Monday, September 24, 2007

Local bodies

My local body voting papers arrived in the post on Saturday, so I have to start thinking about which way I want to vote. Fortunately, I live in Palmerston North, so I don't have to face the crawling horror of John Banks (the eyes! The mouths! The homophobia!) Instead, my local government is composed of the usual assortment of petty-minded small businessmen and property developers, each trying to use the city council to cut their rates while boosting the value of their property investments. So we have the council spending millions on a recreational lake next to the river, whose primary benefit seems to be massively boosting the property values of the developer who owns the land, as well as providing a nice view for the palazzos they're eventually planning to build there. And then there's the never ending saga of the cross on the local clocktower, the latest cycle of which has councillors complaining that the new "lantern cross" (a big lit glass box with a cross marked out on the panes, built to replace the original cross struck down by an act of god in a storm a few years ago) isn't big enough - which tells you pretty clearly what its all about. As a liberal, I find it offensive that the local council would spend money to push its councillors' private religious beliefs. Unfortunately, too many of the council see no problem with it whatsoever.

Wind farms and their continued spread across the Tararuas are also a big issue, particularly the council's corrupt deal with Mighty River Power to establish a windfarm in a local reserve. Unfortunately, the sorts of candidates who oppose this also tend to be ferals who oppose windfarms in general (because they're ugly / noisy / liquefy your innards with infrasound / make you go mad with "shadow flicker"), which is a bit of a dilemma. It would be nice to have something other than a binary choice here (for example, people who supported wind, just not if we have to bulldoze trees to build them).

Fortunately I have a simple choice for mayor. "Red Heather", the current incumbent, hasn't really screwed up for the last three years, is left-leaning, and supports council services. Oh, and she signed Amnesty International's lion petititon. Her main opponent, Jono Naylor, is a fundamentalist Christian businessman who gets kids from his church youth group to do his dirty work (I'd link, but Stuff doesn't keep local news for more than two days. If you have Newztext, go and look for "Church kids steal mayor's election signs" from September 20). He's also very clearly trying to buy his way to power with a massive advertising campaign, which IMHO is a good reason not to vote for him. Who wants a mayor who'll be significantly beholden to donors and forced to pay them back at the expense of the public?

I also have an easy choice in my local ward, in that the incumbents are all members of the "tight eight" which dominates the council and is responsible for the decisions I hate. So, I'll be voting to get rid of them, and replace them with some better representatives. Unfortunately, we still suffer under the bloc vote in Palmerston North, rather than having STV, and there seems to be a plurality which supports all three, so the odds are against it.

My real difficulty is going to be for the regional council. The current council has allowed the Manawatu River to turn into an open sewer, and notoriously granted Fonterra resource consent to dump 8,500 cubic metres of effuluent a day into the river - the equivalent of the sewage output of a town the size of Wanganui - because it was so polluted it "didn't matter". The decision was reversed after a challenge, and Horizons seems to have got the message and is beginning to crack down on water discharges, but I'd still like to punish those responsible. Unfortunately, I don't have their voting records, so I don't know who to kick out and who to keep (I'll have to look into this further). I do know who to elect, though: Jill White, a former PNCC mayor, who has recently completed a thesis on past flooding in Palmerston North. Lynne Pope and Richard Forgie also look like good options.

Finally, the DHB. My basic criteria here is whether the candidates supported Spotless or its workers during the recent lockout - but unfortunately the media aren't asking that question. So I'm left with the usual: vote for doctors and nurses, vote against businessmen or those who run private health providers. Judy Blakely looks like a good option, as does Ann Chapman; as for the rest, I'll need to do some further investigation. But there's one person I won't be voting for: Marilyn Craig. A couple of years ago she ran a sweatshop - sorry, "human resources management company" - which specialised in providing casual, outsourced labour to local call centres under grossly exploitative conditions. These are exactly the sorts of arrangements we need to stamp out in the health sector, and having someone who profits from them on the DHB is not the way to do it.