Porirua mayor calls for mandatory exam for councillors | Rare Techy
Porirua Mayor Anita Baker wants to see councilors take the test more regularly. She says the job is becoming more complex and exams help counselors stay relevant.
If Porirua Mayor Anita Baker gets her way, councilors will get it back to school. She wants counselors to take regular exams to measure their skills.
As a longtime justice of the peace, she has to take regular exams, and councilors see no reason not to.
“I think an exam keeps it relevant because the things that need to be done change,” Baker said.
A group of current and former politicians doubt it will work and argue that voters should do more to vet candidates and vote for those who are capable of doing the job.
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Local government is becoming more complex and it is clear many voters and candidates have a limited understanding of how councils work, Baker said.
Taking an exam should be considered a “performance review” and voters should expect their representatives to understand topics such as local government legislation and resource consent.
Baker believed that declining voter turnout was a growing concern and part of the problem related to voters losing faith in elected officials.
This partly reflected the way candidates made promises on issues such as Three Waters and laying off council staff, which they could not keep, she said.
Former Kapiti Mayor K Gurunathan does not support exams.
“It sounds like a good idea, but democracy is the butcher and the baker and the candlestick maker sitting around the council table making decisions.”
He said voters should “take more responsibility” and elect people in charge.
Teaching civics in schools will help voters and politicians make better decisions, he said.
Political scientist Jean Drago was also skeptical of the test proposal.
“How much will that help the public … Of course they (politicians) should be trained, but taking the test is a bit old fashioned for me.”
She said the tests would not stop candidates making promises they could not keep and voters should take more responsibility to choose who got the tick.
Councils need to do more to educate the public about what they have done, she said, adding that politicians should call out candidates who made promises they could not keep.
Former Upper Hutt councilor and mayoral candidate Angela McLeod is another who hasn’t been put off by the exams.
“We have to do something, but I’m not sure exams are the right thing because councilors are elected by the public.”
Requiring councilors to pass a test undermines the voting process, she said.
However, McLeod said there was an “appalling lack of knowledge” about what councilors did and that needed to change.
A large part of the problem, she said, is the lack of civics training in schools.
Misogyny facing female candidates is a bigger problem than the exam, McLeod said. This discouraged women from standing and lowered the overall quality of candidates.
Baker said she was regularly called racist names because of her views on Three Waters and her support of Karakia before meetings. She was regularly called the C… word and admitted to being targeted by female politicians.
McLeod wanted councils to call out abusers, saying tests would not deter such behaviour.
Local Government New Zealand president Stuart Crosby described the idea of the tests as “interesting”, but he agreed with Baker that local government was becoming increasingly complex.
LGNZ was increasingly involved in the professional development and upskilling of mayors.
The draft review of the future for local government recognized that it was becoming an increasingly complex role. He said that there is confusion that not everyone understands the difference between administration and management.
LGNZ surveyed its members on what support they needed and the responses were wide ranging.
“From ‘I’m fine, I don’t need anything’ to ‘I need help with everything.’
Baker has discussed his idea with colleagues, hoping it will spur discussion about how politicians can be more effective.