For those contemplating standing for local government, unless extraordinary vacancies occur, there is plenty of time to think about it. The next election is not until Saturday 8 October 2016.
In terms of what elected members do, the role of Ashburton's Mayor is reasonably well understood by most.
The Mayor is elected for a 3 year term by the all the district's eligible voters. The Mayor represents the whole district; is the figurehead of Council; chairs Council meetings; and is the usual spokesperson for Council. The Mayor has a role in supporting and assisting Councillors, and under recent legislative changes, can lead the development of plans, policies and budgets. Under the same new legislation, the Mayor can also appoint the Deputy Mayor and the Chairpersons of Council Committees. Ashburton's Mayor, Angus McKay has opted not to use these new powers, preferring instead to have plans, policies, budgets, and appointments worked through and agreed by the full Council.
There are 12 Councillors on Ashburton District Council. 7 in the Ashburton Ward; 3 in the Eastern Ward; and 2 in the Western Ward. All elected for a 3 year term. At least every 6 years the Council has to carry out a Representation Review. This includes looking at the number of Councillors we should have. The last review was done in the 2011/12 year.
The role of the Mayor and Councillors is to collectively set policy, make decisions and to monitor the performance of the organisation. Some believe they are elected to reflect the collective will of the people in the district; others believe they are elected to use their own judgement to represent the people. The Local Government Act 2002 embodies the notion of participatory democracy, with requirements for elected members to inform themselves of the views of their communities. But the requirement to use their own wisdom is also highlighted under the Act. When they take office for their 3 year term, they take the following oath:
"I, (name), declare that I will faithfully and impartially, and according to the best of my skill and judgement, execute and perform, in the best interests of the Ashburton district, the powers, authorities, and duties vested in or imposed upon me as (Mayor or as a member) of the Ashburton District Council, by virtue of the Local Government Act 2002, the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, or any other Act."
All Councillors are accountable for the decisions the Council takes, whether they agree with them or not. When making decisions they represent the whole district, not just their Ward.
The Mayor and Councillors role is one of governance. The word 'governance' comes from the Latin word gubernare meaning 'to steer'. In the local government context, our Mayor and Councillors steer the direction of the Council.
There is a strong ethical expectation that they conduct their business with a spirit of integrity, honesty, transparency, openness, independence, good faith, and service to the public. The governors of the Council are responsible for setting the tone.
The Mayor, Councillors and the Council need to comply with the law and show that they are acting within the law. That includes the common law, requiring public decision making to be procedurally fair and free from conflicts of interest, as well as the Local Authorities (Members' Interests) Act 1968 which deals with elected member pecuniary conflicts of interest.
They only have one employee; that's me. I employ all the other Council staff and contractors to carry out the operational and administrative work that is required. As well as ensuring the efficient and effective management of activities I am required to provide the Mayor and Councillors with advice.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a Councillor asking me to provide advice before an important decision is made.
In giving free and frank advice I try to ensure it answers the questions that have been raised; is logical; accurate; considers options and the views of others; is practical; embodies sound business acumen; and is appropriately presented.
Sitting through a Council meeting or two beforehand to get an idea of what the Mayor and Councillors do, and the wide range of business that is conducted, is always a good idea if you are thinking of standing for office.