Here's hoping perennial politician John Banks joins the Auckland mayoral race. And not just because his eccentricities have provided me with rich pickings over the years to fulminate about.
What excites me is that Banks, in his opening toe-dipping in the weekend media, homed in on what I see as the basic short-coming of Auckland Super City politics. That is, that the creators of the new city governance model deliberately tried to remove politics from the scene.
Following the lead of already declared candidate, John Tamihere, Banks is also preparing to confront this problem full on. He says that if elected, he would appoint himself chairman of Auckland Transport and seek a law change to enable elected councillors to sit on the governing boards of council-controlled organisations (CCOs), the ratepayer-funded "companies" that handle most council activities — everything from where buses and E-scooters run, to the provision of America's Cup bases and public parks.
Tamihere takes a similar line. "When 75 per cent of your business is run by people who in effect are unaccountable to elected politicians, who are accountable to the citizens, and that's the only accountability we've got, you need to drag those CCOs back in."
Banks says his focus group tells him that Aucklanders are turned off by a leadership that is colourless and mostly invisible. He hardly needed to pay money to gather that insight. It is, after all, what the Svengali of the Super City, Act leader and Minister of Local Government, Rodney Hide, planned when he drew up the legislation a decade ago.
The whole grand plan was to transfer practically all the services provided by local government into the hands of seven, initially Government-appointed boards, from which politicians were banned. They were to be dominated instead, by the business mates of the Act and National parties. The only concession wrestled out of Hide and his National Government coalition partners was to allow up to two councillors on the Auckland Transport board in a token recognition of the fact that about half the monies collected in rates, went to AT.
However the present mayor, former Labour leader Phil Goff, reverted to Hidean ideological purity in 2016 by dumping the two councillor board members, Mike Lee, former regional council chairman, and Christine Fletcher, one-time Auckland City mayor. Both have been strong critics of Goff.
As an old Rogergnome, Goff seems to embrace the New Right belief that politicians can't be trusted to run public transport and water-works and concert halls and all the other activities of local government local politicians ran for decades before. It's the starry-eyed view that unlike elected politicians, those from the commercial world are unbiased experts and uninfluenced by their social backgrounds.
Hide, in his crusade to devalue the worth of politicians, committed the ultimate self-sacrifice by making a fool of himself, competing in television's Dancing With the Stars and dropping his partner mid-cha cha.
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Time to review our CCOs is yesterday - time to act is now
Getting back to the board of AT, by way of example, I've always thought a smart organisation would automatically find a place on its board for at least one person who regularly used the product they touted. At AT, I'll take a punt that there's not a regular public-transport commuter among them. Not one who knows what it's like to wait in the rain for a bus that doesn't appear. Or to be unable to see out a bus window because of all the advertising.
Instead, the board has the former managing director of BMW, New Zealand and Philippines, a healthcare entrepreneur, former senior civil servant, corporate lawyer, insurance and banker high-flier, and a couple of professional directors. Oh yes, and one politician who escaped the Goff axe. That's the mayor's former Cabinet colleague, out-of-towner, Michael Cullen.
With Tamihere and Banks demanding the revival of representational democracy in local government, the mayoral race is starting to have an interesting focus. One that the incumbent — and hopefully the Government — will find hard to ignore.