I was in Pukekohe on Saturday, talking to people about the council's plan to develop the town centre. It's controversial. Tears have been shed. Spittle has flown in fury.
But there they were, members of the local board, along with staff from the council agencies Eke Panuku and Auckland Transport. Fielding questions, handing out leaflets, explaining the displays mounted in three kiosks they've set up around the town. And taking on the feedback.
Democracy in action is a big, slow process. In Pukekohe, it comes complete with street engagement in the midst of winter showers, 30,000 leaflets, public meetings and a big online consultation effort.
Council wants to help the town manage the massive growth happening all around it. The officers have made mistakes in this process and they know it; now they're keen to set that right.
Board member Logan Soole was there. He's 22 years old and standing for re-election, because having scraped in three years ago as a 19-year-old, he knows he can make a difference. He believes in what they're doing and how they're doing it and the grin on his face never disappears.
There are hundreds of people standing in the Auckland Council elections this year, including 65 standing for the 20 ward councillor positions, up from 54 last election. With the mayor, the winners will make up the council's governing body.
All the wards are contested; last time, councillors Bill Cashmore in Franklin and Greg Sayers in Rodney were elected unopposed. Cashmore's retiring this time but Sayers isn't, and now he faces four opponents.
It's a similar story with the local boards, which sit underneath the governing body: almost all have large rafts of candidates.
This is splendid. Around the country some councils have attracted few candidates, but in Auckland the process is thriving.
Most candidates, it's reasonable to assume, genuinely want to represent their communities. Some of them will want to move up to the governing body and they know that learning the ropes at the local level is a good way to do that.
It's not the only way, but it does work. Most of the current ward councillors got their start on a local board.
This election, with Cashmore retiring, former All Black Keven Mealamu is standing for the Franklin ward, having been elected to the Papakura board in 2019. He's up against Andy Baker, who's been on the Franklin board since 2010 and is currently its chair.
Both are known for their community engagement and commitment: Franklin voters are blessed with a real contest of worthy candidates.
There are also 23 people standing for mayor and frankly, I have questions. Why the top job, which almost all must know they cannot win, instead of committing to the mahi at the local level?
Last week, council agreed on a plan with massive implications for spending and behaviour: to reduce transport emissions by 64 per cent by 2030. But even some of the frontrunners seem spectacularly disinterested. Efeso Collins is the only major candidate who even thinks climate change should be an issue.
Some of the others, when they turn up to meetings, just cannot wipe the scowls off their faces. They toss off slogans and clichés and it's like they're only there to moan. Where's the understanding of the complexity of the democratic process? Where's the infectious enthusiasm? On both counts, Logan Soole could teach them a thing or two.
Very few of the mayoral aspirants have even demonstrated an interest in how council works.
I go to an awful lot of council meetings and council-organised community events. I have never seen two-time mayoral candidate Craig Lord at any of them, or Ted Johnston or Wayne Brown, for that matter. Maybe they go to the meetings I miss. I guess it's possible.
But council meetings have public input sessions and are a valuable window into how councillors and council staff treat citizens. They reveal how well councillors work together, influence each other, understand the issues and have the personal and political skills to get results.
You might think a prospective mayor, seeking to sort the wheat from the chaff around the council table, would find it useful to know about those things.
There are three reasons people stand for mayor. One is that they have the experience to know how things work and they think they have a reasonable chance of winning. Viv Beck, Efeso Collins and Wayne Brown are the only three candidates in that group.
Some candidates have another agenda. Ted Johnston is co-leader of the far-right New Conservative Party and is using this campaign to raise his profile ahead of the general election next year.
His party's programme is obnoxious, but the tactic of standing for mayor is perfectly legit. Chloe Swarbrick stood for mayor in 2016, not expecting to win but to advocate for progressive policies. She gave herself a valuable profile in the process.
But then there's the third group: the narcissists. Craig Lord doesn't have a larger agenda; in this election as in the last, he's just standing for mayor because he thinks he'd be good at it.
He doesn't know how council works and says so himself. "We don't know what we'll find until we open it up and take a good look," he repeatedly tells candidate meetings.
What? Council business, including the work of the governing body and its committees, the CCOs and local boards, are on the public record. They have to be: it's a statutory process. Their budgets and spending can be picked apart in detail. Most of their meetings are public. They're subject to the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.
Lord's main issue seems to be making council adopt a better procurement process for contract work, but he seems oblivious to the "smart procurement" programme they already have.
I hear from Lord and Ted Johnston from time to time, complaining they're not being taken seriously. This is why. I don't believe they take council seriously. If they really want to make a difference, why don't they stand for a position they might win, and climb on up?
Hundreds of people are doing that. They're definitely worth taking seriously.
I interviewed Efeso Collins in a public meeting on Sunday evening and at the end I asked him if there was anything else he'd like to say?
He said yes. Then he stood up and said he was probably going to burst into tears but he would say it anyway.
He told the audience, "I'm sick of being called a coconut," Which, if you didn't realise, is the New Zealand variation of an American term of abuse few would dream of using. The abuse he gets is relentless, he said, especially in the north of the city.
He talked about having to explain racial hatred to his children. Explain what it means when someone paints a swastika over your father's face on a poster. He cried.
"It's too hard," he said. "This campaign is breaking me. You try being brown."
In my view, being a mayor means taking racism seriously. Yes, infrastructure is vital. So are the debates about housing and transport and rates. But the cultural and social fabric of the city is every bit as important.
"This is my city too," said Collins. "People like me have a right to do this."
That's obviously true. But it's not just "people like me" who should be insisting on it. We all should. The other candidates should: it's not okay for political leaders to pretend this is someone else's problem. It's all of ours.
Democracy in action, just like the community engagement in Pukekohe. It's not "using the race card". It's calling out racism.
• Letters to the editor - Ted Johnston responds to this column