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Rod Oram is a weekly columnist who covers business, economics and politics.
Local Government
The Mayor is only one person among the 12,000 on the Auckland Council payroll. Yet she or he has to give leadership within the organisation, and to people in the city and far beyond – particularly government
Opinion: Auckland is big, populous, diverse, lively, industrious, polluting … and full of potential. Some numbers help paint the picture:
► We live in an area of 1,086 km², of which roughly two-thirds is urban and one-third rural. We have one of the lowest population densities among cities our size or bigger in the world, excluding sprawling North American metropolises.
► We are 1.7m residents, likely to grow by 40 percent to 2.3 million in the next 25 years.
► Some 40 percent of us residents were born outside New Zealand, representing more than 200 ethnicities. We are the fourth most immigrant intensive city in the world. We are rich in culture, the arts, history and leisure activities.
► We generate 38 percent of NZ’s GDP; but our greenhouse gas emissions are only 12.4 percent of NZ’s total, and the lowest per capita in the country at 5.7 tonnes per person per year vs 60.2 tonnes in Southland (thanks to its farm animals and smelter).
► We’ve long under-invested in infrastructure, affordable housing and most other aspects of our built environment; and when we do spend, we often skimp on quality and durability.
► Despite all that, we are often ranked among the more liveable cities in the world; our glorious natural setting on three harbours nestled between two ranges cries out for us to do better.

Helping Auckland cure ills and make the most of its potential is a job for all of us, each in our own small way. To do that, we need Auckland Council to help lead, facilitate and deliver services and investments, and community and environmental well-being.
So, Council’s big. In its financial year ended in June, it generated $5.7 billion in revenues; spent $4.7b delivering services; invested $2.3b on infrastructure; grew the value of its asset base to $70.4b; increased its debt to $757m; and employed more than 12,000 people.
The Mayor is only one person among the 12,000. Yet she or he has to give leadership within the organisation, and to people in the city and far beyond, particularly government.
But the Mayor’s hard powers are very limited: appointing their deputy; appointing committee chairs among the 20 councillors; and presenting a budget are about it.
Thus, he or she needs prodigious soft powers – clarity of thinking and goals, persuasion, collaboration, encouragement and straight-talking, to name a few. The salary is up there at $296,000 a year. But the hours are long and stressful, the tenure insecure. Yet, no previous pertinent experience is required, if enough voters favour personality over experience.
“If you genuinely listen to different points of view, and make the decision based on what’s right for the people and the communities and the city, people will respect that.”
– Viv Beck
We’ve lots to do over the next 18 years to Auckland’s bicentenary. On September 18, 2040, we’ll celebrate Ngāti Whātua’s gift of 3,000 acres to the Crown (their ‘thank you’ was £341 of cash and goods), and Governor Hobson’s planting of the Union Jack at Britomart Point.
If our next mayor was really good, they might serve, say three terms, which would take us halfway to that historic day.
Handily, it’s time for us to choose our next Mayor. Postal ballots will be sent out September 16. Voting begins then and ends at noon October 8, with the first preliminary result declared at 3pm.
The three frontrunners in this year’s mayoral election are, in alphabetical order, Viv Beck, Wayne Brown and Efeso Collins. This week, I spent the best part of an hour with each of them to learn more about who they are, what they would bring to the job, and what they hope to achieve as mayor.
Viv Beck is best known as chief executive of Heart of the City, the city centre business association, for the past seven years. A career comms person, she was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s director of comms, 2010-12 before relocating to Auckland.
She’s energetic, personable and keen on helping communities, ranging from local businesses and neighbourhoods to the homeless (Housing First) and the jobless (Street Guardians). As the NZ-born daughter of post-war immigrants (her father was Dutch and her mother Austrian), she relates to today’s immigrants.
“The Mayor’s role is leadership. My initial focus will be on the perennial issues … public transport, plus housing and crime. If over the next 10 years we address our biggest problems, we’ll have a sustainable, resilient physical place and economy,” she says.
Which would put us on a good track for our bicentenary.
“From talking to thousands of people, I know there’s a common thread of what people want.”
“Show no favours. Concentrate on the numbers. Force everybody to understand the numbers.”
– Wayne Brown
But people are highly frustrated. They feel the Council consults with them but doesn’t listen and then makes decisions that doesn’t reflect public input.
“My experience is that if you genuinely listen to different points of view, and make the decision based on what’s right for the people and the communities and the city, people will respect that. They’ll feel they’ve been heard, and they trust the process.”
“We also need to get the mechanisms right between the mayor, council, chief executive and the CCOs [council-controlled organisations such as Auckland Transport].”
Wayne Brown is better known in the business community than among the public. As a trouble-shooter he’s put right a number of big calamities such as Auckland’s blackout in 1998, and the chaotic construction of the city’s current main hospital. He’s an engineer, property developer and was, not without some controversy, a two-term Mayor of the Far North District Council, which serves 64,400 permanent local residents, plus lots of tourists.
Brown says Auckland’s “broken” and he knows how to “fix it.” He analyses it as a trouble-shooter would, project by project. Ever the engineer, every problem he sees needs a big wrench (literally and metaphorically) to fix it.
As for soft skills, how would you work with 21 councillors and 12,000 staff?
“Show no favours. Concentrate on the numbers. Force everybody to understand the numbers. All those councillors have managed to sit there for years without having to actually contemplate the numbers. Nobody’s gonna get away with that. Once they get involved in numbers, a bit more of a team develops.”
How would you work with the government?
“Auckland’s role is to take more control of itself. Government’s role is to just send us the money.”
How would you work with communities?
“I have huge support from the Indian and Chinese communities. They’re very transactional. They just want businessmen as mayors. They don’t care anything about the rest of it. They just know that businessmen act in certain ways and that’s all they want. They don’t worry about co-governance. They don’t worry about stuff like that or get themselves confused in non-issues.”
Perhaps you might prefer to be the council’s chief financial officer instead of mayor?
“No, not at all. Because I’m not a detailed person like that. I’m a person who will demand, like I own my project … I know where we are. And I know I can see waste when I got on a building site,” he replies. “It’s engineering. It isn’t reports.”
“Really what matters is doing something for the city, and its impacts on my girls. So I’m loving it. Now, I feel much more settled. I feel like I’ve come to this as a different person, because I’ve had so much life experience.”
– Efeso Collins
And the city’s bicentenary?
“I don’t see things in terms of milestones like that. I see things in terms of direction.”
His overriding goal as Mayor is a fast, deep change in council culture to delivery projects with greater efficiency by a smaller organisation.
“I haven’t even thought about being mayor longer than three years. It’s probably more than I could handle.”
Efeso Collins, Auckland-born and of Samoan and Tokelauan descent, began his political career as president of the Auckland University student association. But disillusioned by the failure of political parties to act on society’s issues, he then spent some 15 years in education and community roles, and starting his family.
In due course, some people challenged him to get back into active politics. He served one term chairing the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board, followed by the past two terms on Council representing the Manukau ward.
“Local government suits me because it doesn’t matter whether I’m Labour. Really what matters is doing something for the city, and its impacts on my girls. So I’m loving it. Now, I feel much more settled. I feel like I’ve come to this as a different person, because I’ve had so much life experience.”
He says his style is collaborative. “You’ve got to be robust. But the best ideas are the ones we’ve thrashed out together.”
This past term in Council he asked to sit next to Desley Simpson, who represents the Orakei ward and chairs the finance and performance committee.
“I represent the poorest ward. She represents the wealthiest ward and I thought here’s a good chance to have a robust discussion on anything and get an idea of how our residents see the world. What it has done is established real trust. I think Desley’s the kind of person who I can learn a lot with. I think we are probably more like friends now.”
“We’ll celebrate being such a widely diverse city; what we’ve done to include voices and festivals and the differences that make our city.”
– Efeso Collins
Of the three leading candidates, Collins is by far the best informed on complex issues such as transport and climate; and the multi-faceted policies and programmes council has developed to tackle them. He has, for example, proposed a nationwide mayoral forum on climate to share local responses to the crisis.
He also proposes to improve communication and understanding between council and staff and the public, such as “have your say” events he ran as chair of the Otara local board, and new mechanisms such as citizen assemblies involving true cross-sections of the public.
Looking to the bicentenary, “there are systemic issues we really need to address” by then such as housing and transport so “people can feel connected and part of their communities,” he says.
“We’ll celebrate being such a widely diverse city; what we’ve done to include voices and festivals and the differences that make our city, and our connections to the land, to the water, to what makes Auckland special, unique, beautiful.”
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