I had one of those days recently where I crashed and burned. I went down like a chopper caught in cross-fire. Worse still, I was the target of it. It was fun however and here's why.
Every six years all councils are required to undergo a review of the representation arrangements for their areas which includes such things as; whether or not to have wards; whether or not to have a mix of councillors elected by wards or elected at large; the number of councillors to be elected to each ward; ward boundaries, and whether or not to have community boards.
Hastings District Council instigated these proceedings over a year ago roughly. Over this time, councillors have been divided over what model or representation arrangements will best serve our district to such an extent that the Local Government Commission was called in to decide the matter for us. A hearing was held last week by the commission on this matter.
The majority of submitters were councillors, though technically in their personal capacities. Each presented their case and answered questions when called for.
My turn was up and I presented my views. However, with questions being fired at me with bullet-like precision from commissioners, I could feel myself going down. My engine stalled, my rotary blades jammed, and my downward spiral began.
I stayed the line however, for whatever worth it was, and endeavoured to answer. In truth, I do prefer the current status quo option of 14 councillors across wards and the mayor representing our district.
This is in contrast to the final proposed model which consists of five community boards with multiple elected members on each, two councillors elected at large however at the expense of losing multiple councillors from wards across the district.
Much of the questioning sought to draw from me a way in which community boards could potentially be of benefit. Ultimately, my answer was potentially yes, however this was dependent upon my ability to foresee what budgets and delegation powers the boards would have. This information could not be provided as it is relegated to the realms and discretion of the next incoming council to determine. My contention with this scenario is that the budget, if any at all, and the delegations to such boards, have a direct correlation with their effectiveness.
Without being able to assess this now, I do not support losing councillor seats and combinations that currently work extremely well for our district in favour of this risk.
One may argue that our current rural board model serves as a prime example of the effectiveness of a community board, thus should be replicated across our district. I give credit to our rural community board which is a national leader and hosts admirable elected members. It works for our rural community.
However we do have alternative communities with distinct and diverse characteristics and demographics across our district that deserve models which best represent and serve their unique identities. It is not a simple exercise of lifting a model of what works over here and dropping it on a distinctly different community and expecting the same results, without factoring into account their differences. A community board may work well for a particular sector of our community, whereas councillor partnerships work well for others.
I'm not the judge on this matter but they will return a verdict soon, ready for our 2013 elections.
The fun part of all this is that I have an unquenchable thirst to learn and this was definitely a learning experience. The vast majority, if not all councillors, are extremely passionate about their jobs.
I learned that though I do have a preferred model, I am now relatively relaxed either or any way. I realise that systems and structures are only ever as good as the people in them and they should serve the people, not be master of them. It's people that make the real difference and power is always with the people both inside and outside systems, structures and models. I have faith that the right people will be in the right places at the right time, no matter the model.
Jacoby Poulain is a Hastings District Council Flaxmere ward councillor