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While the eyes of some people glaze over at the mention of local body elections, the fact is they offer the biggest opportunity for the average citizen to influence the direction of their community for the next three years - and often much further into the future.
Postal voting papers should now have been delivered to households, and voters have until Saturday, October 12, to make decisions about who they want to represent them as mayor, on city or district councils, community boards, licensing trusts, regional councils and health boards.
The democratic right to elect our local and national governing bodies should not be forgotten or underestimated. We only have to look elsewhere in the world - Egypt is a current case in point - to see how lucky we are in having an established history of democracy, transparency and accountability, and a society in which we are able and encouraged to express our views without fearing for our safety. The right to vote at local and national level is a privilege we should not squander and we should feel morally bound to use it - and use it wisely. For with rights come responsibilities.
The choices we make in these local body elections will affect us, and others in our community. They influence everything from the health services we receive, to roading, water and sewerage infrastructure, social, cultural and sporting and recreational amenities, and planning and development. There are services we take for granted, those we believe are fundamental to our lives, those we bemoan the lack of, and inefficiencies we believe frustrating or unnecessary.
It is easy to be an armchair critic, and our democratic environment certainly gives ratepayers the opportunity to express their opinions in a variety of forums. It can be hard to sort through the inevitable pre-election antics and rhetoric to find the candidates' real policy platforms, and to sort through the grandstanders and naysayers, the promisers and the deliverers, the accusations and denials, the blunders and backtracks, to find the visionaries, workers and leaders who will best serve our communities in a variety of roles.
The choices should not be made lightly. Voters are encouraged to carefully read their supplied candidate and voting information and as much other material as they can source in order to make informed decisions about those who will then be expected to make educated decisions on behalf of us.
It is timely also to recognise those who are prepared to stand up and represent their communities. For while public scrutiny is to be expected as part of our democratic transparent society, there is often a very personal nature to that, too. Candidates, incumbents, those bowing out, and those who have previously served their communities should be applauded for their courage, their commitment and the personal sacrifices they make to represent us, and to hopefully provide the best for our communities now and into the future.
Mayors in all areas have the responsibility of leading their councils and councillors through continued tight financial times, but with the expectation ratepayers will still enjoy vital services and infrastructure. Councillors are also charged with weighing the difficult balance between expectation and reality, while community boards can provide residents, especially in outlying areas, a link to the council table. The importance of this year's Dunedin mayoral and city council elections has intensified with the expected loss of council chief executive Paul Orders, who has been widely praised for his firm but fair hand and prudent fiscal reign during his time in the city.
The Southern District Health Board is facing issues with funding and delivery, and ongoing criticism from within its own ranks about various aspects of its operation. With current and looming matters such as rural health provision, an ageing population, and myriad other health issues and potential service losses, there has never been a more important time to ensure determined capable leadership at health board level.
Complacency should not be an issue. Voting is one of the most worthwhile - and certainly one of the easiest - things residents can do for their community. Put simply, voters, your community needs you.