Price of a politician

By: Beth Houlbrooke

Who wants to be a politician?  Regarded as one of the least trusted professions, it requires no special qualification. I was recently taken aback by a comment that elected local body representatives shouldn’t be paid; that it is a public service.  

An elected member of the Rodney Local Board receives a salary of $40,700 pa, and the chair $76,100 pa.  We are classified as self-employed, therefore we pay our own tax and ACC, and do not receive entitlements such as holidays or overtime rates. There is no minimum hours of work required, but it is typically expected that an elected member has a part-time role of approximately 20-25 hours per week, and the chair works full time (40 hours or more).  Personally, I do not find 40 hours enough to do everything I need – attending meetings, reading reports and agendas in preparation for meetings, constituent visits, on-site visits, answering emails, phone calls and responding to social media.

It could be argued that this privileged role should be undertaken voluntarily without any financial recompense, and carried out for the good of the community. But that may limit the number of people who would put their name forward for election and attract only wealthy or retired candidates, who may not be a good representation of the community as a whole.

The current system allows anyone to step up, whether they are already employed, own their own business, or are a stay-at-home parent. In the case of the chair, who is elected by the members of the board, that person must be available full-time to carry out the duties and functions of the chair, which include daytime and evening meetings between Monday and Friday, and public events or community meetings, which are often held on weekends and right through the Christmas and New Year period.

So what are the perks? It’s the people – seeing them achieve great things for their community and helping them do it, and speaking up on their behalf when a great injustice comes their way. To do this successfully, an elected representative needs make efforts to know the community well and what is important to them. With over 20 ratepayer/citizen groups in the Warkworth subdivision alone, plus many other community organisations, that means getting around to all of them on a regular basis. The satisfaction comes from bringing people together – community, business, council, suppliers, outside agencies and elected representatives at all levels – helping them identify a common goal or mutually acceptable solution, and having that goal achieved or solution delivered.

So I guess the question really is this: Are our elected representatives good value for ratepayer money?  Well, that is for the voter to decide, and here the power is in your hands. The next local body elections are in two years’ time.

Beth Houlbrooke, Rodney Local Board


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