Mike Lee, the chairman of the Auckland Regional Council, has a flair for melodrama. When I call to ask for an interview, he groans loudly and says, "I've been dreading this day. I'll develop a facial twitch and fall over."

This would have been very entertaining, but honestly, what rot he talks.

He is perfectly good at being interviewed. Although he is a terrible fidget - he spends the interview playing with bark chips in a plant pot - and is expert at dilly-dallying. At the end, he has just minutes before his next appointment, and we want to take him outside to take his photograph.

This takes time. He keeps wanting to show us things. A model of one of the Knights Templar, to "remind me to be brave". The first map of Auckland. A picture of him as a young thing "saving the ports of Auckland". A fountain pen that belonged to Sandra Coney's father, the local body politician and rugby player, Tom Pearce. He never takes it out of the office because he says he'd be bound to lose it, and I think he's got the measure of himself there.

While he's happily, and precariously, wobbling on the side of a fountain for his picture, he discovers he has ink all over his hands and a spot on his shirt. "Where did that come from?" he asks in wonder.

When he was made chairman 14 months ago, people rather wondered where he had come from. I remind him that he said it was "an unlikely event". "Yes, and I think the Herald said so too." He agrees that it would be fair to say he was a somewhat diffident chairman in the beginning but that he has grown into the job.

Local body politics always sounds so boring: roads and rates. I ask Lee what his job is, actually, and he launches into a dull history lesson about how the regional council was restructured and so on but he can't keep it up.

In the end he settles for the more lively explanation that "it's sort of like the reindeer and Santa's sleigh and so you have to drive it along and make sure everyone is galloping together". And are they? "Yep. As I've got older I have come to appreciate more and more the importance of personalities and relationships in politics."

Although he's been around local body politics since 1991 - then was voted out and in and out again until being elected chairman last year - he says he "probably didn't have to" take into account all those egos and difficult relationships. He wasn't the boss then. He doesn't find maintaining them difficult at all: "You've got to be learning stuff as you go along, don't you?"

He's the bloke who has inherited the burden of Auckland's public transport woes. And the bloke who has to sort them out before the Rugby World Cup in 2011. He is characteristically chirpy about the prospect. It will happen, he says, if for no other reason than there is no good reason it shouldn't.

His main job is to keep rates down. They are, he says, at least below the level likely to cause the sort of rates revolt which was a large part of the reason he was catapulted into the chair in the first place.

He is regarded as a pretty good chairman - someone who knows about these things says it's because he's very bright. It is also perhaps because he has always been, he says, "an outsider".

He was always in the background because, you have to remember, he says, he was married to Sandra Lee, who was the high-profile one. They separated in 1992 and I ask him whether the fact that he was no longer married to a high-profile politician meant that he felt he was able to move out from the background. He says "yes", but it is obviously a topic he's not terribly interested in pursuing.

Anyway, being an outsider has probably been to his advantage. He wasn't too involved in power wrangles, or particularly interested in them. He scoffs at my teasing him about being a very powerful bloke about town. It's only local body politics, he says.

He is, because he keeps spending our money on parks. Which is like buying himself very nice presents, because he loves parks, they appeal to the romantic in him. People don't mind him spending money on parks, he says. I wonder how he knows and he says from research and "talking to people at barbecues".

He's an old Lefty but conservative, he says, in the way old Lefties often are. Which means, he says, a sort of nostalgia for times when people were nicer and had better manners. He earns quite a lot of money, I thought it was $120,000 but he says "I think it's more than that now".

I wondered whether it was all right for socialists to earn quite a lot. He grins and says that there are two branches of socialists these days. "Chardonnay socialists and pinot gris socialists." I ask which he is and he says, "I've gone off wine. It's too strong. I never drink it at functions because you end up slobbering over people." He enjoys a good non sequitur.

He has very good manners and when I ask where we should sit for the interview he says, "But what about the niceties? Wouldn't you like a cup of coffee?" When I say, "Goodness, look at all your Christmas cards. I've only had one," he gives me one of his. It's from a quite famous person who somehow sent him two - but I'm not allowed to say who because he wouldn't like them to be offended.

He thinks he is probably quite nice, and he works hard at it. And at not talking rubbish. Such as all that rubbish about "vibrant cities", and "vision".

People don't want their regional council to be fluffing around with ideas about how to make Auckland vibrant, he says. They want good infrastructure.

As for vision, phooey. He sits up straight and wags his index finger at me in a parody of a very strict chairman. He delivers a little homily about how people who bang on about vision don't have any. Then he says, "dictum over". "Thank you," I say.

He takes this to mean that the interview is over and gets to his feet with relieved alacrity. And has to be told to sit down. He is quite good at doing as he is told. I already knew this because the first and last time I met him was at a party we put on for a departing colleague. Lee gave a speech and before he started I told him he wasn't allowed to go on and on like a politician. He didn't. Although he did tell everyone I'd bossed him.

He must have some faults, so I ask him what they are. He settles on the state of his desk, which looks as if somebody has up-ended a rubbish bin on it. He's fascinated by people with tidy desks and asks anyone who has one how they do it. He wanders over to his bomb site, somehow produces a comb, and does his hair for the picture. I accuse him of being vain, which he denies. But "you have to keep yourself clean and tidy. Tuck your shirt in. Didn't your mother tell you that?"

A piece of advice that didn't take - all that ink - but other than that, he's turned out all right.