Local Politics is Rough and Tumble, but its about learning strategies to be resilient throughout the rough and tumble.
As we enter the second year of the triennium, elected members and council officers are faced with a few challenges including that most councils across New Zealand are predicting potentially large rates increases and/or controversial changes to their annual budget in order to fund essential infrastructure and services.
Compounding these challenges is the threat that such unpopular decisions will result in upset within the community and abuse being directed to elected members. A prime example is where abuse pops up on social media platforms, carefully crafted news articles and even in emails sent directly to members. Unfortunately, the abuse can spill into threats of physical violence or public confrontation at community meetings or worse by directly impacting an elected member’s private life.
Managing and determining how to respond to any form of abuse can be a minefield both for the recipient but also for those council officers who advise and are charged with health and safety responsibilities.
It’s hard for anyone to ignore abuse, but for elected members who are passionate about a decision, more so, especially when the protagonist is posting statements which are simply wrong or reputationally damaging. If a member does respond, sometimes even the most innocuous response will fuel a gas lighter on a mission.
Performing under constant threat of criticism eventually gets exhausting, even for the toughest politician and there are a number of accounts where gifted politicians have crumbled under pressure. The Siouxsie Wiles employment dispute has shone a light on just how extreme online abuse can become and the capacity for otherwise reasonable New Zealanders to target public figures. Equally this case, puts on notice those PCBU charged with providing a safe work environment for their employees, which includes elected members.
Although resilience can be learned there is a line between building resilience and soldiering on. Abuse has an accumulative effect. Well-being is not a by-product of sheer determination but is an ongoing process which requires external support. Resilience training helps but is not enough of itself, rather a key element in suite of tools which includes risk assessment, learned behaviour, accountability and acknowledgement.
At Three60 Consult we are passionate about local governance and our experts’ run workshops aimed at ensuring those elected members brave enough to stand for their community have the tools to do so safely and resolutely. Sign up to our Newsletter here and receive information on our Governance Webinars and Workshops.
Written by Maureen Glassey, Senior Associate.