Ultimate test of councillors' performance

23:29, Jul 03 2012

Hamiltonians should watch city councillors closely this week as they discuss the way they will require the public to cast their votes at next October's triennial elections.

On the table at Thursday's council meeting - live-streamed on the council website - is a report which outlines an extraordinary number of options, including citywide voting.

The feedback sought earlier by council indicates a significant amount of public support for citywide voting - electing city councillors as the mayor is, by the city as a whole.

But don't be surprised if councillors appear conveniently hard of hearing talk that the public wants to do away with our current two-ward system. The usual arguments against reform were recited yesterday by electoral spending miser Dave Macpherson.

Candidates with deep pockets could buy the elections, he argued, creating a "River Road'' council comprised of members whose biggest qualification was their wallet.

It's a valid point, but it disguises what may be the deeper thinking around the table.

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This decision could well be the incumbents' best chance to pad the odds in their own favour. They are deciding some key rules influencing their chance of re-election.

Current councillors - but by no means all - have patchy reputations, following a string of debacles and bad decisions in which some have been involved over several terms.

However a fine way to limit the impact of any groundswell against them would be backing a two-ward system as a bulkhead against any popular electoral uprising.

Consider the recent poll history of the Wel Energy trust, elected across the city.

In 2002, a well-devised, populist plan to direct the trust's considerable income back into the public's pockets swept five of its eight seats for the Power Rebates Team. 

Former city councillor Garry Mallett's $9.4 million handout to 73,000 consumers captured widespread public support, translating into a dominant election showing.

In 2005 continuing public endearment with rebates delivered seven of eight seats.

In 2008 the public's mood changed, Mallett's obsession with rebates at the expense of community grants regarded as a bridge too far, and seized on by rival candidates who presented a more inviting public face by advocating continuing community support.

Mallett's incumbents were swept from power by voters in a show of electoral force.

Last year the Power ON - Discounts and Grants ticket made a clean sweep - despite its clunky moniker - as the public continued to endorse its model for trust income.

When the public wanted change, it flexed its muscle at the polling booth, and change happened. For our councillors, citywide voting would be the ultimate test of their performance. But do have they the stomach to test their record before the city?

Waikato Times