Monday, September 20, 2010

My uninspiring local democracy

My local body ballot paper arrived in the post today. Unfortunately, while local government is vitally important, my choices are rather uninspiring.

None of the mayoral candidates deserve my vote. The incumbent, Jono Naylor, doesn't seem to have done a terrible job), but I didn't vote for him last time, and I'm buggered if I'm voting for him now. His major rival, Mark Bell-Booth, has two claims to fame: he's a former mayor ousted from office for being crap after a single term, and he sold "fertiliser" that wasn't. As for the also-rans, we have two businessmen, a joke, and a convicted fraudster. None of them are even remotely close to my preferences, so it looks like I'll be abstaining on the mayoral front this year.

My local council candidates are all spouting the same mantra of "cut rates, cut debt, be positive about Palmerston North", which leaves very little to distinguish them. They include the daughter of a current councillor, who seems to think that genetics is a qualification for elected office. There's at least one person I can support, but I'm struggling to find a home for all three of my votes (Palmerston North labours under the undemocratic block-vote system; time for an STV referendum again).

There are non-binding polls on whether to cut the number of councillors and on whether to keep the ward system or move to at-large election. The latter especially seems aimed at undermining democracy rather than strengthening it, especially given that block-vote. Palmerston North used to have at-large election, and the result was that almost all councillors lived within a block or two around Victoria Avenue. That doesn't seem very democratic to me.

The real race seems to be over the regional council, where concern over the Manawatu River has led to a flood of environmental candidates. Among these is Amey Bell-Booth, daughter of the aforementioned former mayor. I hate hereditary candidates, but she's an environmentalist, which is a bit of a dilemma. Meanwhile, most of the incumbents go on the shit-list because they support at-large election. That's enough to eliminate them from consideration even if they're on a completely different elected body.

DHB is one long list of conflicts of interest. It would be nice if people didn't try to advance their business by getting elected to a board which can give them contracts. There's also another hereditary candidate, the wife of the current mayor (though she is at least a nurse, I'm not sure I like the combination). Fortunately, we use non-exhaustive STV, so I'm not required to vote for the ones I hate (unlike the poor Australians); instead I'll just rank the top five or six candidates, and screw the rest.

And that's my local democracy. Not pretty, is it? Still, at least I get to vote - unlike the poor people of Canterbury.