Being Mayor of Auckland is an unusual position in New Zealand politics, more like that of a presidency than the head of a parliamentary government. The "Super City" was designed to give Auckland stronger leadership and a great deal of power was given to the office of mayor.

The mayor has a mandate to take initiatives and draft the council's budgets for approval by the elected council. It is a recipe for tension of the sort that erupted this week.

Nearly half of the councillors put their names to a letter expressing dissatisfaction in Mayor Phil Goff over his handling of a "pre-feasibility" report on a new downtown sports stadium as a replacement for Eden Park.

Not all council members want to abandon Eden Park but their disgruntlement was over restrictions Goff has placed on the circulation of the report by consultants PwC for the council subsidiary, Regional Facilities Auckland. Goff released a redacted version of the report, blocking out some passages to preserve commercial confidences.


He refused to give councillors the full report in electronic form but they could read printed copies in council offices so long as they did not copy them or take them away. Goff says the Ombudsman was satisfied these arrangements met the legal requirements of freedom of information in local government but some councillors were naturally annoyed and insulted to be treated this way.

Goff, for his part, says he has been disappointed at times to find confidential material has been passed to parties outside the council. Nor was he impressed that the contents of the letter, diplomatically marked private and confidential to him, was in the Herald before he received it.

As usual, the discontent runs deeper than the subject of this dispute. Our civic reporter Bernard Orsman writes that frustration with Goff's leadership style has been growing among a group of councillors since a reshuffle of committee posts six months ago.

Goff is accused of operating with a "cabinet" of high ranking supporters to the exclusion of those who usually vote against him. As a veteran of central government it would be surprising if Goff did not work this way.

He needs a reliable majority on the council to do his job. As a seasoned politician he will recognise those whose basic orientation aligns with his, and those who are fundamentally opposed to him. But the signatories to the letter of no confidence include several on Goff's side of the divide.

Local government strives to play down political orientation and for the most part succeeds, thanks to its functions being more local and practical than the issues of national politics. But the Auckland Council is different.

It's elected body is constitutionally restricted to the discussion of broad policy for the most part. Its members are not allowed to interfere in the local and practical "operational" decisions that must be made by appointed officers answerable only to the chief executive.

It is a recipe for frustration and simmering dissension. It is a wonder discontent does not erupt more often.