OPINION: It's great to be back with my column and first of all I would like to thank all of the residents and ratepayers of Invercargill who made the effort to vote in the last elections, writes Tim Shadbolt in Southern Focus.
Naturally I am honoured to be re-elected as mayor, not just because there is so much challenging work to be done but also because I'm a self-confessed history buff.
According to Local Government New Zealand, I am now the longest serving city mayor in the history of this country. Close on my heels was Sir Harry Barker, of Gisborne City, who served for 22 years, followed by Sir Barry Curtis, Sir Dove-Myer Robinson and Sir Frank Kitts. My first task as mayor this term will be selecting which councillors will serve on the 36 committees, trusts, foundations, forums, incorporated societies and boards that are run by the council or on which the council is represented.
Then comes the really difficult task of selecting chairpersons and the deputy mayor. It's no secret that I'll be selecting councillor Darren Ludlow as my deputy, and that's not just because he's the highest polling councillor. Having been in the job since the departure of Jackie Kruger, he has represented this city in a professional and dignified manner. He is a skilled diplomat and an excellent public speaker.
As always there are far more talented and experienced councillors than there are positions when it comes to selecting chairpersons. All I can do is try my best to be fair, but there is no way I can satisfy everyone. Fortunately, there is now far less difference in pay between a chairperson and a humble backbencher, so I'm hoping councillors will be a little more relaxed about the process. Councillors also have the power to overturn my selections. I can't wait for this task to be completed so we can get back to work.
At present the public is not particularly focused on the structure of local government because of the revelations involving Len Brown and our super-city. All of those involved will be suffering enough retribution in cyberspace and I've no intention of putting the boot into those who are already mortally wounded.
As far as I'm concerned there are exciting developments taking place if you are interested in muck raking. Take the emergence, for example, of the humble dung beetle. At present 200,000 hectares of New Zealand's lush pastures are covered in cow dung. It makes the Crafer Farm deal pale into insignificance.
Now Southland is experimenting with dung beetles that will destroy a cowpat within 24 hours. This will mean less pollution of our rivers, less drenching of our stock and increased productivity. I've always argued that our pastures are not carbon neutral but are like miniature Brazilian rain forests, so farmers should not have to pay carbon taxes. Scientists are divided on this issue because our grass pastures have shallow roots but, with dung beetles digging tunnels everywhere, the grass roots will grow far deeper.
I believe we should build a huge statue of the dung beetle in Wachner Place and Tuturau should become the dung beetle capital of New Zealand.
Another issue to emerge during the elections was that in 2014 we will, as a nation, be remembering World War I.
It will have been 100 years since the Great War began and there are numerous stories involving southern men that need to be told. I believe we could produce a docu- drama or a play similar to the excellent production written by Jonathan Tucker on James Hargest.
The main issue, however, to emerge during the elections was the lack of consultation, the lack of work undertaken on earthquake- prone buildings and the lack of financial analysis in relation to the inner city upgrade. Regardless of whether or not this was the case, it was the public perception. The battle that took place reminded me of Geoff Piercy's heroic stand in opposition to the construction of Splash Palace on the Doon St Reserve.
Public opinion was clearly on his side and the council was forced to back down. I believe the council is going to have to re-evaluate its approach to the inner-city upgrade.
By way of the ballot box the people have spoken and that's what democracy is all about. We have to make local government more exciting and involve the community in all the drama, robust debate and plans for our future that are largely confined to those elected into office if we are to increase the number of people who vote.
Now there's a real challenge.
» Tim Shadbolt is the mayor of Invercargill.
- The Southland Times