This is a guest post from ‘Wellington Citizen’ – who wishes to remain anonymous due to their employment.
Normally I wouldn’t support term limits. While presented as a technique to ensure greater accountability of elected officials to the public, in practice they actually strip voters of the right to chose the best qualified candidate.
In general it should be the voters who decide whether or not an elected official has served for too long, not the operation of an arbitrary term limit that treats the excellent, the mediocre and the terrible exactly the same.
However, the recent conduct of Stephanie Cook makes me wonder whether it is time for New Zealand to consider term limits for local government. Phil Quin makes an eloquent case for seeing Ms Cook as a councillor who has been complete captured by officials. An elected representative who sees her first loyalty to the officials she is meant to be exercising governance over, on our behalf, rather than to us the ratepayers of the city.
Stephanie Cook is proud to have been on council for 16 years. Despite this long service she is rated as one of the worst performing councillors in Wellington.
At the last council election, Stephanie Cook received 1077 first preference votes: the fourth highest number of first preferences. There were 28,268 eligible electors in the Lambton Ward of the Wellington City Council. This means Stephanie Cook was chosen by less than 4% of Lambton residents as their first choice representative. Less than 4%, after 16 years of service. On the basis of this “mandate” she receives a ratepayer funded salary of at least $89,925 (the sum she received last financial year).
Such low turnout suggests a major democratic deficit on the Wellington City Council. The existing councillors are re-elected election after election on the basis of incumbency and name recognition. This has to change. A limit in consecutive terms is a blunt instrument, but this week’s events suggest it is necessary.