Christine Fletcher: Forget sex - mayor's underperformed

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Len Brown needs to take a stronger role in leadership of the Super City.
Len Brown needs to take a stronger role in leadership of the Super City.

While much has been said about the mayor's private life since the election, too little attention has been given to his public responsibility to deliver governance for Auckland.

This critical issue needs greater scrutiny, as it is arguably the most important task conferred by statute on the mayor as part of Auckland amalgamation.

Len Brown's attempt at governance last term was a clumsy affair that produced more than 25 committees, panels and forums. This complicated and expensive structure saw duplication, with an overlap of roles and responsibilities. With no clear accountability, resources and staff time were exhausted and matters remained unresolved or hastily fixed, with the proviso they would be revisited. The duplication also meant a lack of prioritisation and focus. It permitted the mayor to be absent on a regular basis. This must change. Auckland legislation requires the mayor to lead. The mayor must create a leadership environment that will shape the central issues. I want the council itself to regain its relevance and importance.

In the last term, the mayor was tasked with providing a governance structure to deliver the following three legislative requirements:

The Auckland Plan.

A Long Term Funding Plan.

A Unitary Plan.

The Auckland Plan became an aspirational wish list. It wasn't based on evidence and its significance with regard to the RMA and funding implications was not well understood.

The Long Term Funding Plan was not considered at the governing body but shunted off to the Strategy and Finance Committee, where there was an endless series of closed workshops and meetings. The mayor and chief executive were absent during most of this process.

When the plan finally appeared at the governing body it was to "rubber stamp" decisions. The council was denied the chance to "relitigate" matters that had been resolved at Strategy and Finance.

The Unitary Plan was a monumental task, as it required the bringing together of seven district plans and three regional plans and policy documents, which contain thousands of rules and controls affecting every facet of our lives in Auckland. A lack of prioritisation meant that this central task was given insufficient time. The plan has now been notified. It is, however, controversial and continues to divide the community.

In this term, the mayor is required to set the scene for implementation of the above three plans. In order to do this, the council is in desperate need of a structure that allows a streamlined approach to the development of reasoned policy and funding imperatives.

If the mayor is sincere in his determination to undertake the building of the Central Rail Loop then he must show the discipline to rein in the top-heavy structure that he created in the last term. It would be political correct-ness gone mad to think that every councillor can be a leader and the chair of a committee, as in the previous term.

In this term of council, the rating issue needs serious analysis. The three-year rating transitional cap is coming to an end and this should be the catalyst for a serious rethink in the way rates are levied across Auckland. The principles behind these calculations should address perceptions of value of services, transparency and equity. Aucklanders are entitled to clear alternatives by limiting rates increase while ensuring prudent debt limits. This will involve substantial reprioritisations (both stopping and deferring initiatives) as well as consideration of staging and sequencing some projects. We need to ensure that Auckland is not only liveable but affordable into the future. The appointment of the new CEO by the incoming council is going to be pivotal in ensuring the supply of quality contestable policy advice. Most of the debacles of the last term, be they berms, loss of heritage or high rises, can be traced to a failure in governance, where too little time was given to important issues that should have been constructively dealt with in council.

While the mayor's self-appointed "executive team" of the deputy mayor and chairs of the major committees managed work allocation and timetabling they were often not up to the mark. To ensure an effective and contestable policy environment, the mayor cannot simply surround himself with those who will tell him what he wants to hear. The deputy he appoints must understand good process. Mike Lee has that experience and should be considered for the role.

While there are a number of pressing requirements for the mayor outside the council chamber, in this term he must place greater emphasis on his role as mayor in the Chair in Council and not just as Mayor in the Town Square. This is his primary responsibility and he cannot abdicate from it.

Christine Fletcher leads the city's Communities and Residents councillors and is a former Mayor of Auckland City and National Party minister.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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