Meeting the candidates

Extra seats had to be brought in to the Opera House’s Ink Box to cope with the crowd at the forum for the seven candidates seeking the Waitaki mayoralty organised by the Otago Chmaber of Comemrce and Otago Daily times last week.

Last night’s forum, organised by the Oamaru Mail, was in the Opera House’s main auditorium and attracted about 200 people. That’s a good crowd in a small town for such an event.

The meeting started promptly at the advertised time of 7pm. Chair Phil Hope said it would finish on the dot of 9pm and it did.

Each candidate was given a couple of minutes to introduce themselves and their vision for the District then had a minute each to answer questions which had been sent in by Mail readers.

Most of the focus was on generalities.

Federated Farmers is organising a forum with a rural focus later in the month.

The seven candidates are Fliss Butcher, Jim Hopkins, Gary Kircher, Greg Smith, Eric Spittal, Helen Stead and David Wilson.

No-one disgraced themselves but I think three showed they didn’t have the knowledge and ability required for the job.

If you were just going on performance last night, I don’t think there was a lot between the other four.

But if the grapevine is reliable there are two front runners – Hopkins, who is the current deputy, and Kircher, a former deputy who stood against the current mayor, Alex Familton,  three years ago.

He made it an all or nothing bid, wasn’t successful and is again standing only for mayor while Hopkins is also standing for council.

Both have different strengths, both have different weaknesses.

One question asked was about economic development.

I regard local government’s role in that as similar to central government’s – it should have policies which make it easy for people to do business, within whatever boundaries are necessary, and leave them to do it.

I don’t think local body politicians and bureaucrats are any better at picking winners than central ones and I don’t want them trying with ratepayers’ money.

At local level, a how-can-we-help council culture rather than a you-have-to-do-this one would be a good start.

Another question asked them what they’d do with their day jobs if they were successful.

All said being mayor would be their day jobs which highlights an issue.

The position of mayor of a geographically large district with a small population (about 20,000 people) and therefore small rating base doesn’t pay much.

Those who hark back to the days when being mayor was part-time and unpaid might say it pays too much.

But if the role has to be a full time one, a lot of people who aren’t retired, don’t have businesses which can run without them, or who have no other income, would think it doesn’t pay enough.

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