It seems a bit weird to be writing about Auckland City
Council from Sydney, where I now live. Maybe I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today but I want to explain a
couple of things about how the council works because it was a big eye-opener
for me when I worked there.
I worked at Auckland City Council (the un-super city
version) in around 2006 on the Queen Street Upgrade project. One of the biggest
surprises about working for the council was…I loved it.
Whatever the opposite is of a disgruntled employee, that’s how
I feel about the council. I worked with fantastic, intelligent, hard-working
and good hearted people who genuinely loved Auckland. I went in on a three
month communications contract and ended up staying for about four years, across
But enough about me.
Here’s the main thing you need to know:
There is an elected
level and an operational level
-All the interesting and useful things happen at the
-Lots of interesting things but not much useful happens at
the elected level
So who’s who?
The elected level is the people who were voted in; namely
the Mayor and councillors.
They operational level is people (like I was) who are hired
and paid to do stuff.
The operational level is lead by the CEO and there is an
executive team. The head finance person is actually a very important person because
they allocate budget to projects.
The elected level looks like it’s lead by the Mayor but it
That’s one of the big
myths. That the Mayor is the boss. The Mayor actually only has one vote so they
don’t have any more or less power than any of the councillors.
So on my project, Queen Street Upgrade, I had an elected
spokesperson (at that time ,it was the Mayor Dick Hubbard) and an operational
spokesperson, who was the project lead from the executive team. Most tasks are
divided up this way.
The elected level is usually quite fragmented and divided
across party lines. There is the blue team (National, Citizens and Ratepayers)
and the red team (Labour, City Vision).
There is a lot more interference from Central Government
than what you would think, especially in Auckland as it is such a strategically
important city. So when you look at candidates, it’s important to figure out if
they are red team or blue team, it follows the same pattern as Central
Government. In saying that, don’t assume that everyone in each coloured team is
aligned. In my time, Mayor Dick Hubbard was red team (City Vision/Labour) and
he was constantly voted against by his Deputy Mayor Bruce Hucker who was also
red team (City Vision/Labour).
Average Councillors don’t have a lot of power and I have
spoken to many who left after one-term because they were so frustrated by the
lack of real activity they could generate.
Back to the operational level.
If you want to have some impact or give feedback on
something that is happening in your neighbourhood, engage at the operational
layer. Many think that bureaucrats won’t have a lot of impact but this is not
necessarily true because they are working at the front-lines of the project.
For example, if you have noise complaint about a
construction project in your neighbourhood, most projects have stakeholder
managers and communications managers. Talk to your stakeholder manager rather than
a councillor if you want some traction.
I would also add, if you have the chance to give a submission
or feedback on something, do it through the approved channels. The operational
staff will often be there and they genuinely want to hear from private citizens
rather than lobby groups or the assorted regular colourful characters who turn
up at community board and council meetings.
People who work for the council have a strong sense of
democracy and equity and you’ll be surprised at how much you can achieve when
you engage with them.
The elected level is the one that you see the most in the
news but there is a lot of factionalism and red team/blue team stuff you don’t
want to get caught up in if you just want your footpath upgraded.
Auckland is a great and complex city and the machine behind
it is fascinating so I hope you learned something and engage with your
PS: When you write something like this, people think it’s
politically motivated but it’s not I just find this stuff interesting :)