Keeping local politicians on a short leash

By: Steve Morris

Straight from city council
A personal view,
by Councillor Steve Morris

In 1967 and 1990, there were referenda on increasing the time between parliamentary elections from three years to four. At both referenda nearly 70 per cent of voters rejected a longer term; the New Zealand public have always favoured keeping their politicians on a short leash.

Now, the Taxpayers Union and Local Government NZ are proposing we increase the time between council elections from three to four years.

Local Government New Zealand suggest this would improve decision-making but the Taxpayers Union proposal has an important safeguard: recall elections.

Under their proposal a four-year term wouldn’t be a four-year ‘dictatorship’ because a recall election would give the public the opportunity to ‘turf out’ a poorly performing mayor or councillor before the end of their term. A recall would be triggered if 10 per cent of voters petitioned for a new election. It’s an interesting proposition; power would be in the hands of the people always and not just at election time.

In Tauranga, the public’s leash used to be tighter. The Mayor was elected annually until 1915 and then every two years until 1935 when the current three-year term was adopted. At Council’s first meeting in 1882, our first Mayor, George Vesey Stewart, was complimentary about the public’s choice of councillors and said: “I trust that all political feelings arising out of the late election will cease within the walls of this chamber”.

For the first time, an observer team has been appointed to monitor interactions between Mayor and Councillors. George Vesey Stewart’s words need heeding by Council today more than they did 138 years ago.