Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Like it or not, Brown can't be fired

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Cartoon / Peter Bromhead
Cartoon / Peter Bromhead

As the vultures of the right circle over the town hall, poised to pluck out Mayor Len Brown's vital organs on release of the Ernst & Young report into his extramarital affair, they must be cursing their soulmate, former Act leader Rodney Hide.

Mr Hide, as Minister of Local Government, designed the governance structure of the new Auckland Super City. He created the presidential style of mayor, with its dedicated team of functionaries and a budget of $4 million. Mr Hide made him the fount of all action in the new city. What Mr Hide failed to provide was a way to show the emperor the door between elections if all went pear-shaped.

Like the colourful Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto, Mr Brown, if he so desires, can sit it out until hell freezes over. That's unless he's chased out of town and thus ceases to remain an elector, or if he is convicted of an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or more. Not charged with, but convicted.

The Ernst & Young investigation into the use of council resources during the mayor's two-year affair was launched on October 17 and was supposed to have been completed within four weeks. It is overdue and it's reported that the mayor is objecting to discussion of his use of hotel rooms unrelated to the affair.

The delay has fuelled rumours that the mayor has something to hide. Even if the report finds him squeaky clean, Mr Hide says he's damaged goods and should go. He was writing this at the beginning of November, claiming Mr Brown "can no longer provide the leadership that Auckland needs. Sure, he can wear the mayoral chain ... but he can't lead. Not anymore."

Mr Hide says the mayor's not an emperor, "he's an elected representative. He has only the authority that we grant him. And these days we don't grant that authority once every three years. The necessary trust and respect must be earned every day." Or what, Rodney?

In this era of Mr Hide's daily democracy, where are the tools in his Auckland Council legislation to thrust the bad egg out of the the nest? There aren't any. Mr Hide fell back on the requirements of the Local Government Act 2002 and its weak codes of conduct. The punishment for breaking codes related to everything from how you dress to relationships between councillors is to be meted out by councillors based on the decisions of a tribunal of unelected "experts". The sanctions they can impose, as far as a mayor is concerned anyway, are slender. About the worst a mayor can expect is a vote of censure by the full council.

Of course, in censuring the mayor, councillors risk their own futures. Under Mr Hide's Auckland set-up, the mayor has in his gift, the extra power and salaries that goes with appointing councillors to the chairing of sundry committees and workshops.

So regardless of what the Ernst & Young report finally comes up with, if Mr Brown decides to follow the example of Toronto's Ford and stick it out, there's precious little his opponents can do about it.

At the risk of repeating myself, there was a better model to pursue and that was the parliamentary model. And with Northland and Hawkes Bay and the Wellington region all debating enlarged unitary councils for their own areas, it's a flaw in the Auckland model worth avoiding.

Under the parliamentary model, if a mayor went feral and became a political liability, there is a simple and quick solution. Instead of being elected at large and installed in his/her own little palace suite, the mayor would have been elected by a majority of the councillors. Shock horror, he would have had to caucus with his supporters on a regular basis and decide on issues collectively. And, like a parliamentary caucus, if the mayor became a liability, they could rid themselves of the problem the way they selected him/her. By ballot.

There's no doubt Len Brown has winged himself. And naturally enough his political enemies are clamouring for him to resign. But to me, the disruption of a byelection for a new mayor would hold back Auckland's progress much more than carrying on with the one we've just elected into office. Of course, that's said before the Ernst & Young report is published.

If it were to reveal the misuse of council funds or property, the mayor would be in trouble. Then again, with the Hide legislation, so would those trying to dislodge him.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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