Although central government leadership is yet to be defined, one thing is for certain. Far North District Councillor Willow-Jean Prime is now a Member of Parliament. I sincerely and wholeheartedly congratulate her. Willow-Jean is a strong advocate for Northland and has a clear understanding of the challenges and the potential. I will, however, miss her (a lot) at our council table. Her professional, fair approach and articulate argument were a real strength, one that she is respected for.
Her resignation will see the commencement of a by-election for the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Ward. I would like to offer some advice for both prospective candidates and also for those of you voting in this ward (which I hope will be a large majority).
Local government is complicated. It is heavily legislative, carries high expectations from its constituents (as it should) and is quite ‘old-fashioned’ in its approach. Councillors, although elected at a ward level, are sworn in to serve their district. This is a governance role – like a director on a board. I need to emphasise this. You are a decision-maker. Governance means setting policy and direction and not undertaking or getting involved in the operations. Many elected members from across New Zealand fail to recognise and understand the importance of this, which can cause much frustration and unnecessary conflict.
Some other highly-useful approaches include big-picture thinking, being proactive and solution-focused, having patience and choosing one’s battles. Skills needed include having a clear understanding of one’s role as an elected member and the responsibility that comes with this, noting the Far North District Council’s combined operating and capital expenditure in 2017/18 is $186.3 million and, no, this is not nearly enough to achieve all that needs to be done.
Prospective candidates should also know the difference between advocacy and enquiry and be able to articulate their argument clearly, as well as listen and actually hear what is being said. Finally, debate the topic and not the person and, most importantly, recognise that you are part of a team and hold one vote out of ten.
Some will also say you need to have a thick skin. While I understand the importance of not taking things personally – and this isn’t always easy – I also recognise the absolute need for empathy. One needs to be a little hardened to life as a politician, but still be able to genuinely connect to what is truly important – our people and our place.
For those of you voting, it is a wonderful thing to really like the person, but it is more important that you vote for someone that will bring tangible value to the table. They need to have the skills and expertise to provide leadership that will serve our district now and into the future.
The rewards of serving one’s district are immense. Those with a heart to make a difference and a vision for a better tomorrow should be encouraged. And if you don’t have patience now, you will soon develop some if you wish to succeed 😉.