A report by Bernard Orsman published in the New Zealand Herald on the state of Auckland City Council found that 88 of the 99 positions in the council's boardrooms and executive teams were filled by "white men from wealthy suburbs."
While nobody is suggesting that any of these individuals lacks the knowledge or skills to occupy such senior positions in an organization that is quantitatively similar to a corporation, we need to remember that there is a difference between corporations and cities.
While the former are largely rootless entities concerned about increasing their share of the national or global market, cities' success is measured by the degree to which they advance the well-being and ideas of their diverse populations.
History tells us that in order for the cities to become vibrant and socio-economically healthy - i.e. to be run for their people they also need to be run by their people. Otherwise, they may easily become quasi-private theme parks run by and for the benefit of the rich and powerful.
The reported demographic composition of the decision-making bodies in Auckland Council suggests that we are facing a potentially harmful democratic deficit. Yet, before anyone suggests quotas or other bureaucratic mechanisms aimed at diversifying the Council's management structure, it would be good to consider a very different and far more democratic approach currently tried by our friends across the ditch: citizens' juries as bodies that could breathe new, more democratic and vibrant spirit into our city's old structures.
The democratic deficit evident in Auckland City Council is part of a broader trend in democracies worldwide, both at the local and national levels, which are increasingly seen as departing from the core democratic principles that they are supposed to uphold. Meaningful deliberations and political equality are the soul of democracy.
Increasingly, our electoral system is virtually devoid of the former and its outcomes suggest the erosion of the latter. Interestingly, such an outcome would have perhaps been predicted by the founders of democracy in classical Athens who were concerned that elections and campaigning contains in themselves anti-democratic and oligarchic seeds.
While the issue of democratic deficit is not limited to our regional bodies and is also present at the national level, a modest re-engagement with the core principles and practices of Athenian democracy at the local council level would represent a practical and potentially useful starting point in striving for a more equitable system.
Athenian democracy in practice was undertaken not through elections or appointments but rather through a process of selection by lottery in which all male citizens (clearly, a modern system would be far more inclusive) were eligible candidates.
Therefore, Athenians essentially selected juries of citizens to deliberate and make policy; a process which is no different from the juries we select in our justice system in New Zealand. When we are to decide whether a person is guilty of a serious crime, we do not ask the country or the entire city to vote.
Rather, we instruct a small group of randomly selected people representing the diversity of our society to hear the case for and against his punishment and let those people decide the matter.
Unsurprisingly, a system which selects juries through lotteries is not without legitimate criticisms. The suitability and enthusiasm of ordinary people to make important political decisions, the chance of random misrepresentation, and a lack of legitimacy and accountability are obvious concerns. However, the potential benefits arguably outweigh the stated concerns.
The benefits of a jury system over the current electoral/appointment system are numerous. First, lotteries are fundamentally fairer than a voting system which reward candidates with power, status, money and connections. Second, the randomisation of potential officers means they cannot be prepositioned or influenced by individuals or interest groups. Third, random selection nullifies party politics, removing one's loyalty to a party and replacing it with loyalty to one's conscience. Last, it brings deliberation back to fore of decision-making.
Dismantling longstanding and embedded institutions and standard operating procedures at the council level is clearly no easy task and suggesting a "shock therapy" style full implementation of a lottery-based system is not only impractical but politically and socially unfeasible. At the same time, it may be useful for us to experiment with new, additional bodies that could start by advising and/or complimenting the existing decision-making structures.
Across the ditch in Australia, movements to explore the benefits of citizens' juries have been gaining momentum over the last decade. The newDemocracy movement - led by a collection of business people, academics and ordinary citizens - has advocated for the use of juries at city councils across Australia.
The movement started with the creation of the Australian's Citizens' Parliament, an ad hoc and formally powerless initiative, and has secured some impressive spill-over into actual council policy-making with a dozen or so juries been used across Australia to date.
In early 2014 a randomly selected jury was asked to consider how to ensure a vibrant and safe nightlife in Sydney - a question that is also of great relevance to Auckland. Following deliberations, hearing from a variety of experts and examination of evidence, the jury came up with 25 recommendations.
Some of their recommendation have been adopted by council and even endorsed by the state parliament. According to observers, the whole exercise proved that such bodies can not only be useful and effective, but that they can reduce voters' apathy disillusionment with politics.
More recently, the Melbourne City Council undertook a review of its 10 year budget through employing a citizens' jury - similarly a policy-area of great relevance to Auckland. A jury comprising of 43 randomly selected citizens, meeting over a six week period, deliberated on and agreed a new budget.
Aiding their decision was access to financial policy experts and bureaucrats in order to help jurors develop informed-opinions. Nicholas Reece, a University of Melbourne fellow, called the outcome a "clear, sensible verdict about priority projects, services, revenue and spending."
Consequently, as Australia's experience with citizens' juries has illustrated, starting with the modest goal of using randomly selected juries to make some council-level policy suggestions is arguably a good starting point for organically growing a system for Auckland which is more equitable and ultimately more democratic.
Nicholas Ross Smith and Zbigniew Dumienski are with the Politics and International Relations Department at the University of Auckland.