BayBuzz recently interviewed Dean Hyde, looking for any advice or observations he might pass along to newly elected councillors.

Dean “wants to get his life back” … a comment that underscores the demands of serving as a councillor while also having a “day job” as a full-time trade union organizer for the last four and a half years. He confesses to having “lost the passion” for local government and believes the public “deserves the highest level of commitment.” Candid comments. And so he is standing down from the Hasting District Council.

Most citizens, he believes, don’t realize the impact local government has on their daily lives, or the range of issues a councillor must address … “from the color of rubbish bags to $50 million sports parks.”

Nor do many realize the amount of work involved in serving effectively as a councillor. The level of effort required, plus the modest pay, effectively “disenfranchises 90% of the population” … they just can’t afford to serve.

Given the range and complexity of issues, Dean observes that a major potential mistake of incoming councillors is to be “a jack of all trades, and master of none” … a path to ineffectiveness, as he sees it. He urges newbies to “be ruthless about how they are going to focus their efforts.” He advises to ” not try to take all issues on … pick your battles and do well on them.”

Trying to be accessible, Dean talked about taking calls from constituents and non-constituents alike, any time of the day or week … Sunday night calls being the best! But he advises: “Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t meet the needs of all your constituents.”

We talked about when to listen to constituents and when to lead them. Dean says, “I don’t buy the chattering monkey approach, just mouthing the public’s views. A councillor is elected because of certain skills, background, and ability to make good decisions” and needs to apply his judgment.

At the same time, a councillor is accountable to his or her constituency. We talked about candidates who refuse endorsements from citizen groups so as to claim their independence. Dean has a strong view on th matter. “It’s arrogant. Claiming independence stinks of a lack of willingness to be held accountable,” he says.

Looking forward, Dean expects the Council will have problems with resolving economic development versus environment issues, managing tourism facilities like SplashPlanet profitably (at one point, he served on the Hastings Tourism Facilities Trust) and maintaining an affirmative role in providing social services.

On the last, he worries about a conservative-driven inquiry that will drive Council to pull back from social services … everything from libraries to community grants to services like the Citizen Advice Bureau. “Periodic review is fine,” he says, but he senses a politically motivated agenda to back away from Council support for social services.

I had to confess I had no idea what the CAB was or did. Do you know?! The concept originated in post-WWII England to help folks get sorted under pretty chaotic circumstances. Now, this one employee plus volunteers operation is the “ultimate referral agency” — if you need to know where or how to get something done in the community, but especially in the local bureacracy, you can ask the CAB.

I asked Dean what he thought the toughest issues to confront the new Council would be. His list:

  • “Rate increase pressures and an increasing inability by the majority within our community to sustain such increases.”
  • “An ingrained cultural inability to say no to new and pet projects”
  • “Anticipated over-expenditure on big projects”… he named the
    regional sports park, the northern arterial route, and Ocean Beach as
    examples.

A key decision for councillors almost immediately will be the selection of a new CEO for the HDC. Dean urges new councillors to “stick themselves into the selection of this individual … raise questions … demand to see background information … participate in interviewing the ‘short list’ of candidates.”

Finally I asked what gave him the most satisfaction from his three terms as councillor. Dean mentioned:

  • “Establishment of the Hastings Youth Centre”
  • “My fortnightly Ratepayers Clinics and radio programme “Perfect Day” on Radio Kidnappers”
  • “My initiative to introduce a more rigorous selection process, in which every councillor participates, for making Council appointments to local boards and trusts … Prior to the establishment of this practice, it literally was shoulder tapping.”

Dean is coy about future political plans. But clearly he’s a political animal, and I’d expect him to have some kind of presence as soon as boredom sets in … and his wife permits!

Tom

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