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Image: Archi Banal
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PoliticsOctober 24, 2022

Your local board is currently a hive of deal-making and politicking

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

This week in Auckland, the inaugural meetings of the city’s local boards will take place. Former member Shirin Brown shares a glimpse into what’s been going on in the background.

This month’s local elections have brought in a raft of newly elected members to councils and boards of all sizes. In Auckland, 36% of local board members are new.

This period between the declaration of the final election results and the inauguration of elected members is known as the interregnum period. In Tāmaki Makaurau it involves inductions and meetings including presentations by council controlled organisations (such as AT and Watercare) and council heads of department. It is also a time for new board members to try valiantly to get up to speed with processes that can seem remarkably unintuitive such as standing orders and committee structures, and details like who their go-to people are within council.

There is also a raft of quasi-Orwellian terminology to contend with. For local boards these include the “democracy advisor”, who ensures that what you say or do is consistent with legislation and procedures; the “relationship manager”, who mediates your relationship with the policy arms of Auckland Council; and the “strategic broker”, who helps progress local initiatives within communities. Alongside these are a pile of passwords, access keys and software that need to be grappled with to ensure that elected members can access the information they need.

Then there is the negotiation of roles, which can be a minefield, particularly for new candidates. Local board members elect the chair, and while the community might feel this right and responsibility should belong to the highest polling candidate, that may not be how it turns out. That candidate may not want the role, or the ambition of other members may trounce their aspirations. This is where having relationships with other board members and being an astute negotiator can lead to sometimes surprising results.

A local board chair is considered a full-time role and is paid twice as much as elected members. For some members it is the salary that makes this such a contested role, while for others it is the power that comes with being a spokesperson and advocate for the local board, both internally within council and externally with other organisations and the public.

Those who are not seeking to be the chair themselves, or would be unlikely to get the support for the role if they tried, can still be kingmakers. They may have their own aspirations, including to the deputy chair role, and can use their influence to move the board in the direction they desire. Members who are in a minority or whose vote is unnecessary to the final outcome, on the other hand, can find their phone deafeningly silent. For those who do have sway, it pays to listen, not over-promise and have some integrity as alliances change rapidly and different offers are made.

In Auckland the inaugural meetings, where chairs and deputy chairs are elected, occur in the week starting October 26 and are open to the public (a schedule is here). In the best-case scenario, differences have already been ironed out and compromises have been reached that will put the board in a good position to work together over the next three years. In the worst-case scenario, agreements reached before the meeting are overturned due last minute lobbying, people who have appeared to back one candidate for chair suddenly withdraw support, dominant tickets show disregard for minority groups or members, and blood is left on the tiles when the meeting draws to a close.

While much of the deal-making happens away from public view, the inaugural board meeting provides a glimpse of what your elected members look like and how they behave. Given that trust and collaboration are essential qualities in good working relationships, it’s always interesting to see how this first meeting unfolds. It’s also an opportunity to connect with others in the community over a cup of tea, see a local performance group, and watch who have taken the trouble to say the oath in both Māori and English.

Details of the 2022 Auckland local board inaugural meetings, which are open to the public, are here.

Shirin Brown was a member of the Waiheke local board from 2013-2019 and is currently undertaking a PhD in local government, focusing on the experience of local board members within Auckland Council.

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