A day in the life of an elected member

Publish Date : 13 Jun 2022
Auckland Town Hall By Night (1)

The role of an elected member is varied. One day they’re balancing a budget or reviewing local feedback on a bylaw, the next, members are voting to allocate budget towards a local playground, all while juggling a day job and family commitments.

“Overwhelming, as you need to hit the ground running”.

In Auckland’s local elections, candidates are elected as local board members to lead and make decisions for their local communities, or as ward councillors to shape decisions for the whole region. Their decisions range from community services to cycle lanes to town centre improvements and environmental outcomes like improving water quality and ecological restoration. To achieve this, they build relationships with iwi, key stakeholders, the community and national bodies. The chosen mayor will promote a vision for Auckland and carry this vision through to budgets and plans.

We asked some elected representatives to tell us about their proudest and toughest moments, and share tips for newcomers. The consensus is that no matter which role you take on – there is a lot of learning to do in the first few months. The experience has been described as “overwhelming, as you need to hit the ground running”.

The good news is there are dedicated teams ready to advise and support elected members, so they can engage with the wider council family and make the decisions that will take Tāmaki Makaurau forward.

“The biggest learning 101 course of your life”

Day one kicks off with an induction process which provides newly elected members with information about processes at council. “The biggest learning 101 course of your life”, is how one elected member describes his first few months. From there, business as usual for elected members can mean attending weekly workshops, monthly business meetings or committee meetings, community gatherings, events, lots of emails, memorandums and political reports.

Proudest moment as an elected member?

There are many wins along the way, from work undertaken at grass roots level to decisions that contribute towards future-proofing the city. Most importantly, they’re proud of their hardworking and passionate community. As one elected member says, “I’m most proud of the community I serve in ... Passionate, hardworking people who are always willing to give up their time to support”.

What are the hardest parts?

Elected members also reveal the other side to the job: the tricky aspects of representing their community. There are tough calls to make, especially when dealing with budget challenges such as the financial impacts of COVID-19. These decisions are made in the interest of the community for the long term, which might disappoint some people in the short term. “No decision will make every Aucklander happy, and for every person who is happy with an outcome, there will be someone who isn’t.”

While working with a wide range of people from all walks of life is a highlight, the political nature of the work, managing expectations, dealing with misinformation and social media can be challenging.

“No decision will make every Aucklander happy, and for every person who is happy with an outcome, there will be someone who isn’t.”

For local board members, the role is paid on a part-time basis, but the hours vary greatly at different times of the electoral term. It also depends how much time they choose to personally commit to the role. For some, this can mean balancing a day job and family life in addition to representing their community. One member explained, “…it is a role that will take what you can give it, and reward you for doing so”.

Words of advice to newcomers

“Getting elected doesn’t automatically double your IQ.”

The key takeaway from the old guard to the new: listen and read as much as you can. One elected member shared a fundamental piece of advice for newcomers, “Getting elected doesn’t automatically double your IQ.”

Members emphasised it’s important to lean in and talk to the specialists, ask questions and absorb their knowledge.

It's equally important to be active in the community and build relationships to understand their priorities. One member explains, “The ‘local’ in local government is the key to worthy advocacy”.

With these insights in mind, which of our current elected members will stand again? Who else will seize the opportunity to be a leader for Tāmaki Makaurau?

Can you candidate? You can. Nominations open 15 July 2022 and close midday 12 August 2022.

For all things elections, visit voteauckland.co.nz.

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