Public service tradition

Public service is a proud tradition in New Zealand and the upcoming local authority elections are a chance for citizens from a diverse range of backgrounds to put themselves forward as candidates.

However, long-serving Dunedin city councillor John Bezett has fired some parting shots at the growing bureaucracy and politicisation of the council when he announced this week he was not standing for election this year.

Cr Bezett is ending a 30-year involvement in local body politics, saying the role was no longer fun.

He bemoaned the increasingly obvious political ideologies of some councillors, the intensified bureaucracy of local government and the workload of councils.

He also expressed some surprise the job as a city councillor in Dunedin has got "quite political'', something he does not to like at all.

He believes if people are elected as a city councillor, they should be looking after the city and not have an allegiance to a political party.

In the era Cr Bezett was first elected, Labour had a strong ticket of councillors, including current councillor David Benson-Pope, who in between terms on the council was elected as a Labour MP.

Former Otago Regional Council chairwoman Louise Rosson was a prominent member of the Labour Party in her earlier days.

Those roles did not preclude Cr Benson-Pope and Ms Rosson from working hard for the city and region.

Also, Dunedin had a Citizens Association, which despite denials by members, was loosely associated with National Party interests.

Former long-serving mayor Sir James Barnes was a former National MP before becoming mayor, as was Richard Walls before he became a councillor and mayor.

Politics has always played a role in Dunedin local body politics and this is likely to continue, and in an overt manner.

Cr Richard Thomson has also indicated he is not standing again in October.

Previously, Cr Thomson had Labour Party ties, something which did not stop him from his job on the council and the health board.

Cr Bezett did point to the growing list of duties being heaped upon councillors from central government, something which can be crippling to people wanting to hold down a job as well as serve in the public interest.

As a local businessman, he is not prepared to be a full-time councillor and says he never wanted that role.

Successive governments have shifted responsibilities to locally-elected councillors, adding to the workloads.

Annual plan consultations are just part of that process.

There needs to be realistic expectations for people wanting to stand for election.

The Government has removed elections from the Southern District Health Board, and Environment Canterbury, in the medium-term, hardly a glowing recommendation for those considering their options.

Those considering putting their names forward must have the best interests of their regions at heart, putting aside what can be considerable egos.

The time has come for some councillors in the region to look at themselves and ask the question of whether there is anything left for them to contribute to the debate.

As far as can be gauged from the outside, local body service is never fun.

Perhaps there were fewer duties when Dunedin was divided up between the city and borough councils, but the responsibility of serving the best interests of ratepayers should have been foremost in their thoughts.

What has become apparent are vested interests working together to push an agenda which does not always sit comfortably in the wider public arena.

Lone voices can get talked down or over, making a mockery of winning a council seat but effectively being impotent.

How the council performs affects the various communities.

The better the councils do, the better the outcomes for residents.

Local elections are an opportunity for anyone with a passion for their community and strong leadership skills to put their name forward and help shape the future direction of the city and region.

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