Tasman District Councillor
Running for the Golden Bay ward of the Tasman District Council came to me serendipitously. I'd always been active in my community, so requests from several respected locals made me think 'why not?'
My broad connections and a simple flyer promoting the principles of fairness, sustainability and honest communication between council and constituency saw me top-poll my way into the conservative world of provincial New Zealand local body politics. I single-parented for the duration of my terms.
It was a steep learning curve - a crash course in 'old boys' networkery' and the frustratingly inefficient world of mega-bureaucracy - it offered limited opportunity to effect change. I quickly assessed where ward allegiances and historic loyalties lay. The workload was heavy and increased overtime - reading endless long agenda reports, digesting thousands of submissions, chairing committee meetings and working groups, attending public meetings, workshops, presentations, Resource Management Act trainings and hearings - staying on top of it was all-encompassing. The double whammy of being a rural councillor meant travelling many unpaid hours a week over the long winding Takaka Hill. It was more than a full-time job for me, with a pittance of a pay packet. It's true I could have put less effort in, but it was not the sort of job I wanted to be half-hearted about.
Coming from a rich background of collaboration and stimulating discussion groups, I found Standing Orders stultifying in terms of being able to have effective dialogue around the table.
It was often used to stymie 'troublesome' new councillors. I played the naive enquirer but stood my ground against bullying behavior, sometimes going head to head with some of the older incumbents. However, there were touching human moments and I came to appreciate most who sat around the table, as they did me - we were there to do the best we could from our own worldviews. You can't be an island in a local body. It's all about relationships with staff, councillors, community and environs. I used a lot of humour to get by!
But it was never that comfortable for me around the Council table - I wasn't really seen for who I was and what I had to offer.
The place I made most impact was my community consultation. I made a genuine effort to be accessible to everyone and communicated via a thousand strong email newsletter on a regular basis. Savvy staff came to see that staying in touch with me and our community board was often their opening to successful outcomes in my ward. I was a competent mediator who made their jobs easier. People lament the passing of my communications - "We were never so well- informed as when you were on Council. Now we don't have a clue what's going on!"
I don't regret my six year sojourn as I learnt an enormous amount - about myself, about how things really work in 'that' world, about the limitations within such restrictive models and about the good intentions of many who work within Council. I hope our onerous political systems greatly improve over the coming years.
This was published in: Women Decision-Makers Nelson and Tasman 1944 -2018, p. 34. Compiled by Dr Shelley Richardson, Elaine Henry, Gail Collingwood, Hilary Mitchell.
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