Stand and be counted

Most of us have, at one stage or other, watched from a distance someone performing a particular task or working in some kind of job and thought, why on earth would they want to do that?

Fortunately there are people who are prepared to do all sorts of work, otherwise the country would grind to a halt.

Being a police officer, a cleaner, a teacher aide, a carer or an air traffic controller may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we all have different abilities and can handle varying levels of stress or tedium, and either physical or mental work.

Some prefer to work behind the scenes, be part of a team and not take individual credit for achievements, while others are more than happy to be in the full glare of the spotlight and accept any adulation, and criticisms, which come their way.

Being in public office as a city or regional councillor is one of those thankless tasks which many good people pursue.

They are not in it for the money, the kudos or to be a high-profile semi-celebrity — well, most aren’t — but instead because they believe strongly in protecting and developing the communities they serve and the environment.

New Zealand, however, is a country well-known for slashing down its tall poppies. Some unhappy people are simply uncomfortable when others shine due to their efforts or work hard to make a difference.

Such disgruntled malcontents often try to make themselves feel better by bringing others "down to size". It’s a form of bullying and unfortunately it’s on display pretty much wherever you look, including in the workplace, in schools and on the sports fields across the country.

No wonder then that while good people might want to stand for their local council, they hesitate because of the public abuse and harassment they, and possibly their families too, are likely to receive from those who they try to represent.

Often this goes way further than just expressing a different and strongly held opinion. Social media has emboldened critics and there are reports of vile and threatening comments which even the most thick-skinned would find hard to shrug off.

The intimidation has got worse in recent years. There are either a lot more angry people out there or they are becoming more vocal. Crucial issues such as climate change, Three Waters reform and Covid-19 mandates have irked many and fomented resentment of any kind of elected official.

Local body politics in the South is quite a different kettle of fish to being elected as a member of Parliament and possibly making it to Cabinet. For a start, it does not have the glamour of central government, or the "baubles of office" which in 2005 NZ First leader Winston Peters so famously said he was not interested in acquiring.

There are no limousines, few or no other travel perks, no whopping salaries (unless you are in one of the large North Island cities or are elected mayor), no big teams of dedicated support staff. You are also far more accessible when you walk down the main street of Balclutha, Queenstown or Dunedin than MPs ever are.

The Otago Regional Council, which has more than its fair share of problems around the council table, is encouraging anyone interested to consider putting themselves forward for the October 8 election.

Interim council chief executive Pim Borren says it is a "challenging" time for local government and is keen to see people from all walks of life give it a go.

Let’s face it, the regional council could do with a clean-out.

People are passionate about their communities and like to be heard.

The way to do that is either by standing for election every three years or by engaging in council work by making submissions and attending meetings.

It is not about screaming obscenities at those who have had the guts to put themselves forward.