Building a mandate to be generous

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    By now, we are down to two days before postal voting closes in this year’s local government elections and, since the time-honoured ways have given way to council expediency and the great God of contracting out, we need to get with the programme.

    In case you haven’t been paying attention (and I hadn’t), this is a postal vote (despite the near demise of postal anything). Voting closes at midday on Saturday.

    “Where to drop off your vote” the council website says cheerily, while I try to negotiate just what postal voting looks like this time. Voting has always seemed important, formal, thoughtful. The hushed voices, the neatly ruled line in the electoral role. It’s not an orange grocery coupon to (as the site says) “drop off your vote” at one of 65 supermarkets, 11 Auckland Transport hubs, libraries, council service centres and 29 pop-up locations.

    Apparently, we learned nothing from the last Census problems or the local government election three years ago in which initiatives by officials led to less-than-optimal practices at pop-up voter-engagement booths at such places as universities. This time, the city’s CEO is responsible for increasing voter engagement, which doesn’t seem to be the best place to start re-engaging voter interest either.

    This is the point where both he and his elected council and board members are judged. If Parnell is satisfied with its careful tarseal regimes and general civic wellbeing, its citizens will vote. They will anyway.

    If you know Remmers gets new playground equipment but your own less leafy demesnes don’t have playgrounds and therefore no equipment to be replaced, you’re disempowered right there. There is no cheese down the electoral tunnel.

    Your vote – and lives – have been rendered irrelevant.

    A top-heavy and dismissive council hierarchy of which the council chief executive is the only hirer and firer is always going to be a democracy-killer. By design, probably.

    It’s a generational despair that we on Waiheke share – crippling ferry fares, Mātiatia’s traffic midden, grotty public toilets, unaffordable planning regimes for all but the wealthiest. Garnished with freight, extra taxes and the one-size-fits-all mantras of austerity.

    Despite a pilot scheme designed to give us a greater say on local priorities, we have come to the election with almost nothing to show for the three years except a slew of half-completed planning documents put together with minimal public access to the process.

    This election, Herald columnist Simon Wilson and other news media including Newsroom have caught the heady sense of leadership in Efeso Collins’ mayoral race. He proposes a city that you can safely whizz around without a car, enjoying and being part of the fun and with a real possibility of building a good life where all children can thrive and become global citizens, not victims and scapegoats.

    Not as an ideology but as a courteously upheld entitlement underpinning every council decision. “Is this best for Aucklanders and their children into the future?” could be a staple of council chamber debate.

    That would be worth voting for. A leader listening and empowering meaningful collaboration between city and citizens.

    At the Waiheke board’s last business meeting of the term, the 2022 ‘Funding Impact Statement’ (aka profit and loss) was passed with little comment. It balanced to the last thousand dollars, of course; as did the recent city-wide balance sheet (which, rather glaringly, did not disclose the city rail link project funding blowout which will fall on Auckland ratepayers in the coming months).

    As with all business figures, there are useful details to be teased out. The revenues actually collected from Waiheke’s 7298 ratepayers is not disclosed; instead, the annual report shows that our regrettably paternalistic council gives our Waiheke Local Board an annual allowance of just under $9 million to spend.

    Guessing from the days when the city’s revenue from our rates, grants and other services was available (and that this year’s ‘share’ of the city’s $5 billion revenue from citizens increased by 10 percent from the 2021 year), it seems likely that Waiheke pays the city upwards of $30 million. About a third sticks, then.

    Out of that $8.9 million, $5.5 million – more than half – goes to pay staff and suppliers, plus ‘internal charges and overheads’.

    No new capital works were accomplished, the only capital spending going on ‘improving levels of service’ ($283,000) and $1.9 million for replacing existing assets. The Donald Bruce Road roundabout rebuild probably, though in terms of disruption and obtrusiveness, it’s hardly anyone’s first wish on an island in severe infrastructural deficit and which, apart from anything else, only really highlights how shabby everything else is.

    Vote carefully, and as if your life depends on it. Because it does. • Liz Waters

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