Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Race is over - now hard work begins

By BERNARD ORSMAN


Dick Hubbard is the first Mayor of Auckland in 50 years with no previous local government or political experience.

Les Mills, mayor from 1990 to 1998, had limited political experience as general manager of Northland Harbour Board and Northland Regional Council.

But you had to go back to 1953, when former magistrate John Luxford ousted Sir John Allum (1941-1953) on a platform of restoring respect and confidence in local government, to find a complete novice, said University of Auckland academic and city council historian Graham Bush.

Dr Bush saw several immediate challenges facing Mr Hubbard: working with the majority City Vision, Labour and Action Hobson group to optimise his influence and avoid being neutralised; building his mayoral staff; making sure he remained independent of senior officers; and deciding whether he would be a low-key or highly public mayor. Then there were policy challenges.

Former policeman George Wood, who was a political novice when he was elected Mayor of North Shore in 1998, said the first thing Mr Hubbard had to do was maintain neutrality on council.

"If he jumps one way or another it will come back to bite him," said Mr Wood, who was elected to a third term on Saturday. "If Mr Hubbard can get both sides together and act in a way that is above politics I would say he would be able to steer a course where people will come in behind him and support him."

After winning the most bitter mayoral contest in living memory, some of the challenges will need tackling immediately.

THE NEW COUNCIL

For the first time in 70 years, Auckland City has a council controlled by the centre-left. City Vision and Labour have nine seats between them. They are joined by the independent councillor for the Hauraki Gulf, Faye Storer, and two councillors on the new Action Hobson ticket, Christine Caughey and Richard Simpson. Citizens & Ratepayers Now has been routed, with just six councillors, plus independent Bill Christian who sided with the centre-right under John Banks.

The council meets today at 2pm for an informal chat and to discuss a new model for standing orders.

DEPUTY MAYOR AND COMMITTEE STRUCTURE

The old council reduced the number of committees to seven main committees, enterprise boards for the zoo and art gallery and a three-person committee of councillors considering planning applications - all chaired by Mr Banks' allies.

Mr Hubbard has indicated he wants to beef up the three-member planning and fixtures subcommittee to take a more robust approach to high-density housing and other developments. City Vision leader Dr Bruce Hucker has hinted at going back to more committees, mostly chaired by centre-left councillors with centre-left majorities.

Dr Hucker, former deputy mayor under Christine Fletcher (1998-2001), will become deputy mayor, bringing 18 years of experience and a deep understanding of council issues to the table. With the votes stacked up behind him he will be elected at the official swearing-in of the new council next week at Aotea Centre. The committee structure will be sorted out at the council's first business meeting on November 11.

STANDING ORDERS

As mayor and chairman of council meetings, Mr Hubbard will have to learn standing orders quickly.

The 53-page rule book for running meetings stretches to 150 parts, sub-parts and sub-sub-parts. Standing orders consists of four main parts - setting up meetings; running meetings, including the rules of debate; public access to meetings, including barring the public; and miscellaneous matters.

Democracy services manager Steve McDowell said standing orders, compiled by the Standards Association, were relatively easy to understand and learn.

Mr Hubbard will have council chief executive Bryan Taylor and council services manager Peter Burden sitting beside him at council meetings to offer guidance or clarification.

MAYORAL STYLE

Dr Bush said Mr Hubbard had yet to show whether he was going to be a high-profile mayor or work largely behind the scenes with councillors.

While he has made it clear he will not be abrasive and confrontational in the manner of Mr Banks, it remains to be seen how the Mr Nice Guy and slightly awkward public figure will project.

Mr Hubbard's wife, Diana, plans to reactivate the role of mayoress and become actively involved in community projects. Colleen Mills was the last mayoress, between 1990 and 1998.

MAYORAL TEAM

Mr Hubbard largely ran his election campaign with help from his wife and Belinda Abernethy, who does the public relations for Hubbard Foods. But he will need independent advisers to help him keep his head above water in highly complex policy areas and the political minefields at council and regional level. It is not expected Mr Banks' mayoral staff will have their contracts extended when they come up for renewal at the end of this month.

One of Mr Hubbard's first decisions is whether to keep the mayoral office in the Auckland Town Hall, where Mr Banks broke from tradition and based himself, or to move back to the Civic Building, where senior council management and most mayors have been based. He has indicated a preference to move back to the Civic Building.

OFFICERS

The inexperienced Mr Hubbard would need to take care not to become a "prisoner" of senior council officers, said Dr Bush.

"Don't let them tell you they have got no particular policy agenda and they just do what the council wants them to," Dr Bush said.

"Senior officers, who are making it a lifetime career, do have ideas about how the council should be run." He said the political novice needed to listen to the advice of senior officers, but keep an open mind.

POLICY CHALLENGES

The proposed V8 supercar race around Victoria Park in downtown Auckland is the first policy test Mr Hubbard faces. New work on traffic, noise and other problems is due to be made public tomorrow for a reconvened resource consent hearing next month.

Mr Hubbard, who has said he supports the race but has problems with the location at the choke point of Auckland, will discuss with Transit and North Shore City Council whether a way can be found for the city to host the event for seven years from April 2006. However, with a majority of councillors opposed to the location, chances are the race will not take place.

RATES

The next big policy test Mr Hubbard faces is the direction-setting meeting for his first budget, including rates, set down for November 18.

City Vision has indicated it will raise overall rates above inflation and abolish user charges for rubbish and the uniform annual charge, introduced under Mr Banks and Citizens & Ratepayers Now. This will effectively raise rates for wealthy homeowners and offer relief for low- and middle-value homeowners.

Mr Hubbard has promoted strong fiscal management, pointing to his 30 years in private business, balancing the books. But he has also promised to look at rates relief for elderly and low-income ratepayers and is "more than happy" to participate in a rates review. He is also open-minded about moving away from a net debt-free policy and selling the remainder of the council's airport shares.

Rates will be a big test of his fiscal management and in this area he will be watched closely by business leaders, who have so far been lukewarm towards him.

Who is Dick Hubbard?

Born: Paeroa.

Age: 57.

Married: To Diana with two adult sons.

Home: Epsom, holiday home in Queenstown.

Qualifications: Food technology degree, Massey University.

Other interests: Tramping, mountain climbing, motorcycle riding.Career Established tropical fruit processing plant, Niue; general manager Tasti Products Ltd, Auckland.

Established Hubbard Foods in 1988, now third-biggest cereal company in New Zealand with staff of 180 and $35 million turnover.

Founded New Zealand Business for Social Responsibility in 1997.

Executive committee member New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Immediate past chairman New Zealand Food and Grocery Council.

Former chairman New Zealand Food Standards Committee.

Massey University council member (honorary doctorate from Massey University).

Outward Bound board member.

New Zealand National Parks and Conservation Foundation member.

Learning and Behaviour Charitable Trust member.


Herald Feature: Local Vote 2004

Related information and links

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 21 Aug 2014 07:32:37 Processing Time: 938ms