A small-town mayor is calling for the creation of a mayoral political party to contest parliamentary elections because of his difficulty getting a hearing in Wellington.
Embattled Horowhenua Mayor Michael Feyen has pitched the idea to the mayors and chairs of New Zealand's 78 territorial and regional councils ahead of the Local Government NZ conference that starts in Wellington on Sunday.
"My concerns are that members of Parliament are out of touch with local government and communities in New Zealand ...," Feyen says in a letter sent today to the mayors and chairs and obtained by the Herald on Sunday.
"Personally I have had no opportunity to get appointments with MPs on any matter," Feyen says in the letter.
He believes chief executives and the bureaucracy hold the power at councils and that Local Government NZ - the councils' association and lobby group - prevents direct access to central government decision-makers.
Feyen, who is seeking re-election as mayor, says he is prepared to stand against Otaki MP Nathan Guy for his seat in Parliament.
Horowhenua Mayor Michael Feyen is promoting the idea of mayors standing for Parliament. Photo / Horowhenua Chronicle
He wants his proposed mayoral party to contest electorates and to campaign for the party vote.
The idea has been dismissed as unfeasible by a political historian.
Dr Michael Bassett told the Weekend Collective they are two distinct jobs and you can't do both.
"I mean, what's he going to be doing? Is he going to be going to Wellington on Tuesdays, Wednesday, Thursdays if he was elected? What happens to the people of Horowhenua?"
He does not think that this proposal would affect turnout for local body elections.
Mayoral responses to his pitch were mixed.
"It sounds a bit bonkers," said Wellington Mayor Justin Lester. "I strongly doubt it will happen any time soon - through lack of support from mayors and most importantly the public."
Lester said it would be impossible to do both jobs effectively.
Feyen describes himself as a "minority mayor" and has failed to get his way on council issues including his pick for deputy mayor and his opposition to selling pensioner housing.
He has said he has "hit brick walls with literally everything that I've wanted to do".
He told the Herald on Sunday that if he was both mayor and MP he would take only the MP's salary. He would want to have two mayoral deputies and for the mayor's and deputy's salaries to be shared between the two deputies.
Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt said Feyen's idea was "well worth looking at", but he wouldn't join the proposed mayoral party. He believed local government could have more influence by keeping out of national party politics.
"Because we are in battles all the time with Parliament - the latest one is over amalgamating all the polytechs and technical institutes into one organisation, we are very opposed to that - but I think we can be more effective by not belonging to a political party."
Dr Bassett says that support does not change a lot, as Shadbolt has "always rowed the boat slightly differently from everybody else".
Lester said Local Government NZ was a very effective organisation and added that mayors had a responsibility to build relationships with government decision-makers. "We've managed to do that effectively in Wellington."
Local government historian Dr Graham Bush pointed to two mayors who had simultaneously been MPs: Christine Fletcher and Sir Robert Macfarlane.
Fletcher, a current member of the Auckland Council, was elected mayor of the old Auckland City in 1998 and remained a National MP until the 1999 general election.
She said last night she hadn't wanted to risk causing a general election by leaving Parliament early. It was "taxing" doing the two jobs but "very productive" in getting the Government to engage in Auckland issues such as redeveloping hospitals.
Macfarlane was a Labour MP from 1939 to 1969, and Speaker from 1958 to 1960. He was mayor of Christchurch from 1938 to 1941 and from 1950 to 1958.