Beware Self-Serving Councillors

Opinion by Tony Orman
Elections are basically about the public electing their representatives whether it  be central or local government. With local government elections now in full swing, voters have to assess policies and the intentions of candidates in terms of their duty of serving the public’s best interests.
But sadly the reality is a significant number of parliamentary and local council politicians are not there to represent the voting public and the public interest. Perhaps outwardly they don’t realise it, but inwardly and sub-consciously they are in denial that they are elected by the people to serve the public interest.
Politicians today are very well paid. This is in contrast to several decades ago when councillors on local bodies were virtually only paid travelling expenses. When I was the town-planner at the Marlborough County Council about 1969-71, I was impressed with the sincerity and attitude of the councillors. They were diligent and community minded and there to make a contribution to the community interest. Certainly they were not there for the money for they were paid “peanuts”.
Perhaps they got petrol money for travelling in from their farm but I wasn’t aware of any remuneration certainly not like today’s councillors get.
Somehow there arose the notion that “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”
Consequently today’s councillors are very well paid.
 Recently Lana Hart, a Christchurch based writer, broadcaster and tutor, wrote a very good column (August 15, 2022) for Stuff newspapers which she concluded with “for now, we can all help make our flawed but vital democracy the best it cane by making the time to elect people who will competently represent us.”
In the column she disclosed that Auckland councillors earn as much as $137,000 a year. In Christchurch councillors earn around $110,000, a salary roughly 75% above the city’s average annual wage of $63,000.
In comparison, current superannuation rates are single $24,000 and married $18,500.
Mute Monkeys
Often councillors top up their elected pay with other jobs such as their own business, being a CEO, consultant or other well paid position. And to get their rather well paid councillor cash, some – perhaps most – just spend much time being mute, accepting of the bureaucrats’ advice and never questioning or commenting.  Don’t rock the boat, become insignificant but keep your hand out.
They shed their concerns they may have voiced at election campaign time and morph into sycophantic no-bodies, compliant to council’s bureaucratic belly.
In some cases, councillors are there for the sheer ego. In my 25-plus  years of Fish and Game councils, not infrequently, I observed councillors attending meeting after meeting and never contributing one sentence to any debate throughout 12 meetings a year. They were devoid of thought and tongue.
Some years ago I recall one Marlborough District councillor was shattered on being defeated at an election because he stood to lose $40,000 a year – an income well in excess of his superannuation. Another when asked by a fellow councillor why he was standing for re-election (he was a practising lawyer) explained he “needed the money” because of personal financial investment difficulties. Thankfully he was also deservedly defeated at the election.
Both of those ex-councillors were there for the wrong reason – greedy and self serving.
Monkeys or Gorillas?
“Pay peanuts and you get monkeys.” But now the public purse is paying not just peanuts but chocolate coated, glossy wrapped ones in the form of handsome salaries.
The general result is not monkeys but too often selfish arrogant gorillas.  Are some political gorillas wearing an air of arrogance and disdain for the opinion of the public who voted them in? Are too many there for the money with not a thought to the duty of community contribution?
When politicians are paid handsomely we risk attracting the greedy, rather than those wishing to give service to the community.
Today, too many politicians lack an awareness of the fundamental role of an elected representative. The role is to represent the wishes of the majority of the community. Whether they like it or not, prime ministers, cabinet ministers, back benchers and local councillors are undeniably public servants.
The Prime Minister should never be termed the leader but instead best described as the country’s most senior public servant. Similarly a mayor is the community’s most senior public servant.
The challenge for voters in the forthcoming local government elections is to decide which ones are sincerely wanting to serve the community and which ones are only focused on themselves.
Footnote: Tony Orman, a former Marlborough land surveyor and town planner, is now a Blenheim retiree, free-lance journalist and author of several published books.
Words 740
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7 Responses to Beware Self-Serving Councillors

  1. Chloe Laine says:

    How do you make poor performing councillors accountable? Isn’t there some system in the USA which allows voters to recall an elected person if there is general concern about them?

  2. Dr. Charlie Baycroft says:

    The politically ambitious people (politicians and active party members) are different from the rest of us.

    Less than 1% of New Zealand citizens are political party members and only a fraction of them are actively involved in the party “business”.

    The party “business” is getting their chosen representative elected to serve them.

    What makes this tiny minority of people so “special” is their ambition to have authority and power over everyone else.

    They may sincerely believe that we all need to be controlled and told what to think, say and do “for our own good” but some of us would like to make such decisions for ourselves.

    C.S Lewis described this sort of people as OMNIPOTENT MORAL BUSYBODIES and said
    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

    The politically ambitious cannot help themselves to avoid becoming corrupted by their egos and the power they seek.

    It is up to the rest of us to limit their authority, power and corruption for their own good and ours as well.

    Elections are the way we HIRE s0me people to be our EMPLOYEES for a limited time.
    We hire and pay these employees to provide us with useful service and NOT TO RULE US.

    Responsible EMPLOYERS (the people) are obliged to be ever vigilant to make sure their government employees (politicians and bureaucrats) provide value for the money we pay and allow them to spend and do not become corrupted and abuse their temporary authority and power.

    The people of NZ have been failing as EMPLOYERS.
    Our government employees are enjoying and becoming corrupted by too much authority and power over us.
    If we do not stop them, they will become tyrants because power always corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    As responsible employers we must sack the red, blue and green employees and hire new people who might understand that, in a Democracy, THE PEOPLE ARE THE BOSS.

    There are many new and potentially better employees in the minor parties that have not yet had the authority and power that corrupts those in the red, blue and green ones.

    They would be much better and competent employees than the Omnipotent Moral Busybodies that have taken over our political system and government.

  3. Nuts says:

    What have we got to do to get rid of the monkeys?

  4. The Wairau Sardine says:

    Bloody good article. And very, cuttingly, apt.

    Too late for this electionr but I and many many others… should have seriously thought about standing. The best we can do now is vote intelligently. And that does’t mean voting for the number we are entitled to … but ONLY voting for the few we really know, and believe would be good for our community. If you only end up voting for 3 and not, for example , for 12. Good! Well done!. Quality not quantity!

    The Wairau Sardine.

  5. Frank Henry says:

    In reply to Chloe Laine, in the USA “recall” is the power of the voters to remove elected officials before their terms expire. It has been a fundamental part of its governmental system since 1911 and has been used by voters to express their dissatisfaction with their elected representatives. From memory, a petition with 12% of voters’ signatures is needed.
    Surely NZ needs that accountability of not just local councillors but MP too?

  6. Bonefish Hunter says:

    Once again Tony is right on with his explanation of the worldwide problem!
    Good on you Tony!

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