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By-Election Party Crashers

“Party politics has no place in local council.”

As a truly independent candidate in the by-election, this has been the most consistent feedback I have received over the last three months of campaigning. Our community is rightly concerned about the funds, parties, and interest groups that are now playing a role in local politics.

The problem is, how would we know where and to what extent political parties are getting involved in our local democracy? As Robin Williams famously quipped, “Politicians should wear sponsor jackets, like NASCAR drivers, then we know who owns them.”

The candidates and parties involved in this by-election appear to be well aware that many residents are looking for an independent voice around the council table, because only one out of the eleven candidates standing in this election has listed their political affiliation.

Candidates who have used the word “independent” or not listed any affiliation include a staffer to a former National Party MP, the general election candidate for the National Party, and the acting President of the New Zealand First Party.

I acknowledge that the Green Party have been upfront about who their candidate in this by-election is, but their campaign also helps to highlight why people are so concerned about party politics getting involved in local campaigns.

The Green Party has been putting out the call to their volunteers from around the country to participate in cold-calling Palmerston North voters. One resident I spoke with said that the caller talked about the party’s plans to deal with climate change at a national level but had no knowledge of what or where Te Marae o Hine – The Square was. They could neither understand the resident’s frustration with the redevelopment and consequent traffic problems, nor did they know what the candidate’s plan was to resolve this. Yes, we need our local councillors to act on climate change, but residents need to know what their councillors stand for on important local issues, not their party stance at a national level.

The Greens will not be the only party making use of funds, volunteer networks, and other resources to influence our by-election. Credit where credit is due, however - their candidate is the only one who has been transparent enough to tack the flag to the mast, allowing voters to decide whether they want to vote for a candidate that represents a political party.

I made the decision to run as an independent candidate because our city needs a dedicated, community-focussed councillor, not another partisan figure to fill the council table. As a truly independent candidate, I have worked hard to, and will continue to, speak to the issues that our community faces: Palmy over politics, always.

I was recently asked by the Manawatu Standard who signed my council nomination form. I worked hard to ensure that I had a signatory from each of the two major parties in order to show residents that I am interested in furthering the best solutions for Papaioea, regardless of which person they vote for.

I stand for what the community needs – transparent and accountable councillors. I challenge the other candidates to adopt the same principles.

Stefan Speller is an independent candidate running in the Palmerston North City Council byelection. You can meet Stefan at the Palmy Young Candidates Forum at the Globe Theatre, 5pm on 12 February 2021 or contact him at www.stefanspeller.com

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