OPINION: When the mayor-elect, Lianne Dalziel, referred on Saturday to the "awesome mandate" she had been given by the voters of Christchurch she was, if anything, understating the matter. It was not a reference to the margin of victory over her nearest opponent. For although that was substantial, the turnout for the election was disappointingly low, something Dalziel charitably put down to voter exhaustion both with the aftermath of the earthquake and with the multiple ructions within the council over the last few years.
But the awesomeness of the mandate is, rather, the giant task that lies ahead of the mayor and the new council. And while Christchurch people may not have been inclined to vote a lot of hope is being reposed in the new council to get it right in the years ahead.
The mayor and the elected members start with an enormous amount of good will, if for no other reason than that so many of them are new to the council table. More than a third of the old members decided not to stand again and a further four who did test their popularity with voters lost their seats. The result was an emphatic verdict, if one were needed, upon the last council's performance. It also leaves the new mayor with a council of substantially like-minded people with whom she is clearly delighted.
Throughout her campaign, and again on Saturday, the mayor-elect spoke of re-engaging the people of Christchurch with the rebuild and of consulting them more on it. She wants the people, through the council, to take back more responsibility for the rebuild. For that to happen, however, the council must get its own house in order, a task that is far from done. After the quakes, it was left with responsibility for building and resource consents, a vital core function in a city with rebuilding running into billions ahead of it, and the result, as we now know, was a meltdown.
Much of what went wrong over the last three years could be blamed on failures of communication at multiple levels - between departments within the council, between council officers and elected members, between the council and the Government and above all between the council and Christchurch people. Those failures must be fixed.
One thing worrying many ratepayers is the state of the council's finances. As the census has shown, thousands of people have moved away from the city and as anyone who visits the city centre will be aware, there is precious little business activity there. The previous administration insisted that the city's finances were in good order, but a careful, sceptical, independent analysis, taking into account various possible scenarios, including, for instance, rising interest rates, would not go amiss. At some point, too, the possibility of Christchurch amalgamating with districts to which much of its population has moved will have to be considered.
After a period of unprecedented turmoil, the election of the new mayor and council brings the promise of a new beginning. To live up to that promise they will need to turn high-sounding generalities into positive action quickly.
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