Image: Getty / Archi Banal
Image: Getty / Archi Banal

PoliticsJune 13, 2022

People like you belong on local boards

Image: Getty / Archi Banal
Image: Getty / Archi Banal

Want something to change in your suburb? You have the power to make it happen, says Devonport-Takapuna local board member Toni van Tonder.

Can you candidate? Yes you can!

If, like me, you’ve spent years of your life watching preschool programmes in a state of tired maternal daze, you’ll now have Bob the Builder’s theme tune frustratingly stuck in your head. Strangely enough, this Auckland Council election slogan has led me to consider the role women, and in particular mothers, can and should play in setting the strategic direction of our glorious city Tāmaki Makaurau. Perhaps I can give you the nudge you need to consider running for your local board in this year’s election.

In the 2019 local elections I successfully stood for my local board. In 2019 I was mother to an eight-year-old, a seven-year-old and a three-year-old. One might wonder what I was thinking, leaping forth into the great unknown of city governance and politicking when there were three small humans at home already jostling for my attention.

I will tell you what I was thinking: I was thinking that there were some things I could fix. These were things that I had never known were a problem until the day I became a mother. Things that, in one way or another, have all boiled down to a single thought: what sort of city do I want my kids to inherit? This is a lens I’ve applied to all my decision-making, taking the long view on how we should shape our city, how to respond to a pressing climate crisis, how to enable housing and grow employment opportunities, how to create spaces that deliver opportunities for human connection, that are equitable, safe and accessible, and how to build community facilities that are future-fit and respond to our changing needs.

An image from Auckland Council’s current campaign to encourage more candidates for local boards

It’s election year this year, and from the end of July people across the isthmus will be slapping their faces up on fences in a bid to win your vote. But there’s not actually that many people putting their hands up for the job. There’s a massive opportunity for more women like me to take part, to bring a unique perspective to the decision-making table. We’re mothers who are not simply content with managing their children’s futures, but determined enough to create the environment that will see them prosper.

For me, the job has been the perfect part-time role. I can work from home when I need to, so sick days taken off for the kids are no longer a thing I worry about. My hours are flexible, so my meetings are set between school drop-offs and pick-ups or in the evenings when my husband has high fived me at the door on my way out.

It’s a job that has been enormously interesting, incredibly rewarding, and at times, entirely joyful. And while it’s been a massive learning curve, that learning has been achieved with the help of committed staff who are there to support me, field my millions of questions and unearth the answers I need to make good decisions. It’s a job where I now intimately know my community and have come to understand various viewpoints on important issues. I’ve gained a better understanding of the challenges others face, which can be so different to my own. It’s a job with meaning.

I encourage anyone new to throw their hat in the ring to be elected. A good local board is a diverse local board, where a range of communities and their views are represented by the mix of elected members. My arguments here to encourage women to stand equally apply to youth (who I might add have a terrible voter turnout at 20%), and people from Māori, Pasifika, Asian or any other minority background. When we start to see people who represent our own views, our own experience, and our own cultural heritage in these decision-making roles, we start to see the relevance of local government and understand that local democracy is for all of us, not just some of us.

So where to begin? If your interest has been piqued, the first step is to look at your current local board. See who is in there already and consider what values they hold. You can go onto the Auckland Council website and read the minutes of previous meetings, look at the agenda items and the voting pattern and see how the vote falls on important issues. Email the local board office and ask to be an audience member in the meetings and dial in on Microsoft Teams. All business meetings are open and while you’re not able to talk, you’re free to observe, listen to the arguments and hear what people have to say and how they say it. This is when you may learn there’s a gap at the table that has your name on it.

Most incumbents, if running again, will be considering now who their running mates will be for this year’s election. From experience, it’s difficult finding people willing to put their hand up to enter the fray, so talking to an elected member who will be looking to run again is a good move. Unless you’re a household name, it’s pretty tricky to run as an independent; what you need are friends, so getting onto a team (called a ticket) made up of existing members and newbies is a good choice. Not only does it give you pals who can help you navigate the trials and tribulations of campaigning, it will also spread the cost and will help extend your reach.

Once you’ve put your nomination paper in and made that commitment, the next step is to simply be you, but perhaps a little more visibly. It’s really important to understand local issues and start listening to as many people as you can in your neighbourhood. Find your community groups, get on the locals pages, start meeting and engaging. What do people like or loathe about the area? What changes do people hope to see? Build your vision and start articulating that in the public realm. Lean on your team for support and remember that this, in itself, is a massive learning journey; be in it for the ride and who knows, maybe the voter will deliver you to your seat. That’s when your values and perspectives will be properly represented at the decision-making table. That’s something worth candidating for!

To learn more about how to “candidate” go to aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/elections.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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