Life as an elected member

Life as an elected member

The decision to throw your proverbial hat in the ring and stand as a candidate in this year’s local government elections takes courage.

Southland District Council councillor Karyn Owen shares her experience as a first-term elected representative during the past triennium, offering valuable insight for potential candidates.

“There’s nothing worse than being committed to three years as a local representative, and finding out part-way through it’s not what you thought it would be. Here are some things to think about when considering if it’s right for you,” she says.

“The most enjoyable aspect for me has been working alongside a group of people who care passionately about their community – the other councillors – and being able to educate members of the public about how Council operates.”
Here are Cr Owen’s top tips and you can read more on her Facebook page: Your Southland District Councillor Karyn Owen.

  • Understand what councils there are and what they do in your area. Check out websites, Facebook, attend meetings or watch livestreams, talk to former or existing councillors. Are you really passionate about the environment? A better fit might be the regional council rather than district where you’ll be talking about bridges and roads more than trees and water. Care more about parks and playgrounds? Maybe your local community board is for you.
  • Reading, researching and listening to people on topics that sometimes don’t float your boat is an important part of the role. Councils cover a wide range of topics (including how they all relate to finances and rates) and not all will interest you, but you still need to be engaged and willing to learn.
  • It all takes time. Have a look at how many meetings there are and realise it’s more than just formal meetings. I spend around 15-20 hours a week on Council business. Can you manage your other commitments? What does your employer think? How about your family and friends?
  • Do you care about people? A large part of the role is thinking about other people’s views of what Council does. If your ‘not giving a stuff’ factor is high, you may not have the empathy needed to be a good representative.
  • Conflicts? If you work for an organisation which receives any council funding, you may need to communicate with the auditor general to check your conflicts are not beyond the thresholds that make you ineligible to stand.
  • Are you prepared to be a recognisable public figure? You need to be comfortable with your actions being scrutinised in public.
  • How connected are you to your community? If you live in the wops and aren't prepared to spend time within your community, you’d better at least be regularly within good cell coverage and answer your emails.
  • Are you good at following rules? There are a lot, and many for good reason, such as enabling meetings to function well. Knowing the rules, and knowing when it’s worth breaking them, is an aspect to local politics you will learn.
  • Can you hold your personal opinion until you’ve heard public submissions on a topic? If not, you might be told you have a predetermined position and not be allowed to vote on a matter you care about. Equally important, can you keep a truly open mind and sometimes make hard and unpopular decisions, at times inconsistent with your values, but for the right reasons?
  • Are you prepared to feel vulnerable by asking questions? If you don’t have an enquiring mind and are just a sit-back-and-listen type, willing to go through a process and tick a box, you might not be what your community needs around the decision-making table.
  • Are you humble enough to accept when your view is not the majority, and continue on working with staff and councillors even though you’ve disagreed on a topic that you might feel really passionate about?
  • Can you hear criticism and not take it personally? Can you hear criticism, listen for the opportunity to change, and communicate it in a constructive way to others?
  • Do you feel safe knowing some members of the public can be very critical of Council and may choose to make it personal? Bullying and threats can happen because matters that Council influences can become highly emotive.
  • Can you deal with being frustrated when things in local government take a long time? Councillors do governance, chief executives do operations. If you think becoming a councillor means you are at the top and can change things quickly, you are certain to face frustration.
  • Are you organised and able to meet deadlines? Everything in local government business has deadlines. You’ll be really ineffective if you don’t give feedback at the right times. This also means picking when the right is time to push a topic and could mean having to wait until a relevant policy is up for review.


Are you still reading this list? If you are, you could be an ideal candidate.

Check out the role description here: Role Description  [PDF, 1.8 MB]

To help make an informed decision and learn more about the roles available, there's plenty more information right here on our website for both candidates and voters or visit the Vote Murihiku Facebook page. (external link)