Power-grabbing bureaucrats need the lessons in good governance ... politicians just need a bit more spine.

Auckland councillors have agreed to take lessons on how to improve their governance skills. A more urgent need is for them to learn how to be better politicians.

In setting up the super city, Act leader Rodney Hide and his National Party partners did a good job of emasculating the elected side of the power structure.

All the business functions of the city were hived off to council controlled organisations (CCOs) - an ironic label, looking back - under the control of "expert" boards.

Instead of trying to claw back some control, the present crop of councillors seem happy to carry on Mr Hide's work.


A week ago, councillors meekly obeyed the bureaucrats and surrendered yet more power by upping chief executive Stephen Town's financial delegation authority from $7.5 million to $20 million, and the joint delegated financial authority between him and the mayor or a committee chair from $10 million to $22.5 million.

This allows Mr Town to approve any budgeted expenditure up to a ceiling of $22.5 million, without the tiresome duty of seeking the approval of councillors first.

Hats off to the minority of six councillors, ranging from neo-liberal Cameron Brewer to left-leaning Cathy Casey who tried - and failed - to persuade their fellow politicians to chop $5 million off the new figures.

Supporters of the increase point enviously to the $100 million financial delegation of the NZ Transport Agency chief executive.

But the huge bills that come in during the construction of something like the $1.5 billion Waterview Connection and associated works are rather different to the assorted bills that surface in the running of a super city.

What the mayor and councillors did last week was close one of the peep-holes the politicians still have into the inner workings of the city we elected them to govern.

That was last Thursday. This week's High Court hearing over Ports of Auckland's planned wharf extension was a reminder of how little power the city fathers and mothers already have without surrendering any more.

Protest group Urban Auckland is challenging the non-notified consent the council bureaucracy granted the council-owned port company in secret to extend an existing concrete wharf 116m into the harbour.


Mayor Len Brown knew nothing of the two new finger wharfs until he read about them in the Herald.

The bureaucrats had decided it was neither "significant or contentious" enough to notify the public or even the politicians before giving consent.

These are the officials who have now persuaded the politicians to take formal lessons from them in good governance.

If the politicians weren't already so supine, they'd say it was the bureaucrats that need basic lessons in good governance in a democracy, not the other way round.

It's not as though the politicians have not been forewarned they have to fight to retain every skerrick of power they have.

A couple of months ago, it was again the Herald that pointed out to the mayor the bureaucrats were trying to slip through a resolution dumping the two councillor board members on Auckland Transport, the CCO accounting for more than 50 per cent of the super city's overall expenditure.


It is the only CCO with any politician members, the result of a major fight during the creation of the new council. This was one battle the bureaucrats lost.

In August 2013, feisty politician Sandra Coney also had a victory. She'd been refused an independent legal report commissioned by the bureaucrats on the draft new Unitary Plan. After much legal argie-bargie, the then chief executive Doug McKay reluctantly released one copy.

On leave in China, councillor Mike Lee, former Regional Council chairman and battler for more democracy in Auckland Council affairs, said the latest decision "is a measurable indication that the chief executive is transferring even more decision-making powers away from the elected council".

"It is an indication of the political weakness of the mayor right now, and also of the councillors who agreed to let this happen."

It's not as though lifting the delegation ceiling was even really necessary. In the 2014/15 financial year, only one supply contract came in between the existing $7.5 million and new $20 million limit. The year before, there were three.

So why the change, except to remind the politicians of their lowly place in the super city.