Councillors reflect on life in lockdown

Howick ward councillors Sharon Stewart and Paul Young say they’re doing a lot of council work via Skype during lockdown. Photos supplied

East Auckland’s two ward councillors say they’re being kept busy dealing with all the usual issues during the latest Covid-19 lockdown with the only difference being they can’t meet people in person.

Unlike MPs, councillors are not considered essential workers under the Covid-19 framework, which means they have to work from home during Covid alert levels three and four.

Howick ward councillors Sharon Stewart and Paul Young say that hasn’t stopped them from doing their jobs effectively.

“It’s pretty much business as usual in some ways but all online or on the telephone,” Stewart says.

“Council meetings have proceeded as normal by Skype which is not quite like face-to-face but has gone quite well.

“We’ve probably had more meetings than before lockdown because of Covid issues and briefings.”

Stewart says her husband has also worked from home during lockdown.

She says during recent flooding she was kept updated by council staff and “discussed various issues on how we could help on the welfare side of things”.

Members of the local community have wanted to discuss the same sort of problems as usual, she says.

“I’ve had a number of calls about noise control, mental health issues and about illegal dumping, which I discussed with the appropriate council officers who then took the necessary action.

“The only real local emergency I had was a cliff collapsing.

“I visited the site and spoke with a couple of residents, following all the correct protocols for level three, and organised a council geo-technical officer to come and assess the situation.”

Stewart says she also did an early morning site visit to investigate a leak in Angelo Avenue, Howick.

When not working she’s been out walking and talking to her grandchildren over the phone.

Young says from the first day of level four lockdown being imposed in August, council meetings have continued, but online through Skype and Zoom.

“Under lockdown we can still carry out our jobs effectively and, for me, that also includes my role on the Counties Manukau District Health Board.

“My day-to-day has been back-to-back virtual council and DHB meetings and workshops.

“It’s meant fewer events, openings and invitations to attend in person however a lot of engagements have still been able to occur by webinar as people and groups have managed to adjust to the Covid disruptions by now.”

Young says he and his fellow councillors are able to stay in touch with their local communities over the phone and via social media and email.

The queries he’s received mostly relate to Covid alert levels, vaccination and testing centres and about council maintenance which had been paused during level four.

“I’ve also found myself doing a lot more media appearances to provide updates, particularly [with] Chinese media, with a couple of regular weekly TV and radio slots.

“As community leaders, it’s important for us to provide clear and accurate information and updates in line with health advice.

“This is particularly the case where some parts of our community may not have access to regular reporting or coverage due to language barriers.”