Challenging Times!

For the first time, I am writing this column while holding elected office as a regional councillor.

So the first order of business is to thank the 7,256 voters in the Hastings constituency who have given me their confidence and to assure all residents throughout Hawke’s Bay that I am mindful of my responsibility to pursue the best interests of the entire region.

I also want to thank publicly the small army who supported my campaign – putting up signs, offering billboard locations, leafleting, making contributions, door knocking, creating online buzz, even participating in a tractor rally – and who were essential to our success. In Reflections on the Hustings (p.18), I offer some thoughts on the foibles and lessons of campaigning.

As a candidate, I advanced a strong critique of the incumbent regional council, and I am encouraged that so many agreed. Expectations have been lifted and I look forward to the challenge of meeting them.

But changing the culture of the HB Regional Council, rebuilding confidence in it, and redirecting its path will require the persistent and collective efforts of a majority of councillors, if not all nine. Rest assured, I will be one of those pressing most energetically for change.

I congratulate each of the councillors elected to the next term, and look forward to working constructively with them.

A question that some have asked is what effect my election will have on BayBuzz or my role with it.

In short, BayBuzz will continue in both its online and magazine versions, hopefully getting better and presenting more diverse content and authorship of the highest standard as we go. BayBuzz will continue to raise the tough questions and pose alternatives about the direction of Hawke’s Bay.

Will BayBuzz cease to cover councils’ issues and performance? Absolutely not. And where I or any of our expanding team of writers have a point of view on these matters, those will be readily apparent and open to your comment.

I will continue to write about the politics and issues I observe, no differently than thousands of officeholders around the world – John Key and Bill Dalton, for example – who express their views today via blogs, email newsletters, social media and print. Indeed, I’d argue that more of my elected colleagues should get out from under their rocks, embrace the times and inform and seek more robust exchange with their constituents via such media. I see that as one antidote to low public interest in local government and majority non-voting.

Personally, I am particularly interested in the water and energy futures of Hawke’s Bay, as well as our opportunities to build a more diversified and resilient regional economy. You can expect to see much of my editorial contribution to BayBuzz focusing in those areas.

And I will continue to strongly advocate amalgamation, having seen, over six years of close-up monitoring, too much dysfunction, wasted energy and resources by councils and the community, and missed opportunity arising from our present governance arrangements.

As an active business owner who happens to publish a magazine, I expect to be no more conflicted on public issues than a councillor who happens to grow asparagus or fruit trees or sheep, or who operates a pub or an accounting business.

Finally, as a councillor, I will fully respect the official confidences inherent in serving as an officeholder with respect to matters or information dealt with in public-excluded sessions or protected as confidential under relevant legislation. That said, I will push relentlessly for greater transparency and disclosure of public information.

How will the reading public regard all this? That will depend upon the integrity with which we publish BayBuzz and with which I handle my duties. And ultimately that’s a judgment readers and voters will make.

Tom Belford

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