“We need to look like, sound like, be like, the people that we’re representing – the people we’re making decisions for.”
Western Bay of Plenty District Council chief executive John Holyoake is talking about the need for diversity – not only around the council table but in the organisation itself.
The council has launched the Generation Change/He panoni ā reanga campaign to attract a more diverse range of candidates for this year’s Local Body Election.
“There’s no denying our community and its needs are diverse,” says John.
The Western Bay of Plenty population is spread evenly across rural and urban areas, half the population is aged between 30-64 years old, and there is growing Māori, Pacific, and Asian communities, says John.
“We need diversity of age, culture, experience, and skillsets. We need more Māori at the table so that we can ‘hand on heart’ work in partnership with Tangata Whenua.
“We have a very clear demographic sitting around our council table and we need diversity.
“We need to recognise other things besides the traditional privileges around being wealthy and white.
“We need to look at and treat some of the other lived experiences as privileges as well, particularly as they come into decision-making.”
The ambitious plan is supported by the Generation Change website and the council will soon be launch a TikTok profile as well.
The council is also looking at ways to make it easier for people working full-time, or who have other commitments, to become an elected member.
This includes possibly holding council meetings on weekends or evenings, having less meetings in a month and using technology more, says John.
“Being flexible and accessible in the way that we actually do these things – so that people feel like they can participate – is really, really important.”
John says the council is also committed to having a more representative workforce as well.
He says they have a “reasonably diverse” organisation, but the percentages aren’t reflective of those in the community.
“We need to be more committed internally to our own diversity inclusion outcomes. How do we strive for equity internally as well as externally in everything we're doing?
“There is no point having an organisation that doesn’t reflect what we also want to achieve at the council table because it just won’t gel for people.”
Community led outcomes
The chief executive says they are also trying to raise the profile of the council so people understand its role.
“People think of council, quite often, as rubbish roads and parks, and those are all important things.
“I’m very clear in terms of our vision for Western BOP is that we need to be the enabler of community-led outcomes. That’s all about wellbeing for the people that live in our communities.”
John says council will start taking a more active role in health, education and housing in the future.
As the Local Body Election period progresses, more information will be available on the generation change website including candidate profiles and pre-election events so people can learn about who they would like to represent them before they vote.
Live events will take place across the district including candidate information sessions, for those thinking of standing, and candidate debates that will be livestreamed and published on: generationchange.nz
“It’s all about making it as easy as possible for our community to access what they need to get involved and feel confident in their voting decision.”
He says it won’t be easy to attract a diverse range of candidates but it is the right thing to do.
“We might not achieve everything we want to achieve this time, but let’s start – and it might be the next elections that we really get the diversity that we want sitting around the table.”
-Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air