Waiheke has this strange relationship with Auckland. Like the youngest of five siblings it is alternative, rebellious, sometimes bullied, sometimes spoilt. After 20 years of living with an annoying big brother it seems to me that most of the activity during the Royal Commission and Select Committee Supercity campaigns was about whether the Local Board would have power to do anything, would be allowed to make some of its own decisions, would be able to take proactive steps for its own future or to defend itself against unwanted changes. We needed control because them over the water were ‘against us’.
However I feel this misses the point rather. All communities develop structures of governance. Throughout history where groups of people are living together they have modes and means to express what might be called their civic society, that collection of mores and opinions about how things should be arranged, how people work and live together, how they protect and develop their living space and environment. This is true whether the community is a gold rush town with a sheriff, a German university town with a mayor and aldermen, or a commune with a council of elders.
Modern society with all its structures and institutions – contract law, resource management acts, plans, police forces, utility companies, real estate agents might give the impression that this lowest level of civic society is no longer required – that all the human interactions are taken care of. That is the implication by a structure like the new Auckland City having one representative for 80,000 people.
My belief however is that Civic society is just as important as it ever was, We still need representatives close enough to home to know the people, to know the ground and who can listen, emote and collate views. Who can give leadership, agree, disagree, consolidate, arbitrate, and guide. Who can take on ceremonial functions, who can act as highly connected nodes in complex networks of relationships.
I believe that if Waiheke had not been ‘given’ a local board. Then the island would have invented one anyway – called a representative forum or a civic network or some other thing – but fulfilling the same function.
So while it will be great if the new Local Board are able to take on more powers, spend more money, and play a role in representing Waiheke to the rest of the City. Their every day activities will be the same old, small decisions that reflect the character of the island, talking and listening, being a hub.
I believe that all the candidates stood because in some way they understand this whether expressed clearly or not. They have a love for this place where we live. Whether I might agree with their viewpoint or not those elected start with my respect and support. They lose it only by acting in ways that are either self serving, or allow the interests of the few take precedence over the interests of the many.
After the events of the last two weeks one might feel that this is exactly what happened. Four candidates made a serious mistake in the way they consulted on the leadership roles. They made the fundamental mistake in assuming that the success of their election, a quirk of the first past the post system, meant that they now knew the wishes of the island. And then under criticism they responded by retreating into a defensive corner – painting all who comment, even supporters, into the opposition camp.
The Local Government Act and the election confer organisational legitimacy on the Local Board and I will respect that. But true legitimacy derives from the constant support of the people. It is easy to listen when someone tells you what you want to hear, its the mark of true leaders that they can listen to and understand people who are less agreeable. If this group loses that legitimacy the community will treat it a damaged and route around it, forming other structures.
My message to the new members is to think about how many people they talked to over the campaign – and then think about how many they listened to, actually sat down and listened to for a while and instead of thinking what can I say that will get me elected, what can I do that meets the needs of this person. A handful probably a hundred at the most, one or two percent of the island. How are you really going to represent us? If we call you – will you answer?
In words of Bo Catlett in Get Shorty – you don’t know us, you just think you do.