New mayor can direct his new powers to council’s runaway business arms instead.

Poor Phil Goff. He's hardly jumped into his new planet-friendly Nissan Leaf mayoral limousine for a honeymoon whirl around his new city, when old foe John Key punctures the front tyres.

The Prime Minister rubbishes the new Auckland Mayor's promise of a regional fuel tax to pay for new transport infrastructure, and a 15 per cent tax on foreigners buying existing houses.

Of course, as an old parliamentary veteran, this will have come as no surprise to Goff. He well knows that a mayor - even one representing a Super City containing a third of the nation's population - is lower in the political pecking order than a prime minister.

Talking pecking orders, Goff was also quick to reiterate his promise to flex his political muscles in the age old tussle between the political and bureaucratic wings of the council. He warned of what could happen to directors of council controlled organisations, if, for instance, the port company were to persist with its desire to continue wharf-creep out into the Waitemata Harbour.


This would be a welcome return to the natural order of things in a democracy. In the jostling for power that occurred during the establishment phase of the new city over the past six years, the politicians lost out to the bureaucrats. Part of this was the deliberate result of the legislation, pushed through by Act leader, Rodney Hide, and designed to keep the politicians as far away from the business side of local government as possible.

But under first mayor Len Brown, even the residual controls left to politicians, such as the appointment of board members to the various CCOs, were not exploited.

When the port company went feral, for example, instead of sacking a board member or three and bringing the council-owned business to heel, the worst they got was an ineffectual mayoral growling.

Goff's intention to establish a power hierarchy more akin to the parliamentary system where the bureaucrats are ultimately responsible to the minister is a welcome change for the better.

While he's tinkering, he could also consider improving the existing interaction between the mayor and his 20 elected councillors. The Hide model of a directly elected mayor with a budget of around $4 million and his own closed court of personal advisers was deliberately created to provide a presidential style of governance. Under it, the mayor came up with policy and a budget, and the councillors' role was to rubber stamp it.

It is a model that cut the mayor and his retinue off from the councillors, leaving many of them feeling disgruntled and uninvolved. Without a law change, we're stuck with this institutional separation of mayor and councillors.

But there is a possible way of improving the connections, without legislation, and that would be for Goff to put the position of deputy mayor up to the vote, with he agreeing to accept the majority verdict.

As things stand, both the deputy mayoralty and committee chairmanships, with their added stipends, are in the mayor's gift. Putting the deputy's job to the vote would in a small way help connect the mayoral court to the council as a whole. It would provide the mayor with a vital window into what the majority of councillors were thinking. It would also help integrate councillors into the policy-making process.


Finally, I suspect by now that chief executive Stephen Town might have put him straight after he announced on Q + A on Sunday that he was heading into his new headquarters the next day to look over some "pretty bad statistics".

He said it was disappointing "the council's own survey found that only 15 per cent of Aucklanders had trust, and only 17 per cent were satisfied with the job Auckland council is doing".

The council's June 2016 "Trust and Reputation" survey results were actually not quite that grim. True, while only 17 per cent of those surveyed "totally" trusted council to make the right decisions, 32 per cent were neutral and 4 per cent did not know. The other 47 per cent totally distrusted council. Asked to judge council's "overall performance", 15 per cent were "totally satisfied", but another 44 per cent were neutral and 5 per cent did not know.