Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Tony Orman: Beware Self-Serving Councillors

Elections are basically about the public electing their representatives whether it  be central or local government. With local government elections now in full swing, voters have to assess policies and the intentions of candidates in terms of their duty of serving the public’s best interests. 

But sadly the reality is a significant number of parliamentary and local council politicians are not there to represent the voting public and the public interest. Perhaps outwardly they don’t realise it, but inwardly and sub-consciously they are in denial that they are elected by the people to serve the public interest.

Politicians today are very well paid. This is in contrast to several decades ago when councillors on local bodies were virtually only paid travelling expenses. When I was the town-planner at the Marlborough County Council about 1969-71, I was impressed with the sincerity and attitude of the councillors. They were diligent and community minded and there to make a contribution to the community interest. Certainly they were not there for the money for they were paid “peanuts”.

Perhaps they got petrol money for travelling in from their farm but I wasn’t aware of any remuneration certainly not like today’s councillors get.

Somehow there arose the notion that “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” 

Consequently today’s councillors are very well paid. 

Recently Lana Hart, a Christchurch based writer, broadcaster and tutor, wrote a very good column (August 15, 2022) for Stuff newspapers which she concluded with “for now, we can all help make our flawed but vital democracy the best it can by making the time to elect people who will competently represent us.”  

In the column she disclosed that Auckland councillors earn as much as $137,000 a year. In Christchurch councillors earn around $110,000, a salary roughly 75% above the city’s average annual wage of $63,000.

In comparison, current superannuation rates are single $24,000 and married $18,500.

Often councillors top up their elected pay with other jobs such as their own business, being a CEO, consultant or other well paid position. And to get their rather well paid councillor cash, some - perhaps most - just spend much time being mute, accepting of the bureaucrats’ advice and never questioning or commenting.  Don’t rock the boat, become insignificant but keep your hand out.

They shed their concerns they may have voiced at election campaign time and morph into sycophantic no-bodies, compliant to council’s bureaucratic belly.

In some cases, councillors are there for the sheer ego. In my 25-plus  years of Fish and Game councils, not infrequently, I observed councillors attending meeting after meeting and never contributing one sentence to any debate throughout 12 meetings a year. They were devoid of thought and tongue.

Some years ago I recall one Marlborough District councillor was shattered on being defeated at an election because he stood to lose $40,000 a year - an income well in excess of his superannuation. Another when asked by a fellow councillor why he was standing for re-election  explained he “needed the money” because of personal financial investment difficulties. Justly he was also deservedly defeated at the election. 

Both of those ex-councillors were there for the wrong reason - greedy and self serving.

“Pay peanuts and you get monkeys.” But now the public purse is paying not just peanuts but chocolate coated, glossy wrapped ones in the form of handsome salaries.

The general result is not monkeys but too often selfish arrogant gorillas.  Are some political gorillas wearing an air of arrogance and disdain for the opinion of the public who voted them in? Are too many there for the money with not a thought to the duty of community contribution?

When politicians are paid handsomely we risk attracting the greedy, rather than those wishing to give service to the community.

Today, too many politicians lack an awareness of the fundamental role of an elected representative. The role is to represent the wishes of the majority of the community. Whether they like it or not, prime ministers, cabinet ministers, back benchers and local councillors are undeniably public servants.

The Prime Minister should never be termed the leader but instead best described as the country’s most senior public servant. Similarly a mayor is the community’s most senior public servant.

The challenge for voters in the forthcoming local government elections is to decide which ones are sincerely wanting to serve the community and which ones are only focused on themselves.

Tony Orman, a former Marlborough land surveyor and town planner, is now a Blenheim retiree, free-lance journalist and author of several published books.


Ray S said...

"Somehow there arose the notion that “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”
Now ratepayers pay way over the top and still get monkeys.

Your super rates for married and singles are the wrong way round.

Anonymous said...

Great article Tony. It is most disappointing to see councillors sitting on the fence and not being vocal about the issues that matter to their voters, especially since they are remunerated to do so. One such example in our community is a councillor who in addition to his councillor remuneration also works full time in a demanding senior executive position, receiving a significant six figure salary. I wouldn’t mind this so much if he made a strong public stand against the critical issues facing his community (e.g. 3 waters, farm emissions tax, co-governance, etc), but sadly his comments on these issues are hardly audible and if presented are done so in a self-preserving whisper to ensure the “wrong” people do not hear for fear he maybe breaking with the narrative of his councillor colleagues or the political-line of the day. What has happened to councillors of back-bone who are willing to stand up, to be vocal, and to tackle the issues head on? Well, effectively, they are being paid to be silent.
Anyway, tight-lines and good shooting!

Anonymous said...

The important thing to remember is that ALL those standing under the Labour Banner, and funded by (taxpayers money), Labour must pledge first and foremost to put party first above the community that voted them in, and to be prepared to implement party policies - regardless of community sentiments.
They are there to be a local arm of central government, and nothing more.

Secondly - if Stuff, or other main stream media outlets, rubbish candidates, they are probably the candidates you want to vote for.

Recently Stuff conducted an interview with Josh Riley from the Bay of Island. Josh set up the Sovereign group of candidates and is himself, standing for Mayor.
It was a great interview. Good questions, great answers.
And then came the article.
The article bore little relationship to the interview. It was mis-leading, deceptive, and bordered on defamation.
It was nothing more than propaganda, paid for by our government.
It is disturbing that the media is able to get away with this, without retribution.

I have included the links below for the readers information.

Kathy White said...

The standard rate for a councillor at my council is $54,000. I personally think that if you run for council, you should listen to your community, read the agendas, turn up, be heard and be bold enough to debate the controversial topics. Sadly, some people take on multiple roles and rarely turn up to the meetings. I don't think that should be allowed.

Bruce S said...

I recently watched the Auckland mayoral candidates 'debate' arranged by AUT. The 'moderator' was an AUT appointed "journalist".This person quickly revealed himself to be a nazi trained thug well schooled in the philosophy taught to journalists that if you control the narrative you control the politics. He proceeded to interupt most answers from Wayne Brown and would not allow him to complete. He then proceeded to finish answers for Collins even supplying statistics for the benefit of the candidate. have never seen anything so blatantly biased & corrupt.Labour clearly want control of Aucklands rating taxbase to push their socialist agenda. Hello Rotorua & seattle.

Anonymous said...

I have long believed that being a Councillor should be an entirely voluntary, part time, position with the strictest oversight to prevent any possible corruption and meddling in matters that should not concern local government.
What we have these days is well paid people who often give the impression that they are all too susceptible to corruption and who stick their noses in all over the place most often where they are not needed or wanted.