Please do not let Mayor Wayne Brown off the hook regarding his appalling dereliction of duty.
What is emerging from the review that the mayor himself commissioned, as well as more documentation that has come to light in the wake of said review, is a real lack of leadership from the mayor and his office.
Questions must be asked, and answers need to be provided. The mayor and his communications team in his office failed Aucklanders in a time of crisis.
As reported by Newshub, the mayor had a state of emergency declaration template on his desk by 7:30pm. That was 2 hours before he signed the declaration.
First question, why did it take him 2 hours after receiving the template to actually sign it and officially declare a state of emergency?
The release of documents reported by RNZ show that a local board deputy chair emailed him at 5:45pm. There had also been phone calls, texts and other correspondence from other elected officials before, at and after this time.
Second question, why did he and his team not release something to advise Aucklanders what was happening and what to do?
It was clear that there was major flooding across the region by 7pm, so the third question is why didn’t the mayor stand up council facilities for people to go to?
There are many other questions that must be asked about the mayor’s lack of engagement on that night and that Auckland Anniversary weekend, so journalists please ask them.
Additionally, with the release of the Mike Bush-led review, the mayor has been conspicuous in his absence so question four must be, why isn’t he fronting up?
As Simon Wilson notes, creating a functional culture in an organisation is the responsibility of the boss. In a council, that boss is the mayor. It has been clear from the beginning of his term that Wayne is not interested in building relationships or a functional culture in the council.
The problem with that attitude is it creates an unhealthy culture in an organisation. There have been claims of staff suffering from lift anxiety as the mayor makes disparaging comments about their roles in the council. Staff are anxious, stressed and many good people have left already.
So question five is why is the mayor so willing to throw the council staff under the bus all the time?
And question six is why does he always want to blame others? We have heard him moan and whinge about the previous mayor, councillors around the governing table with him who were re-elected (bizarrely some of his staunchest supporters among elected members, including his deputy mayor are re-elected councillors – seven by my count), the chief executive, council staff, the wider council leadership, even the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and other MPs. In fact, it almost feels like the first thing out of his mouth is a whine about someone and how ‘Wayne has inherited a mess to fix’.
But that his blaming of others isn’t the only thing that must be challenged. He has subsequently claimed that he hadn’t be briefed properly, that “the ball” hadn’t been passed to him (Newstalk ZM interview with Jack Tame as reported in the Herald) and that he was fresh in the job.
His excuses are weak. He was the mayor of the Far North from 2007 to 2013. As a former mayor, Wayne would have an idea of the processes involved and could have acted much faster if he wanted to.
So, question seven is why didn’t Wayne step in and show some leadership by taking control earlier instead of sitting back?
And given his previous role as Far North mayor, question eight is why does Wayne like to try and pretend that he is not a politician and want us to cut him some slack all the time?
But the questions for elected members shouldn’t be only directed to Wayne. There is another person around the governing body table who needs to be asked some hard questions and that person is Councillor Sharon Stewart.
Sharon has been a councillor for the Howick ward since the inception of the supercity in 2010 (before that she was a councillor in the Manukau City Council for 12 years).
Not only that, but Sharon has been the chair for the Civil Defence Committee at Auckland Council since before 2016.
Mike Bush’s review highlights that there was poor communication between key people, including Sharon as chair of the Civil Defence Committee. The review also found that the council knew of gaps in the city’s preparedness back in 2016.
Given she has been the only chair of the Civil Defence Committee since before 2016, Sharon has known of these gaps for seven years. What has she done about closing these gaps? And why have these gaps still not been closed after 7 years?
If Sharon was a government minister and this kind of disaster occurred in a ministry she was responsible for, she would be sacked. Will she resign her post? Step aside for someone more capable? Will Wayne fire her from her chairperson role?
Then there was the cringeworthy interview on AM this week.
In it, Sharon took a leaf out of the mayor’s playbook, avoided responsibility and played the blame game. She blamed staff turnover, Covid-19 and the chief executive.
But she must be held to account for her ineptitude.
Good leadership takes responsibility for problems, comes up with timely solutions, and fronts up.
Good leadership doesn’t play a blame game and doesn’t hide when the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan.
So, journalists, please hold these elected officials to account. Don’t back down. Make LGOIMA requests and don’t let these people off the hook.
They failed us in January and we cannot let them fail us again.