Part 3: Regional leadership – the Mayor and committees

Auckland Council: Transition and emerging challenges.

The formal structure and the intentions of the Auckland reforms

The Mayor of Auckland has a unique statutory role that is unlike that of other Mayors. This statutory role is to:

  • articulate and promote a vision for Auckland, and
  • provide leadership towards that vision, including by leading the development of the Council's plans, policies, and budget.

To achieve this role, the Mayor has the powers to:

  • appoint the Deputy Mayor;
  • establish processes for engaging with the public;
  • establish the committees of the governing body and appoint the chairperson of each committee (before other members are appointed by the governing body); and
  • have a staffed Mayoral Office (in consultation with, and acting through, the Chief Executive within a budget of not less than 0.2% of the budgeted operating expenditure of the Council).12

What we heard – greater mayoral powers need governing body support

We were told that the powers conferred on the Mayor by legislation are finely balanced to enable Mayoral leadership while retaining the need for the Mayor to win and maintain the support of the other members of the governing body. Despite the additional powers, the Mayor still has only one vote on the governing body and needs to work with the members of the governing body on issues of common interest.

Most people we spoke to told us of Mayor Len Brown's commitment to inclusiveness. We were also told of his efforts to recognise the many varied interests in the Auckland region, and to encourage governing body members to listen to each other and to the wider debate.

Many thought a more adversarial governing body could emerge, made up of caucuses of supporters and opponents of the Mayor, depending on a number of factors. These include the proximity to the election, whether governing body members build individual public profiles through their contribution to the Council, and whether the unity that has been built around the Auckland Plan endures.

Mayor Len Brown was supported by more than 237,000 Auckland voters. We were told that, as a rule of thumb, standing for a Parliamentary electorate seat of 40,000 voters requires around $0.25 million and 200 people willing to donate time to campaign work. Because of the cost of running and winning an Auckland mayoralty election, some people we spoke to saw the emergence of formal and organised political machinery as inevitable. It was speculated that, with governing body member electorates averaging 75,000 people, in the future, this machinery would identify and support Mayoral candidates alongside more clearly identifiable coalitions of governing body candidates.

Establishing the committees of the governing body

The Mayor has designed the governing body committee structure to spread leadership responsibilities between governing body members. Nearly all governing body members chair a committee or forum.

There are four committees of the whole – the Auckland Plan, Strategy and Finance, Accountability and Performance, and Regional Development and Operations Committees. There are also:

  • nine standing committees and sub-committees:
    • Auckland Domain Rail Corridor Designation Committee;
    • Audit and Risk Committee;
    • CCO Strategy Review Sub-committee;
    • CEO Review Sub-committee;
    • Civil Defence and Emergency Management Committee;
    • Hearings Committee;
    • Regulatory and Bylaws Committee;
    • Tenders and Procurement Sub-committee; and
    • Transport Committee;
  • seven forums:
    • Community Safety Forum;
    • Culture, Arts and Events Forum;
    • Economic Forum;
    • Environment and Sustainability Forum;
    • Parks, Recreation and Heritage Forum;
    • Planning and Urban Design Forum; and
    • Social and Community Development Forum;
  • a joint committee – the Hauraki Gulf Forum;
  • six local board joint committees and sub-committees:
    • Southern Joint Funding Committee;
    • Central Joint Funding Committee;
    • Devonport-Takapuna, Kaipatiki, Upper Harbour and East Coast Bays Subdivision Local Board Funding subcommittee;
    • Isthmus Local Board Joint Funding Committee; and
    • Manukau Harbour Forum; and
  • six advisory panels:
    • business advisory panel;
    • disability strategic advisory group;
    • ethnic peoples advisory panel;
    • pacific peoples advisory panel;
    • rural advisory panel; and
    • youth advisory panel.13

Through the structure of the governing body committees and by sharing chairing roles, the Mayor is working to build broad-based participation and support.

The Mayoral Office

The Mayoral Office has 18 staff. Half of these staff are in administrative roles and half are in strategic roles. One person supports the Deputy Mayor. Staff of the Mayoral Office are employed by the Council (including being bound by the Council's code of conduct and employment policies). They report to the Mayoral Office Chief of Staff and are on contracts aligned with the term of the Mayor.

This employment arrangement will not be familiar to many working in local government. The closest parallel is Ministerial Advisors, who are employed by Ministerial Services but report to Ministers and have tenures limited to the term of the Government. It is not clear how normal expectations of political neutrality apply to Mayoral Office staff. There was concern that this needs to be carefully managed – in particular, around events such as elections. Otherwise, conflict and distrust may affect the perceived integrity of the Council, its officers, and its staff.

We were told that the Mayoral Office has been useful and effective. It supports the Mayor to focus on leadership and promoting the Auckland Plan's vision. Staff of the Mayoral Office are seen as positive and constructive, making situations work that could be difficult if carried out with the wrong behaviour. Mayoral staff members are well aware that "throwing their weight around" would be unconstructive. They make the effort to communicate that they want to work collegially.

The main interactions between the Mayoral Office and the Council are through the Chief of Staff, the Chief Executive, the strategy staff of the Mayoral Office, and senior officers of the Council responsible for planning and finance.

Everyone we spoke to was aware of the importance of the staff of the Council and governors of CCOs being responsible to the governing body, through the Mayor as its lead agent. The changed role "powers up" the Mayor, by giving the Mayor a source of advice and support alongside that provided by the Council's Chief Executive.

Public communication

The Mayoral Office, the Council, and CCOs have overlapping interests in public communication. A recent example is the introduction of the new rating system, which involved senior officers of the Council, the Mayor, and elected members each having responsibility for communicating aspects of the changes.

The Mayoral Office supports the Mayor in carrying out his significant public communication role. Typically, each week the Mayor has seven to eight events that require prepared written speeches and more than 20 less-formal speaking engagements that also need to be prepared for. Three staff members within the Mayoral Office work full-time on communications activities, from preparing speeches to providing information for social networking sites.

The governing body has a "no surprises" expectation of staff. The Council and CCOs keep the Mayoral Office informed of communications programmes and of significant issues of public interest.

Our observations – the "executive" Mayoral role is helping to lead and communicate the Auckland region's plan

Mayoral leadership of the Auckland vision and governance, and the Council's procedural and resourcing tools, have provided significant vigour and an integrating focus to the large amount of planning the Council had to carry out during its first two years.

The committee structure of the governing body provides a basis for inclusiveness and shared responsibility for decision-making. However, it increases the time that individual governing body members and Council staff spend preparing for and in meetings. It also increases the remuneration costs for governing body members (because Chairpersons are remunerated at a level greater than members without these roles).

We also saw evidence that functional subcommittees have confused governance lines (such as those of the Transport Committee with the Accountability and Performance Committee and the Auckland Transport CCO board). This is causing tension for the individuals involved in attempting to follow what they perceive to be the appropriate lines of accountability.

Managing the overlapping responsibilities for public communication between the Mayoral Office, the Council, and CCOs is being built through time, experience, and goodwill.

We expect the Council to carefully consider how expectations of political neutrality by staff of public organisations apply to the staff of the Mayoral Office – in particular, around events such elections.

12: Section 9 of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009.

13: A heritage advisory panel is also being formed.

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