A polling company phoned the other night asking if I had half a minute to answer some questions about Auckland Council. I did.
On a scale of one to five, five being highest, where would I rate the council's performance? Two, I said, thinking that might be generous.
How would I rate the performance of the mayor, Phil Goff? Two.
If I was asked to choose between Phil Goff and John Tamihere for mayor, which would I choose? (So that's what it was really about.) "Goff", I answered without hesitation or enthusiasm.
What a limited choice. The incumbent dull but reliable despite having let protesters decide who can hire a council venue, the challenger a mercurial chatterbox I cannot take seriously.
Where is the dependable, respected, sensible, businesslike man or woman I would like for mayor? Where are the public-spirited Remuera patricians who were governing the city – very responsibly and liberally, I thought – when I covered the council long ago?
Actually, none of them stood for mayor in those years. They were content for Robbie to entertain the media while they made the decisions that mattered. But these days there are not enough of them on the council, either.
Nominations for this year's elections opened on Friday and close in four weeks but there has been no sign of a strong ticket that could produce a majority for the right on the Auckland Council and I think I know why.
I've seen what is served up for elected councillors to discuss and the great bulk of it is not worth their time.
John Roughan: Someone needs to watch this agency's dashboard
John Roughan: We've had the bag pulled over our heads
Furthermore, it takes up nearly all their time. They spend all day, most days, sitting as committees of the whole council, leaving little time to get out around the city and deal with problems on the ground.
Christine Fletcher, who is running with Tamihere, has written about this but there is little she or he can do about it. The elected council is legally constrained from making concrete "operational" decisions.
Blame the "Super City". Never was a sobriquet more ironic. When the four natural divisions of Auckland were forced to become a single municipality, the "governing body" - as the elected council is called - was rendered practically powerless.
All of the practical, down-to-earth decision making was constitutionally delegated to either the chief executive (which means his appointed mandarins) or the so-called "council-controlled organisations". Irony abounds in this "governance model".
After nearly 10 years, the impotence of the elected council is, I think, fairly well known. But possibly only people interested enough to be potential candidates have discovered what elected councillors actually do.
They spend their days working through agendas of flabby reports on nothing of much substance. They get to decide whether to declare a "climate emergency" , for example.
Believe me, that decision was not unusual, just more newsworthy than most of the meaningless chaff served up to them by officers to keep the people's representatives occupied.
They spend inordinate time discussing social and environmental issues at a level of theory and principle that leaves not much room for disagreement. It is when principles have to be balanced with the demands of real life that decisions become difficult and contentious.
Academic discussion and decisions of this nature suits the left wing of politics just fine. It's a feature of decisions coming from the present Government which habitually leaves problems of practicality for officials to resolve.
The trouble with this mode of governing is that impractical decisions are made, and it can be politically hard to unmake them. Attempts to apply them can cause more problems than they solve.
Left-wing politicians may be content to spend all day discussing broad subjects of little substance, those on the right will have more productive things to do.
A few years ago, councillor Cathy Casey invited me to spend a day with her to see how busy councillors are. Her entire day was happily spent in meetings on the sort of material I've described.
In the evening she took me to a session of her local board, which was better. At least the local board of the council got to discuss specific problems in particular places even if it, too, lacked the power to do more than press council officers for solutions.
Cameron Brewer was on the council at that time. He has since gone. I can't imagine how any businesslike person could stand it for very long. We're probably sentenced to left-wing councils for as long as this set-up lasts.
Ironically, a business lobby conceived the Super City. They convinced Helen Clark that Auckland lacked consistent planning and decisive leadership. Then they left the constitutional details to officials.
Now we've lost the local government we had and it will be hard to get it back.