MUST READ: A Cost To The City – On Mayor Brown’s Most Recent Curious Initiative


It’s a curious thing watching Mayor Brown make efforts at ‘cost-saving’.

In the name of this slogantastic endeavour, he’s recently managed to propel the Auckland Council to withdraw from Local Government NZ.

He claims, apparently, that this would save the city roughly $640,000. Which might sound a fair bit of money – up until one considers that his target for savings is in the realm of roughly three hundred million dollars.

Councilor Richard Hills, by contrast, suggests that withdrawing from LGNZ would instead spare us only $370,000 a year, made up of a population-based membership fee ($350k) and contribution to the annual LGNZ conference ($20k).

Perhaps more importantly, he also points to a somewhat larger figure as constituting the monetary value of the benefits to Auckland from LGNZ membership that we’d be foregoing via withdrawal. LGNZ itself, perhaps predictably, concurs – suggesting we’ve just thrown away a million dollars a year in positive financial returns to our membership.

However it’s not my purpose to get into that dimension of things. Others are, no doubt, going to present the relevant Numbers on such a score over the coming days.

Rather, I thought I’d Do My Part for Auckland by seeking to help the Mayor in his cost-cutting agenda.

Since a figure somewhere between $370k and $640k per annum is apparently a saving worth pursuing in such a manner … we have no doubt that the Mayor will be positively thrilled that I’ve identified a miscreant who’s already managed to cost the Council and the struggling ratepayer well more than that over a span of less than six months.

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An article run by Stuff back in November had Brown staking out his intent to use far more ratepayer money than his predecessors in staffing his own office. Here’s the quote:

“Brown’s approach is in stark contrast to his famously frugal predecessor Phil Goff, who in the year to July 2021, spent only $1.8m of the near $5.2m available – frugality his staff once promoted to the media.

But it appears Brown has a different approach.

“Unlike my predecessor, I intend to make full use of the powers and resources available to me to do what the law demands,” Brown said.”

A little over two weeks later, the same outlet reported upon some of those “full uses” in action. Various of these hires didn’t serve out their full terms and so didn’t cost quite so eye-wateringly much, but it nevertheless makes for … an interesting running total via comparison to the LGNZ participation fees Brown is so vehemently opposed to.

To whit – Matthew Hooton on a $135,000 contract for six months; Tim Hurdle and Jacinda Lean at $280,000 for the pair to act as chief of staff and deputy for six months (of which, they served seven weeks); ex-NZF MP, Jenny Marcroft, at $37,500 for eleven weeks as a ‘Government and External Relations advisor’ (and oh boy does he seem to need the ‘advising’); and last, but most certainly not least, his legal advisor – Max Hardy, formerly of Meredith Connell – making a similarly seamless transition from Brown’s campaign team to his Mayoral Office, being first an interim … something at roughly $5,000 a week (so $260,000 annually), before taking over as interim chief of staff. A role in which the Herald reports Hardy had received $17,250 for three weeks’ work (for a yearly salary of $299,000).

It’s assumedly in that former position that he managed to tot up a “substantial” portion of the $123,000 ($61,500 a month) worth of legal services which the Mayor received from Meredith Connell in the two months since his election, entirely separate to and over and above the Council’s own contracted use of the firm.

Insofar as it matters, we might also incorporate the $58,305 which he spent hiring PR firm Topham Guerin for five weeks to help him handle the aftermath of the Anniversary Weekend floods and their ensuing cleanup. Few would disagree that our Mayor has had a bit of a communication problem, and that expert assistance would be justified – although with $12,000 of that going on a swift-draw campaign which appears to have produced a grand total of one logo and three shirts (two of which may have, ultimately, been ratepayer funded – Desley Simpson reportedly having bought hers off the council after taking it for its thus far only public airing, on February 7), and another $7300 for a further “brand” … well, a nebulous chunk of the remaining $39,005 seems a potentially rather high price to pay for the admittedly no doubt difficult task of managing to get the Mayor in front of a camera and sounding reasonably cogent upon this issue.

Now before we go any further, I feel I need to clarify something here.

I’m not for a moment seeking to suggest that the Mayor’s Office should not have quality, competent staff – and be willing and able to pay to attract good talent to fill relevant vacancies therein.

Quite the contrary.

He evidently needs help – and there’s no shame, as the man at the center of the city, in being prepared to put your hand up to bring in people able to enable you to do what needs to be done. (Although one can, perhaps, wonder aloud whether certain of those appointments really were the ‘best’ that our money could buy – at least, for the prices offered. There’s one in particular in the above enumerations which, upon basis of observed past track record, I’m rather less than enthused at).

Rather, my issue here is with both the priorities on show, and what it seemingly demonstrates about what our Mayor’s approach actually is. Once we cut through the (at times rather considerable) rhetoric and bluster, I mean.

Consider it this way – whether we take the $370,000 figure or the $640,000 figure (and leaving out, for the moment, what positive returns from the fee’s payment Auckland gets as the result), those are relatively small numbers.

If it were THAT necessary to make immediate and dire savings across the board to the point that a few hundred thousand dollars really would make all the difference, then figures of that kind could be not-all-that-uneasily found to be slashed out of the Mayor’s own $5.2 million discretionary budget.

Perhaps the list of savings, adding up to well over a million dollars a year, that his predecessor, Phil Goff, managed to squeeze out of the Mayoral budget not so long ago could serve as some rudimentary form of inspiration.

And, as a case in point for What Brown Might Have Done Differently, even something as simple as actually using the Council’s pre-standing agreement with Meredith Connell (and in-house counsel and other advisors in the relevant area) rather than duplicating services by hiring a flash former partner to report directly to the Mayor etc. etc. would have saved somewhere around a third of the lower figure through to a fifth of the higher one.

So phrased another way, I really don’t think this is actually about the money here.

Instead, it’s about sending a message. Two, in fact.

The first one is obvious – it’s to that pert portion of his voter-base who elected him to i) stick it to ‘The Bureaucracy’ ii) do likewise toward the general direction of Wellington.

A move like this, which can be branded as Mayor Brown extricating (Brown-Exiting?) Auckland from a ‘bureaucracy’ that’s umbilically tethered to ‘Wellington’ (whatever the relevant facts of the matter) … is an unqualified win according to these optics. If you go in for that sort of thing, of course.

But the second one is perhaps less so.

In his live-tweeting of the Council meeting yesterday afternoon, Tim Murphy quoted Brown as proffering the rationale that withdrawal from LGNZ was desirable because  “staying on our own it forces [ministers] to come and see us”.

Now, as it happens, Brown’s been on about this before. Not long after his election, it came out that Brown’s office had effectively sought to strong-arm the PM (at that point in time, Jacinda Ardern) into basically that.

That is to say, they’d generated a press release to be distributed following Brown’s first meeting with Ardern on the 20th of October, declaring that she’d agreed to a “group of senior ministers and the mayor and senior councillors” coming together as a working group … with who, exactly, the Council would be putting forward (other than Brown, of course) being undetermined, as “the council’s new committee structure and roles” were still up in the air.

Or, phrased another way – Brown wanted to go directly in at the top with an appreciable chunk of the higher-power members of Cabinet; and considered the proposal so (effectively) fait-accompli that rather than negotiating it with the Prime Minister, he (or at least, his office) presented it to her before they’d met as an already-drafted press release ready to go out as soon as their meeting had finished.

Seems a rather .. forward attitude to take for a man who’d literally only been in the job about a week and a half at that point – but, then, I don’t suppose he viewed it as something he was terribly likely to have to ‘negotiate’ over.

As things transpired, Brown didn’t get his way. The press release wasn’t circulated, there was no mention of a high-powered ‘working group’, and he’s had to satiate himself with more conventional ‘bilateral’ engagements with various of the relevant Ministers.

And, more recently, the (re-)creation of a specialized Minister for Auckland by the fresh-faced Hipkins regime. Held by a man, Michael Wood, whom Brown described as an “excellent choice” at the time, as it happens.

Yet lest I be misinterpreted, I don’t for a moment mean to suggest that the local government of Auckland is illegitimate if it suggests it wants good, solid engagement with our national government. And that this be capable of occurring on a direct basis rather than having to go through Local Government New Zealand.

It’s just that I don’t think that we had to go through Local Government New Zealand in order to engage with Ministers in Wellington prior to this point, anyway. It’s certainly true that LGNZ represented a lobbying-arm for local bodies (including Auckland) to engage and interface with the national administration – as well as with each other, and with other bodies operative at that or more locally pertinent levels.

And even notwithstanding that, the fact that Cabinet now has in amidst its lofty ranks a dedicated Minister for Auckland with an established working relationship with Brown (by his own … perhaps somewhat begrudging admission) – this surely indicates that Auckland’s importance (and ‘sui generis’ status in terms of local bodies), as well as the complexity of our issues, is appreciated by the current Government.

Hence, I don’t really buy that moving to withdraw Auckland from LGNZ was really about “forcing” the Government to actually engage with Auckland local government, either.

Instead, I suspect something else may have been – at least somewhat – at play here.

Brown, it seems, does  not like to be thought of as ‘one amidst many’ – even if he’s the (proportionately) biggest fish in the pond. You can see that with the otherwise peculiar choices made around racking up literally tens of thousands of dollars of unnecessary spending so as to furnish him with his own high-end legal advice piped direct into his office, rather than using the same firm that was already on speed-dial as part of the Council’s pre-existing and paid for services agreement.

And so, it seems, he’s sought to cause a bit of a tantrum – withdraw Auckland from LGNZ under the potentially rather questionable belief that it’ll somehow lead to greater engagement (for him) directly with Ministers … over and above the direct engagement with Ministers which he and his office already undertake, including through the specifically created (for him to talk to) Minister for Auckland, apparently.

Given his phrasing – “staying on our own it forces [ministers] to come and see us” – I somehow don’t think he’s quite forgotten feeling ‘snubbed’ following his questionably-congealed ‘proposal’ to the Prime Minister back in October not being taken up with enthusiastic earnest.

In any case, whatever the ultimate truth as to his motivations with this gambit, I cannot help but feel rather unimpressed at his cost-cutting (‘penny-pinching’?) pushes thus far.

It seems overall to smack of the sort of gimlet-gaze who sees the costs-only of everything, and the value of precious little.

In which case, perhaps we might suggest that he start by first looking into a mirror.


  1. Curwen – Local Government CEO reply was lame ” it will reduce the vulnerable communities voices by leaving us” – really? Is that all you have??

    • Nathan
      That’s now the standard response to anything in NZ. It’s getting tiresome and boring. LGNZ is a lobby group FFS just like Masterbuilders or similar. Employed to lobby on behalf of councils. However this one doesn’t really lobby that hard for its members…it tends to side with Central Control Wellington at the wrong time. Good move from Brown – Chippy should get him to deal to the billion dollar lobby circus down in Wellington.

        • Thanks Nathan but your endorsement of my comment will reduce the vulnerable communities voices. Best never to comment again if you don’t want to reduce the vulnerable communities voices.

      • Brown is a moron and you more so for believing him…you should’ve done your research rather than hanging on his every word. He lied.

        • Reply to Andrew and David are hard Qanon right-wing and so is Bob the First – I used the Local Government CEO quote…

        • So did Jacinda so does Chippy so does everyone. We’re used to liars so nothing new. At least Brown gets shit done while he lies. As for morons…your nom de plume is the epitome of a moron.

          • Yes Brownie gets things done.
            Lies and more lies, past and present,Ardern/Chippy.
            Now a bridge!!!!!!
            To nowhere?

  2. If there is one thing “Browny” cannot abide it is any degree of personal accountability. Councillors, board members and any ratepayers with half a brain have to stand up to this incompetent yet dangerous Mayor.
    He is a wrecker by nature.

    Sadly it was Aucklanders ‘wot dun this’ by not participating in local Govt. in big enough numbers. The small proportion of arseholes that voted for Brown knew exactly what they were doing however.

  3. Spot on summary and just demonstrates what a morally corrupt hypocrite Boomer Brown is.
    Angry Grandpa has no intention of fixing Auckland, clearly he and his Natzo mate’s agenda is to fuck Auckland, in order to line the pockets of an elitist cabal by manufacturing a “fiscal crisis” that doesn’t exist.
    If it did, sell some of the 535 hectares of public land that is used exclusively by a wealthy minority.
    Are Golf courses on the table in these budget cuts? No…consultation on the management of that $2.9 BILLION asset won’t occur until later this year!
    After he and Hooton have imposed their ” Austerity” package and ripped the heart out of the community and environment sectors.
    This is neoliberal driven class and generational warfare, not fiscal responsibility.
    The fact Brown is paying PR consultants vast sums of ratepayer money to produce scripted videos for the sole purpose of avoiding his Civic responsibility of fronting up to the public and the media, should be enough for the government to step in, remove him from Office and install a Commisioner.
    Aucklanders and the rest of the country need open and transparent management of our largest city, not the manipulative and shady bully boy tactics of this geriatric clown.
    He demonstrated his utter incompetence for the job during the floods and now he’s demonstrating his utter contempt for the people of Auckland with his management of ratepayer money.

  4. Have a look at the LGNZ site….It’s an overheads delight….The more councils that move away from this lot the better ….It will be interesting to see who is next to distance themselves from this unproductive rabble of time waster’s and sausage roll eaters…..

  5. Brown said he is skillful enough to deal with central government let’s hope for the sake of Aucklanders his skills he claims to have are much better than his skills to deal with an environmental disaster otherwise Aucklanders are fucked.

  6. Brown said he is skillful enough to deal with central government let’s hope for the sake of Aucklanders his skills he claims to have are much better than his skills to deal with an environmental disaster otherwise Aucklanders are fucked.

  7. So LGNZ accepted a bribe (oops I mean funding) to support three waters and people are surprised he wants nothing to do with them.
    This sort of dishonesty is really quintessential Labour these days.

  8. Some wonder how the heck did we end up with this guy?
    Well, Aucklanders did vote in a contentious character like John Banks – twice.
    So nobody should be too surprised.

  9. I just wonder how much his campaign team members were being paid (if at all) during the campaign and how it compares with the shortlived contract payments received once they all got into the mayor’s office?


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