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News that a ratepayers association in Dunedin has been incorporated is hardly surprising.
Such groups have been established before and in many places.
They, like other lobby groups, have a role in advancing views. They become part of the interplay of local democracy.
They arise either from general dissatisfaction or from a particular issue.
In Dunedin’s case, there is an underlay of concern about rapidly rising rates and debt, and spending perceived as wasteful. There are differences about transport and what is needed to foster a vibrant city.
Dunedin has a Green Party member as mayor, and there is also a perception around the city that the majority of the council is left-leaning and progressive.
It appears this association is aiming to attract well-connected and knowledgeable members of the community.
The Dunedin Ratepayers and Householders Association was led for many years by Brockville Battler Syd Adie. He stood down in 2009 and the organisation finally folded in 2013.
It was hardly a mass movement, but it niggled and questioned under the indomitable Mr Adie. His positive and friendly personality prevented it from being seen primarily as a home for the dissatisfied and disgruntled, the naysayers.
Naturally, it opposed building Forsyth Barr Stadium with public money.
The movers and shakers of this new proposal appear to come from more affluent parts of the city. They are more likely to be part of the city establishment.
Acting chairman Murray Lawrence is a former WellSouth chief financial officer, and work is under way to get the right mix of people to form a board of directors.
That use of the word board could be telling. The current council lacks leading business figures, the likes of Sir Clifford Skeggs or Bill Auld, of, say, 30-plus years ago.
Might it also morph into something like what used to be the Citizens Association?
That association successfully stood candidates for the council and mayor until about 1989. Despite Dunedin’s national voting preferences, association candidates were, on the whole, more successful than those standing under Labour.
Association members were once described by a Labour councillor as all Tories in drag.
A later attempt by council candidates to combine forces under one loose banner at election time had mixed success.
A threat facing this new association is the danger of division on specific issues, the likes of the voting system, single-transferable vote versus first-past-the-post.
And what would its relationship be with the capable but volatile and divisive Cr Lee Vandervis?
His general positions on issues would seem to align with those of the association. He also is strong on scrutiny of the council.
Mr Lawrence said he wants to bring a strong and respected team together that could analyse or challenge the quality of the councils decision-making. He said there needed to be greater scrutiny of council activities and the group would strive to present a positive perspective. That, of course, is easier said than done.
Nonetheless, scrutiny and questioning should be part of the process, a key way the council is held to account.
Meanwhile, a Clutha Residents and Ratepayers Association has been formed. It has been sparked by the council failing to reflect the wishes of the whole community in planning the replacement of the Balclutha War Memorial Hall.
Although the hall replacement is under way and committed, association chairman John Fenby has expressed concerns about the handling of basic projects.
He also, as for Dunedin’s association, feels elected bodies become drawn into vanity projects over the bread-and-butter business of looking after what affected residents each day.
Councils are under acute pressure from interest groups and councillors’ own preferences to spend on what is never a shortage of worthwhile matters. Because of this, ratepayers can be served by associations examining what they do and pressing councils to restrain their expenditure.