Jo Byrne on being a community board member

St Albans News asked several current councillors and community board members about workloads and roles. An article was created, based largely on replies from three councillors or community board members who responded, for the August/September St Albans News, which is being delivered to St Albans letterboxes this weekend. For space reasons some details had to be left out. Nominations for local authority candidates close on August 16. This is how Jo Byrne replied by email. These notes are the raw material from which the article draws.

1. City councillor or community board member or both?

Jo Byrne – Community Board representing Innes

2. How many hours a month do you spend on
-attending community board meetings
-council meetings

This can vary from month to month. As well as our official Community Board Meetings we can have staff briefings, seminars and workshops as well as community engagements including awards, consultations etc. I attend as many as I can.

3. What subcommittees of council are you on? Do you chair any of these com
mittees? How many hours a month do you attend these meetings? How does the council work out who goes on which subcommittee?

Not applicable.

4. How much time would you spend preparing for each meeting eg: reading documents? Have you included this in the monthly total?

Again it depends on what is happening. If a major issue is being decided there may be multiple community submissions to read. Some months are quieter, but there are often times requiring some in-depth reading and analysis. Staff briefings can be helpful in making sense of technical issues. Background reading can be complex e.g. working with the Styx River working party required technical understanding regarding drainage etc.

5. How much time (monthly average) do you spend attending things like launches, other organisation meetings in your official capacity including one off events.

Several hours – again depending what is happening. For example early each year I have the privilege of being part of the judging of the loveliest street in our ward. That takes a good half day, but it is fun. Ive learned what the judging team is looking for and love seeing the effort people put into their gardens. Ive visited people and attended funerals and seen people displaying their certificates with such pride. we have just had our Community Service Awards – it is so important to recognise the amazing volunteers in our wards.

6. What are the constraints on your work or councillors work in general? I am thinking of things like codes of behaviour, not criticising council staff in public, or other things I might not be aware of. (I am asking this question as most people think you can just do/say what you want)

I think anyone working in a professional capacity is used to abiding by a code of conduct, and ethical requirements. This role is just the same. You do work with the public, and sometimes when people are stressed or vulnerable you need to be sympathetic and sensitive to their situation. There are limitations on what you can do, e.g. we can advocate for our community for what is important, but final budgeting decisions are made at council. I personally dislike the inequity of distribution of resources across our city. But all I can do is advocate and support the public to submit on issues of importance.

And I think that the Council Staff are part of the team – we set goals for our work and the staff are there to support the community too. They are often equally passionate and have had long term relationships to the people in our communities. It is important to have good communication skills to deal with anyone you come across.

7. Do you ever get frustrated by these processes? Are there things you would like to see changed in the way the council or board operates?

It can be a slow going in local government – it takes a long time for things to happen – but I think it is important to value the process as this is what allows for engagement and for people to have a voice in what is happening in their local community. The transparent process is so important. And we are bound by legislation that guides how we have to work – I know sometimes the public finds time delays frustrating, as do I but it is important to work through the processes and have our public meetings and discussions so people can see how much thought is put into important issues in our community.

8. When you first stood for council or community board how long did it take to get used to the meeting format, council ways of doing things?
Council and LgNZ provide induction to support people new into the role so that they can quickly understand how things work. The Community Board Advisor and team are also an ongoing source of support to the team.

9. What skills do people need to be on the board or council eg: public speaking, patience etc.

Speed reading skills would be awesome! Awareness of different community groups, a passion for those who need particular advocacy, and a love of community.

10. Would you advise newcomers to become community board members first to get an idea of whether the work will suit them before taking on council work?

I think they are very different roles, I love that Community Board level is at the grassroots of communities, and that individuals find us approachable and supportive in resolving issues. I love the way we can be passionate about our wards, whereas I think Councillors need to be ethical and ensure that their decisions are not promoting one part of the city above another.

11. If you are a parent, how does your involvement work in with family life? What provision does the council/board make for representatives who have newborns or toddlers?

I am a single working parent of two primary school aged children! They attend school close to home which helps. I also work part time as a Speech Language Therapist in a specialist school. I have a passion for children and young people, particularly those who are very vulnerable. I think my knowledge has carried into my work as a Community Board Member and an example of this is that I have enjoyed seeing more accessible play equipment in our local playgrounds. My knowledge of local government has also impacted on my work as a Speech Therapist, and I encourage the team I am part of to submit whenever it is relevant.

I often take my children to meetings with me if I dont have childcare available. They are learning about politics too! I encourage them to submit on relevant issues too – I think making sure that the voice of our whole community is heard is really important. we do have some squeaky wheels in our community and we need to be sure that everyone has a fair say and a fair outcome.

I am fortunate in that our team has our meetings now in school time. I rely on child support whenever possible to attend meetings

12. What are the current pay rates for community board members, councillors?

This question was not answered by Jo but information was sourced online

13. How have you found combining a paid job/work/self-employment and being a board or council member? Any useful advice on handling this?

In all honesty women who juggle work, motherhood, housekeeping etc report that life is stressful. But it is also rewarding thinking that what you are doing will make a difference. Make sure you have your support team around you.

St Albans News thanks Jo Byrne for taking the time to respond as this gives potential candidates and the rest of Christchurch a better idea of what she does and the time commitment involved.

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About belinda

Involved with St Albans Community Resource Centre and NeighbourNet since 1997
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