A recent article in this paper about the cost of a couple of new public toilets the Rodney Local Board is building, provided a response from Rodney Local Board members, who in two cases expressed surprise at the cost and suggesting they hadn’t seen the detail. This got me thinking about what our role is as elected members, how important our duties are and what the public expectations should be of our performance.
A significant amount of time, effort and money goes into providing elected members with detailed reports on every decision we make, and even if we aren’t voting on something but providing feedback or advocacy, all our meetings represent hundreds of hours of preparation. In addition, each of the 21 local boards across Auckland have dedicated support staff and advisors. If we are unsure about something we can contact one of our two Local Board advisors for assistance. Furthermore, if what’s being presented is unclear, we can ask questions, which is precisely what our weekly meetings are for.
Understanding our agendas and the reports in them is one of the most essential things elected members should be doing on behalf of their community. There is often a significant amount of material provided each week for us to consider and it is virtually impossible to engage meaningfully in a meeting unless all the material provided prior to meetings is carefully read and members come prepared with questions if they have concerns.
All elected members should ensure they are fully informed of the decision they are voting on. Careful agenda scrutiny has led us to increase our advocacy on an issue or raise concerns that have a local impact, which has a tangible benefit for those we have been elected to represent. Likewise, understanding how Council finances are managed and budgets allocated is fundamental to getting the best for our community.
In my experience, almost without exception, our reports are clear, concise, detailed and professionally written. But questioning is essential and if we are not happy, we can defer any decision or request a further report or information to address concerns. No decision from the Rodney Local Board involving ratepayers’ money is made without consideration of the options, costs and implications. All our reports are publicly available online, so there is complete transparency about the information provided to us.
Which brings us back to the confusion over the costs of the Wellsford public toilets. It may be that Local Board members had forgotten about decisions they voted on a year or so ago or that the agendas weren’t read properly, questions weren’t asked when there was the opportunity to do so, or there was a lack of understanding of our budgets, and some Local Board members voted without understanding what they were voting for. The first thing is possibly excusable as we do make a lot of decisions every year, the others could fall short of what the public would expect of elected local board members.