Getting paid to put something back

I've just had a funny phone call. At first I thought it was one of those clowns trying to sell something.

''Are you prepared to put something back into the community?''

''Well, if it's a matter of a raffle ticket or ...''

''No. No. We want you to make a real difference to Dunedin's future. We've had our eye on you for some time and the committee think you're just the man. How does 'Councillor' sound to you?

''Well, it has a certain ring about it, but I'm not sure . . .''

''Not sure you can do it? Don't be an idiot. It's easy. Look at the present lot.''

''Well, that's hardly fair. There are some very ... ''

''Let's not worry about 'fair' - it's city council we're talking now. You'll need to be tough, dedicated, afraid of no-one. It's a battleground out there.''

''You think I'm tough enough?''

''Absolutely! You sat through the Elton John concert. The city council need hold no fears for you.''

''But I've got no really new ideas ... ''


''I've never even read an annual plan ... ''


''Anyway, it's not a goer - I'm getting on a bit.''

''Absolute rubbish! There are councillors in their 70s. Don't tell me about them dozing off at meetings. All of them do that.''

''What about policy? I get confused. I change my mind from day to day about the stadium and the high-rise hotel. I'm never sure about which is most important - museums or sewers - bit of a nightmare really.''

''Perfect. The important thing is to have no really firm opinion about anything. That way you appeal to enough people to get the votes you need.''

''What would I be? An Independent?''

''Good grief, no. You'd be on our ticket. The Dunedin Unlimited Movement. DUM.

''I don't know your policies.''

''We haven't got any. We can make that up once we get in. The important thing is to get on those council seats.''

''What about policy speeches and interviews? What would I say?''

''Oh, I'll email you that. It's along the lines of, 'what Dunedin needs is for all of us to go forward together to a brighter sunlit upland. For too long others have made muddle and mischief of civic affairs. It's time for a change going forward!''

''Would I really have to say 'going forward'?''

''Afraid so. You'll also have to use 'at the end of the day' and 'to be honest'.''

''Sounds pretty grim. Perhaps you should count me out.''

''What? And refuse to serve your community because you're being paid only $40,000?''

''Wow! As much as that?''

''More if we get you to chair a committee? Finance, maybe?

''But I'm hopeless with money. My accountant tells me I shouldn't be let near the stuff. He has to sort out the mess.''

''Super! Finance it is then.''

''Hang on. I really think you're being a bit optimistic. I'd never handle it.''

''Think about it. Just one term and then maybe - the MAYORALTY!!''

''Mayoralty? Robes and chain. Personal assistant. Drinks cabinet. You think I'd manage?''

''Of course. You'd be great. DUM would tell you what to say and when to say it. And, of course, there's $130,000 salary. Though you're not interested in that. No, of course not. A great way to put something back into the community, eh?''

''Good line. Maybe you could use it as a slogan - ''I'm Putting Something Back, eh?'' - the voters will love that.''

''No. Hang on. I've just thought. I'll have to give it a miss. I'm hard of hearing. I can never hear a thing at meetings.''

''Fantastic! What a stroke of luck. It's having to listen to the stuff around the council table that's put half the present councillors on medication or had them fighting with each other instead of getting on with the job. You'd be ideal. Great!''

''Do you get off parking tickets?''

''Good heavens, no. There's no shady business at the council. Maybe the odd free meal and trip to Shanghai. But nothing that's not absolutely vital.''

''Fair enough. So what happens now?''

''I'll put your nomination in. Later in the year you could run a few ads and do a few interviews. Then it's just a matter of sitting back on election day with the Champagne bottles at the ready.''

''Might not be that easy. They say that most of the present lot will stand again. Pretty hard to dislodge an incumbent, the experts tell me.''

''Forget all that rubbish. It's a raffle, not a science. Your chances are great. We'll even pay your deposit.''

''OK. Thanks for calling. I'll hear from you later, then?''

''You certainly will, Norman. Bye.''

Mmm. Wrong number. Probably a good thing for us all.

Jim Sullivan is a Dunedin writer and broadcaster.

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