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It is a sad indictment on society that far fewer people than are required are standing for public office.
Nominations for October’s local body elections close tomorrow but, as of Monday, there was a drastic shortfall in the number of candidates required to fill the positions on Otago’s councils and community boards (there is no Southern District Health Board election while it is governed by a commissioner).
While nominations are traditionally filed in a last-minute rush, electoral officers in most Southern areas were reporting the situation was worse than in previous local body election years.
The situation is concerning, if largely unsurprising. Recent comments from departing councillors and public servants indicate more than a little frustration and cynicism.
The same sentiments are likely to be behind falling voter rates (locally and nationally), and current central government intervention in the South is certainly not conducive to the local expression of democratic ideals.
It is something of a catch-22, however. Without skilled candidates committed to their communities, voter apathy is only likely to rise as people think they are not being effectively represented, and the ‘‘system’’ is conspiring against them.
But if councils and boards are only elected by a relatively small percentage of interested voters, representatives may not in turn feel truly committed to those communities.
It is hardly ideal to have councillors and board members elected unopposed, and expensive if by-elections are required when there are not enough nominations for seats on local bodies.
The role of elected representative has its rewards. What nobler pursuit can there be than serving one’s community? There can be much pride and satisfaction gained from helping shape a community in the name of progress and support it in times of hardship.
It is clearly not without challenges, of course. There will inevitably be a certain amount of bureaucracy to deal with, and a high workload expected — with plenty of paperwork to wade through.
There will inevitably be differences of opinion in a group of people with different personalities, capabilities and ideologies.
But it is important to remember these things are part and parcel of everyday life anyway — part of dealing with many organisations, with living in a family, of being part of any workplace, group or community.
Admittedly, there are certain aspects of the job which are particularly tough. The constant public and media scrutiny is challenging — particularly for those unused to being in the spotlight.
The relentless and unfiltered nature of social media makes that even tougher in this day and age. Again however, that is the digital world in which we now live.
Transparency is desirable in a democracy, and there is often more public support and understanding to be found within smaller communities.
Perhaps, when it comes down to it, it is a case of whether one sees the glass as half full or half empty: whether hard work has its own rewards, whether the remuneration is seen as adequate or poor, whether dealing with diverse opinions is seen as healthy or a hindrance, whether time and energy are on one’s side.
There is clearly immense pride in the South, and no shortage of people who are willing to stand up and march for what they believe in when required.
Many of those people will be passionate, driven, and forward-thinking; some will have business acumen, some will be environmentally conscious; some will have great ideas, some will have the skills and experience to turn ideas into reality; some will be courageous, others more cautious; some may have thick skins, others big hearts; some will be good leaders, some good listeners and communicators, others good collaborators.
Hopefully some will firmly believe in the motto ‘‘service above self’’.
And, hopefully, some will be inspired to heed the urgent call: your community needs you!