Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Mayor Len bottom of the class

Outgoing Brown has the poorest record in attending crucial council sessions.
Mayor Len Brown during the Auckland Council Unitary Plan meeting. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Mayor Len Brown during the Auckland Council Unitary Plan meeting. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Mayor Len Brown had the worst attendance at Auckland Council's most important meetings last year.

The Herald on Sunday has analysed attendance records for all 21 elected councillors across the four committees that made the biggest decisions - the Auckland Development Committee, the Finance and Performance Committee, and the Regional Strategy and Policy Committee - collectively known as "Committees of the Whole".

Council's primary decision-making arm, the Governing Body, which also expects all councillors to attend, was also included.

Across 47 meetings, outgoing mayor Brown and experienced councillor Christine Fletcher were around the table the least, attending 33 meetings (70 per cent).

Brown's record last year was an improvement from 2014, when he attended 30 of 50 meetings across the four key committees, a grade of 60 per cent.

Brown is paid $259,500 a year to be mayor, deputy mayor Penny Hulse receives $146,200 and councillors are on $101,900.

Top of the class was Cathy Casey, who was absent once during the year. Others with top records were John Watson and Chris Darby who were at 95 per cent of meetings, and Denise Krum and Bill Cashmore who made it to 93 per cent of meetings.

Brown attended all 21 of last year's Governing Body meetings as chairman. But he turned up only twice to the 10 Regional Strategy and Policy Committee sessions. He also skipped five Auckland Development sessions and one Finance and Development meeting.

Casey said the toll on a mayor's time was different from that of a councillor, but said Brown's absence from the strategy meetings was poor.

"That one isn't good enough," Casey said. "He'll be well-briefed afterwards but if you're not there, you can't ask questions.

"I feel guilty if I miss a meeting. I take my job very seriously and the people in those meetings are there to make decisions - that's what we've been elected to do - and it's a privilege."

The Herald on Sunday sent specific questions to the mayor about his attendance, why he has been missing and whether his record was good enough. He refused to address the questions directly.

Instead, his office issued a statement: "As leader of all of Auckland as well as being the head of the council, in what is a very full diary, the mayor has to balance his commitment to committee meetings with the need to represent the council and Auckland as whole in a wide variety of other forums. The mayor chairs the Governing Body - he has full confidence in the senior councillors he has delegated to chair and lead the Committees of the Whole."

Orakei local board member and mayoral candidate, Mark Thomas, slammed Brown's record as "unacceptable" but added he wasn't surprised. Fellow mayoral candidate, Vic Crone, said ratepayers had a right to know why their mayor was not attending important meetings.

"If the mayor isn't attending, I'd be asking why. If the structure isn't working for him, they need to have a look at it," Crone said. "It's an incredibly busy role and he needs to meet the community, but he needs to get outcomes. You'd have to argue they're not there at the moment."

Phil Goff, a frontrunner for the mayoral election in October, was reluctant to discuss Brown's attendance without knowing the reasons for his absence.

"The mayor's role is demanding and you'd expect him to be there for key committees whenever possible," Goff said.

Fletcher, a former mayor who chairs a number of committees, said she was unable to have a better record because so many meetings clashed across her council and Auckland Transport portfolios.

"Over the last year there has been an increasing number of conflicting meetings and when that happens, I weigh in favour of Auckland Transport. I've got one of the heavier portfolios and I think I'm juggling it well," Fletcher said.

"My wish for the new mayor is that he or she changes the way this council organises its governance."

- Herald on Sunday

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