Ewan McGregor? He's on the council right?
NARELLE HENSON AND MEGAN SMYTH
Nearly two out of three Hamiltonians do not know who the Mayor is, and only a quarter can name at least one city councillor.
The three-yearly local body elections are on October 12 and nominations for Hamilton City Council, Waikato Regional Council, Waikato District Health Board and the region's 11 district councils opened on Friday. But an informal poll by the Waikato Times reveals a staggering lack of knowledge about the incumbents on our councils.
Reporters asked 204 people to name the city's mayor and only 38 per cent were able to come up with Julie Hardaker's name. Only 2 per cent knew the name of the Waikato Regional Council chairman Peter Buckley.
Twenty five per cent of those asked could name at least one Hamilton city councillor out of the 12 people who have been running our city alongside the mayor for the last three years.
Some of the guesses from people surveyed were surprisingly far off the mark. Prime Minister John Key is also running Hamilton, according to one person.
While Star Wars Jedi Knight Ewan McGregor will have to leave his light saber at the door when he enters the council chambers - he was consistently mistakenly named as a councillor instead of actual councillor Ewan Wilson.
Mr Wilson and deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman were named more than twice as often as any other councillor, with the lowest-ranking councillor, John Gower, being named only four times. Cr Gower will be stepping down after 12 years on the council come October, and said he was not surprised he ranked so low.
"I have purposely kept a low profile.
"Part of my role as chair of the appeal committee was to be non-committal. I was not allowed to go to the paper or the media."
He suggested cynicism was probably behind the low interest in local body elections, and said nobody trusted politicians. "Politicians are their own worst enemy. People automatically switch off because they feel they are untrustworthy."
The percentage of people who vote in the local body elections is generally low. In 2010 only 38 per cent voted in the Hamilton City Council elections.
Mayor Julie Hardaker said the council was already doing "more than we have ever done" to raise awareness of the election. "We have put out a comprehensive booklet for candidates, and got a website with a lot of information on it. We have got the organisation Stand Up for Hamilton."
BUCKLEY NOT SURPRISED
Waikato Regional Council chairman Peter Buckley said he was not surprised by the poll result, which showed only 2 per cent knew who he was. "Most of the work council does would be further in the provinces. So if you moved that poll out further, people out there would recognise me a lot better."
Mr Buckley said the regional council was working with those looking at standing to make sure they had all the information they needed. It had been at the Fieldays talking to farmers about the role of the council and it was running meetings at which people could learn about everything from how to enrol to what the council does.
Victoria University political scientist Professor Stephen Levine said low interest in local body politics was common around the country.
"There are many things competing with people's interest in local body politics."
However, he said that instances where national government tried to impinge on local body power were not taken kindly.
"It goes against the New Zealand consensus on how those things should be run, to make all those decisions from commanding heights."
He said if New Zealand wanted to see voter turnout increase, we could "begin by enforcing the law" which requires all people to be registered voters, although it does not require them to vote.
"In a sense there is an accountability requirement on citizens and residents to obey the law in terms of voting."
Is this apathy and lack of awareness good enough? The Waikato Times doesn't think so.
Over the next three months, the Times' coverage will aim to improve awareness of what the councils do, and encourage people to both stand for office and vote.
The Times will inform readers on some of the basics about councils – let's call it an Idiot's Guide. The newspaper will also investigate ways to stand without breaking the bank and feature advice from previous candidates. But it won't be all worthy stuff. We'll also provide plenty of lighthearted analysis, political cartoons and regular opinion polls.
The thing to remember about local government elections is that now is the time when you can make a difference. If you don't stand or at least vote, you give up your right to gripe. Join us and get involved.
- Waikato Times
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