The unsung heroes of local government
Seven and a bit years ago I accidentally* got myself elected to local government. It was a time of change for council in Auckland, with amalgamation and the new super city structure. None of us really knew what we were in for, including the staff, most of whom had mapped over from jobs in the old structures. There was an atmosphere of cautious excitement; we knew it would be an adventure but not quite where we were going or how we would get there.
I write “we” quite deliberately, because for those of us who were there right at the start of the new Auckland Council, both staff and elected members, it has been a ride we’ve gone on together. Some have gone and others have come, and still this rollercoaster rattles on, sometimes smoothly, sometimes with a shake, and sometimes we have to get out and push. As an elected member, I know that often it's staff who are putting their shoulders to the rear of the carriage, while we politicians are left thinking we’re gliding effortlessly downhill.
Quite simply, I couldn’t do the job I do without the hard work of council staff behind the scenes. I’ve been very impressed by the high calibre of most of the officers I’ve dealt with; smart, articulate, passionate, effective, and more than that really committed to making this complex organism work as best it can to deliver for our communities.
When I turned up with a new-born baby to symposiums and meetings back in 2010 (and again in 2015) staff were welcoming and accommodating. There was no questioning of baby’s presence from staff, no criticism of my dual role, even when Rod Oram nearly ran one of them over with a Yike Bike. If only my elected colleagues had been so enabling!
During my term as chair, advisers would meet with me regularly to work out how to get to where the board wanted to go, which levers to pull, which committees to go through, which other officers could help along the way, how to engage and involve our community in each venture. That collaboration really helped me to be an effective leader, and assisted our local board to get better results too. I’ve learnt a great deal from council staff, not least a bunch of acronyms that I can now demystify for constituents trying to tell the LTP from the RLTP from the LRT.**
Most of the time when a politician looks good, it’s at least partly because staff have made it happen. When we open a refurbished building, it has absolutely been a team effort, including not just elected members making decisions and staff carrying them out, but also the community who have had input and helped pay for it, the contractors who do the wiring and the painting, and so much more. Each time we build or improve an asset, deliver a service to our community or put on an event, it’s proof again that people do things better when we work together.
Thank you to the many amazing local government staff who have enabled our community, and me, over the years. Thank you for telling me when I was heading the wrong way, letting me know that the budget was smaller than I remembered, and for discretely telling me know when I had baby sick on my jacket. Thank you for those little things and for so much more. I look forward to finding out what we can do next, together.
* The next two times were on purpose.
** Long Term Plan (LTP), Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP), Light Rail Transit (LRT)
By Julie Fairey (deputy chair, Puketāpapa Local Board, Auckland)