OK – what do you do?

The LGNZ guide for candidates says that “Local Board members spent on average 20 hours a week” in their role as a member. Interestingly, some people seem to think they can still hold a full time role as well as doing their duties as an elected member. In this post I will go over some of the things a member can be expected to do in a week.

Note – this was written in February 2020 – before everything changed! It still mostly holds true for Board members, with the addition of far more Skype calls now. My role as Deputy Chair has an extra layer of complexity and time added to the below.

The Workshop

This is the ‘bread and butter’ of the life of a Local Board member. Here is where we are given guidance by staff, presentations by entities who want to do things in our area, hear from CCO’s, decide on budgets and work programmes, come to a consensus and many other things.

Our board has a full day – from 930 till 5 of presentations and discussions, with a break in the middle. Over those 7 and a half hours we could have up to 9 presentations, ranging from half hour to multi-hour discussions. Board members need to be paying attention, asking good questions and showing that they are well prepared. Which leads me to my next item…

Reading

It is painfully obvious when a member hasn’t read ahead before the meeting. Often questions will be asked that are answered on the next slide, or assumptions based on past understandings can get in the way. Ideally we are provided with the necessary information at the beginning of the week, giving us time to go through everything. Auckland Council has an in-house application which allows for notetaking on the documents, making it really easy to bring up questions as they come up during the presentation. The documents can range from a 7 slide presentation, to a 100+ page document with various appendixes. Thankfully these usually include a very helpful summary of the info, and a scan and skim is usually sufficient to get up to speed with what we are being presented with.

There are also numerous reports produced by council that provide a lot of indepth background knowledge to what we are discussing. Examples of these are the council governance review, development contributions policy and all of the reports on the councils Knowledge Auckland website.

I’d say members do at least 3 hours of reading a week – sometimes more, sometimes less.

There is also the business meeting Agenda which is published once a month. Examples of these can be found here. This segues nicely into the next element of our role:

The business meeting

These take place once a month and effectively ‘make official’ the decisions we have made over the past month during workshops. Ideally most of this is ‘rubber stamping’ issues, but controversial ones will often take longer to get through. There is also space for a ‘public forum’, where members of the public can present to the Local Board about important issues they have, or to speak in support or against items on the agenda. These are formal affairs with a smart dress code and sense of ceremony. These can range in time from an hour to three or more hours long, and with our agenda run through added on, average out to an hour a week.

Community events

The ‘fun’ part of being a Local Board member. We are constantly being invited to great community events and often have to plan our weekends and nights around these. We could be at an event celebrating India’s independence, a movie in the park, sports events, tree planting… the list goes on. It felt a bit ‘weird’ going to one of these events and being treated as a “VIP”, gifted with flowers and fed first, but it also reiterates how important our role is to the community.

These events can take up a lot of time – in an ‘average’ week we probably spend 6 hours on these events, not including travel time.

Engagement events

The Local Board develops a 3 year Local Board plan, and it is really important we get community feedforward and feedback about it. We come up with a ‘draft’ plan and take it out to the community to get their ideas. For this we put on community forums – these actually happen throughout the term, once a month at varying venues. An excellent way to hear from the public, but still in need of more publicising. We also get out into schools, retirement villages and other groups to ensure we are getting a wide range of viewpoints. 

On average, probably two hours spent on engagement a week.

Professional Development

This term the council has a very good induction programme, Kura Kāwana. This consists of a number of different ‘sections’ that all help to build us to be ‘good governors.’ Topics range from Te Tiriti, to legal overviews, standing orders, quality advice and more. Scheduled on the weekdays, these also take up a portion of our time but are very well worth it. Being on a local board isn’t something that other jobs can necessarily ‘prepare’ you for – there are skills that other professions bring to the job for sure, but the importance of these development sessions cannot be underestimated. 

Emails

A slightly less fun part of the job is dealing with the avalanche of emails that come cascading into our inbox. Requests for meetings, ideas, conversations, clarifications, organisation, civil defense warnings…. On average we probably get around 20 emails a day, taking around 3 hours total a week to deal with.

Other meetings

Each local board member will have a different load here, depending on their interest and assigned roles. This term I am the Transport secondary, meaning we have a meeting with AT once a month, separate from our workshop and business meetings. For this, we have a very long list of issues that we go through with our AT liason, in an effort to ensure they don’t get lost in the system. Time will tell whether this works – so far so good!I am also on the Manukau Harbour Forum, which meets monthly and discusses a wide range of issues to do with the harbour – which has suffered from decades of neglect. This engenders an extra amount of reading and researching, as well as thought and discussion.

Across the year, we probably spend an average of two hours a week on development and other meetings.

Constituent issues

This is another favourite part of the job for me. People have lots of ideas about how we can make Puketāpapa better, and it is always really interesting to hear about them. Also, people also have lots of ideas about how Puketāpapa is being run badly – and these are usually pretty interesting as well!

We get to hear about these issues through a variety of ways – email, facebook, phonecalls, and most importantly kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face.) Sometimes this involves a casual chat at a cafe, other times I will go visit them at the place of concern.

We then have to actually deal with these issues – by contacting the right officer, logging the issue, bringing it up for discussion across the wider board.

Let’s say at least an hour a week is spent on issues.

And that’s just in the first 3 months!

I have no doubt I will find more work coming in over the years to come. An important thing to realise is that most of this stuff isn’t something you can regularly plan for – meetings come up on odd days, development days occur at different times, and everything is scattered across lots of different places. Thankfully I have an e-bike to get around!

There is also the constant feel of being on-the-job when out and about in the local area. When I see an area with too many weeds, I take a photo and log it. Maybe there’s a missing road sign – take a picture and log it. It’s the equivalent of being ‘that guy’ at parties – everytime I go out for a walk, run or a bike ride I’m looking out for something that needs fixing. 

Questions about what we do? Feel free to leave a comment or email me on email@jonturner.nz