At this rate, we risk seeing an even lower number this year, said LGNZ President, Stuart Crosby.
“Competition for seats is a sign of a healthy democracy. In 2019 there were over 1600 seats to fill across councils, community boards and local boards and on average we saw two candidates for every vacant seat,” said Mr Crosby.
“But this time around, many of our councils face the prospect of uncontested appointments, especially those outside of the big cities. Scenarios like the Mackenzie District Council, which has 19 vacancies but only three nominations are sobering.”
LGNZ National Council Member and Young Elected Members Committee co-chair, Lan Pham, urged anyone considering standing for election to get their nominations in immediately.
“With the Future for Local Government review underway, those elected in October will have a unique opportunity to re-design and shape local government and the role it will play in leading communities into the future. An opportunity that we haven’t seen since 1989,” she said.
“It’s not uncommon to see a flurry of nominations on the morning they close, and we know especially for mayoralties, some have already started campaigning before nominations close.
Ms Pham said previously hotly contested South Island councils, like Nelson and Greymouth, barely had a dozen registered nominations between them.
“We know there are many more people who want to be at the heart of local decision making. I was one of them six years ago,” she said.
“As a young female, I wasn’t sure if local government was the right environment for me, but my family and peers convinced me that I needed to give it a go.
“In the last two terms, I’ve been able to influence a number of decisions that have truly made Canterbury a better place for the next generation. I’ve also been lucky enough to become a mum during that time.
“It’s important that our council tables reflect the communities they represent. Our communities are increasingly becoming more diverse, so we need a wide range of candidates who are informed, hungry to make changes and care about their community to put their hand up this year,” Ms Pham said.
Bonita Bigham, Chair of Te Maruata Roopu Whakahaere (LGNZ’s national collective of Māori in governance roles in local government) and a community board member, said it was concerning to see such low numbers of nominations for community boards.
“There are districts like Rotorua, South Waikato and Rangitikei, that have less than one nomination across multiple community boards,” said Ms Bigham.
“Becoming a community board member is an excellent way to influence local decisions but doesn’t require the same time commitment as a councillor or mayor. It is, however, an equally important job.
“We also know that with 32 Māori wards (more than 51 new Māori ward councillors) across the country, we are going to need more Māori standing for council.
“We are doing a lot of work at LGNZ to put the right supports in place for our elected members following October’s elections. This includes a refreshed two-day induction programme for mayors and we’ve established Te Āhuru Mōwai, a new programme to support Māori elected members,” Ms Bigham said.
Mr Crosby said pay, workload and public abuse where among the barriers facing those considering standing for local government politics.
“LGNZ is acutely aware of these challenges and continues to advocate for changes with the highest levels of decisions makers. After we raised the need to do more to protect candidates ahead of this year’s local government elections, the Government made changes to the Local Electoral Act to remove the requirement for candidates to publish their residential addresses,” he said.
“This goes some way towards keeping candidates safe and we continue to push for more changes including better remuneration and a stronger partnership with central government.
“It takes work to create an inclusive democracy and we all have a part to play.
“If you know anyone who is community minded, committed, future focused and up for the challenge, a role in local government could be just the environment they would thrive in. To nominate someone is an easy process, you just need to two people who are registered to vote in the ward to nominate the candidate,” Mr Crosby said.