Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Laughing-Stock City?

Testing Times: Auckland's Mayor, Len Brown, not only faces the certainty of being formally censured by his Council, but will also have to contend with a concerted effort by councillors to pare down the considerable executive powers granted to the "super-city's" leader by its principal political architect, the then Local Government Minister, Rodney Hide.
 
IS AUCKLAND about to join Toronto? A city with a mayor some would dearly like to be rid of but cannot sack?
 
Auckland’s Len Brown may not have smoked crack cocaine or clean-bowled an elderly councillor in the council chamber, like the rampaging Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, but he is fast engendering a very similar sort of cringe factor.
 
Like Toronto, Auckland is its country’s commercial heart. Politically, it plays a similarly pivotal role. Who leads a city like Toronto or Auckland matters. Getting stuck with a laughing-stock mayor would be but a short step away from becoming a laughing-stock city.
 
That Auckland could finds itself contemplating that possibility is due to a peculiar constitutional anomaly.
 
At the national and regional levels of government in New Zealand our leaders are chosen from representatives elected by the people. The prime minister serves at the pleasure of a parliamentary majority. Regional chairs are similarly answerable to a majority of their fellow councillors.
 
 At the level of our districts, towns and cities, however, the position of mayor is filled by direct election. It is a very curious constitutional arrangement, because, with the exception of Auckland City, the people elected to lead our local bodies are vested with no special executive powers, do not control their council’s budget and may not even enjoy the support of a majority of their fellow councillors.
 
Quite how New Zealand ended up with these popularly elected but essentially powerless mayors is a bit of a mystery. We certainly didn’t inherit the practice from our colonial forebears. In the United Kingdom – and Australia – the mayoral chain goes around the neck of the council’s majority leader (or his or her nominee).
 
Certainly, the British and Australian practice makes for a much more powerful and coherent style of local government. Mayors chosen in this fashion know, from the very beginning of their terms, that the numbers are there around the council table to carry forward the plans they announced during their election campaigns. Majority support also protects them from having the council’s budget wrested from their control.
 
Most importantly, if they suddenly start behaving bizarrely – like smoking crack cocaine – or embark on an orgy of unauthorised spending, then their fellow councillors can simply bust them back to the ranks and elect a new mayor.
 
The new Auckland “super city” was intended to be something else entirely. Its principal political architect, former local government minister Rodney Hide, wanted a city that could get things done swiftly and efficiently. That ruled out the parliamentary model of the UK and Australia which, being dominated by local political parties, was prone to pork-barrelling and horse-trading. Not being a conspicuous fan of either pork-barrelling or horse-trading, Hide opted instead for a lean, mean governance machine presided over by a mayor equipped with unprecedented executive powers.
 
No doubt the sort of figure Hide had in mind as the first mayor of his new super-city was a charismatic business tycoon; someone who could transform the Office of the Mayor into the workplace of a tough-minded, no-nonsense political CEO.
 
But that was not what he got.
 
Auckland’s first “super mayor” turned out to be a rather daffy family lawyer from South Auckland. A great emoter and prone to random outbursts of song, Mayor Len Brown did not, in my view, appear to be either tough-minded or no-nonsense. He was, however, possessed of a keen legal mind and very quickly appreciated the possibilities inherent in the “executive mayoralty” Hide had bequeathed him.
 
Using the super mayor’s budgetary independence and patronage powers, Brown very rapidly constructed what I believe was a well-nigh impregnable political position within the governance structures of Auckland City. So much so that he could, without the slightest trace of irony, instruct his councillors to “leave their politics at the [council chamber] door”.
 
One of the greatest dangers confronting politicians who, like Brown, have been successful in protecting themselves from just about every kind of political attack, is to mistake impregnability for invulnerability. Those who believe themselves safe from their enemies’ attacks are all-too-often un-done by their own personal weaknesses.
 
So it proved with Toronto’s Rob Ford, and, in a very different way, I believe Auckland’s Len Brown has suffered the same fate.
 
In both cases, it is their council and their city that is being forced to pay the price.
 
So eager was Hide to set up his new and streamlined governance structure for the super-sized Auckland City that he neglected to include in its constitutional design any mechanisms for bringing a wayward super mayor to heel.
 
Even the president of the United States is subject to impeachment. But, short of being convicted of a serious crime, adjudged a bankrupt or declared insane, the mayors of Toronto and Auckland are effectively unsackable.
 
A bad mayor could, potentially, do a lot of damage in three years. The people of Toronto and Auckland deserve better mechanisms for keeping their elected Mayors on the straight and narrow.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 17 December 2013.

24 comments:

frank black said...

You are exactly right Chris, there is no balance of power, no oversight and no way for the people to call an election to get rid of a rubbish mayor

Davo Stevens said...

@ Frank Black; that was the purpose of little Rodney's "Supercity". Remove the pesky voting rights of the Ratepyers, after all those great un-washed masses aren't capable of voting the "Right" people in.

Don't over-estimate the value of Auckland either, should it be buried under a km of lava, the country will still function as usual.

Paulus said...

But if Brown remains until next year's will his Labour membership and association damage the Auckland Labour candidates ?

Anonymous said...

Lens NZ Dating account?

Anonymous

Anonymous said...

....although given the three options for removal you mention here Chris, i would have thought it a lay down misere to simply have him declared insane.

Tiger Mountain said...

A Mayor unleashed, “Rodders” finest achievement bar the nominally accountable CCOs in his rush to hand Orcland over to the corporate sector.

Those with dense moral filters may do well to revisit Sir Dove-Meyer, Robbie. Serial bonking in those days was handled differently. Including having his niece Barbara Goodman as mayoress.

http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5r19/robinson-dove-myer

Chris Diack said...

Technically Auckland does not have an executive mayoralty as it is understood in North America. Its a strong mayoralty model. The mayor proposes plans and committee structures and has an independent budget.

The check are the powers under the Local Government Act 2002 to remove a dysfunctional council. Had the power being granted to the Minister of Local Government/or a Council majority to remove a Council member Mr Trotter would have been first to say its anti democratic.

The remedy in this case is electoral.

Anonymous said...

Len Brown should stay.

Corrupt, mendacious, sexually deviant, narcissistic with a sense of entitlement, Len Brown epitomises a Labour Party politician.

This is what Auckland gets when we elect a Labour Party Mayor. This is what New Zealand gets when we elect a Labour Party MP.

He sets a fine example. And a warning, timely for the upcoming general election.

Davo Stevens said...

@Anon 19.04

Your apt description covers all politicians not just Labour. The Nats have a similar attitude especially that "Born to Rule' and ignoring the wishes of the general population.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 17 Dec, 19:04 - "sexual deviant"?

Did he have sex with a chicken or something?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Corrupt, mendacious, sexually deviant, narcissistic with a sense of entitlement, "

Someone has forgotten Muldoon - and the Marginal Lands Board affair - at the very least :-). Can't be arsed looking for the rest.

KjT said...

Pretty much describes how our parliament works.

Except it is a caucus of 20 odd dipshits instead of a Mayoralty of one.

Anonymous said...

Yes, what a mess indeed, but while Rodney Hide as a Minister for Local Government under the first term of the National and John Key led government has a lot to answer for, the process that led to it started with a Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, which was already set up under the last Labour led government.

They made certain recommendations, and here is one report that can be read:
www.dia.govt.nz/diawebsite.nsf/Files/AKG29ChairCabinet-RoyalCommissiononAucklandGovernance-OptionsforManagingTransitionPeriod/$file/AKG29ChairCabinet-RoyalCommissiononAucklandGovernance-OptionsforManagingTransitionPeriod.pdf

Yes, as far as I remember Rodney Hide did do some "picking" out of the recommendations to introduce by way of a bill, turned into an Act, which he would have preferred, same as the then government.

That same government was led by one John Key, and it is due to what happened a few years ago, also with Hide as Minister, that Key does rather want to stay out of it all.

The whole setup of the Auckland Council leaves a lot to be desired, and I and many others raised our concerns when all the measures to merge the former councils into the Greater Auckland Council, but nobody was too bothered.

So we have it now, a mayor that is not really that accountable to anybody, apart from himself. He has powers few mayors in cities in the world have, and Hide was wanting that, of course hoping the mayoralty would have ended up in an ACT friendly man or woman, at least a "right leaning" and "business friendly" one.

It is a recipe for corruption what was done, and the whole CCO business is another scandalous situation, that no doubt will create major issues in future.

I think it would be best to have Len step down, as he stuffed up because of not disclosing free hotel rooms and the upgrades, which he should have declared, certainly after his former credit card issue. He lost trust and support, and it would be best to rerun the mayoralty election, where hopefully the left of centre can agree on someone a bit more principled and smart.

In the meantime, all in Council and in the City, should seriously consider, and even lobby, for some major law changes, to bring in a new Council structure and system that makes the mayor and councilors more accountable. Also must we change the CCO system, as it is incredible and idiotic to have such organisations run according to rules of their own, that are not even democratically elected or supported.

Auckland Council has proved to be the kind of disaster I expected. It is a time for all former passionate supporters of this huge, bizarre construct, to hang their heads in shame, alongside Len Brown. Rodney Hide should be one of the first to admit his mistakes, but I think he is too much up himself to even consider this.

Amen

Victor said...


Pitch perfect, Chris

Anonymous said...

This is the council mister Brown
you and your baby went to town
you had it off in your office before
but you won't have it there anymore

peter petterson said...

And certain people want to impose Auckland's BS on the rest of the country. I find Auckland a huge bore,always have. I lived there briefly in the mid-sixties and found the people standoffish, except those born elsewhere.The Hutt Valley totally rejects the supercity model - we don't want to be part of a Wellington City anyway. Whether we have one or two councils in the future here, depending on the pressure to amalgamate to keep the Wellington mob at bay,it will not be a supercity. The Wairarapa don't want a bar of them either. It may turn out an enlarged Wellington/Porirua city.

andrewmahon1234 said...

Chris do you think the unitary plan and rail link will still go ahead?

Victor said...

How tremendously open-hearted, tolerant and large-minded of you, Mr Petterson.

BTW: Last time I was in Lower Hutt (circa 1992), my host told me that he found the folks in Upper Hutt a bit stand-offish.

It gets so complicated, doesn't it?

Robert M said...

Both Brown and Banks strike me as very mediocre and most of the Auckland super city councillors as even more so, A future government may well be tempted to call in a commission to replace the council.
Quax is an intriguing figure, but given his lifelong vigorous social life and the facts the games villages of the 1970s were not known as places for abstainers, if not quite disco 54, it is surely a case of kettle calling the pot black. Any why on earth did Act not give, Quax a winnable position. What does its say about Act, Hide and Dick

peterpeasant said...

If Brown's affair had not become known what would the chattering classess be discussing?

Will everybody just get over it, PLEASE!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I agree with Peter. He did something stupid, his political opponents naturally made hay out of it, some of his political allies didn't bother defending him. End of story. Politicians are always shagging someone – usually the general public :-). Muldoon was notorious for it as I remember.

Gerrit said...

PeterPeasant.

No, we wont get over it until Brown has resigned. Sounds like Mayor Browns behaviour is acceptably to you. To a lot of others it is not.

We might be the "chattering classes" but we have a vote.

Problem for the Labour party is how to distance themselves from Brown and his dalliances.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/4239724/Len-Brown-lights-up-Labour-conference

"Labour is clearly hoping some of Mr Brown's success, which saw him beat former National minister John Banks by more than 60,000 votes, will rub off on the party as it struggles to make an impression on National's long-standing poll lead."

Though this is dated back in 2010, the longer he stays, the worse by association the Labour party will find Auckland as fertile vote gardening country.

People want Brown gone and National will do all in its power to paint Labour as a supporter of Brown in the run up to 2014 elections.

Just for that reason alone Brown should resign.

Davo Stevens said...

Agreed PeterP. Brown's activities are so yesterday.

The Jaffa pomposity knows no bounds and it is past time that their feet were firmly placed back on the ground again. The attitude that NZ can't function without Auck. is nothing more than a wet dream of Jaffas. When the power went off in the Auck. CBD a few years ago, it had no effect on the rest of us.

Anyway, the Compliments of the Season to all and see you next year!

james mc donald said...

Fair crack.The pubic elect a Government to control,and this is your Government rules that control Auckland or any other city in N.Z.

The Mayor of Auckland has been sprung with his zip down,if he had any conscience he would have walked away with grace but he has not.So that says his ego is bigger than his balls,should he walk for care of the Auckland Cities image,or should he be pushed aside for a Burgimister like Gerry Brownlee in chch,whos rule has done little other than appease corporations reluctance.

What you recon,should Len grow some balls stand down and let the people decide who is going to control them.I think Len,knows he is a loser,but i think the money is on, don!t do that Len,we will take control.Did not this Government get elected on the knowing that we had had enough of the nanny state.