As Auckland mayor Len Brown beefs up his team of spin doctors for a second term as super city boss a senior councillor wants the Auditor General to step in.
Cameron Brewer, who chairs the Business Advisory Council, says the mayor’s office, which he says has a staff of more than 20 full-timers, part-timers, contractors and consultants, “is completely out of whack and out of control”.
Mr Brown now wants a $1 million increase in his office budget from $3.9 million to $4.9 million.
His team now rivals that of Prime Minister John Key, who has four press secretaries and one media assistant, and the parliamentary Labour party, which has five press secretaries and a part-time speech writer.
Mr Brewer told NBR ONLINE “this is not any ordinary office, this is a ratepayer-funded campaign machine and people wonder why no one’s yet prepared to stand against him".
“The mayor’s asking for $4,994,000 in the draft 2013-14 budget, which is bloody cheeky in election year.
“Basically, all the year’s rates from about 2500 average Auckland households are set to go towards funding the mayoral office alone.
“It's costing ratepayers nearly $14,000 a day, which is outrageous when he’s cutting back core services and ramping up rates again in areas like mine.”
Mr Brewer says he’s “calling on the mayor to give a black and white commitment not to use any ratepayer funded resources over the coming months to further his re-election chances”.
“The council is happily sanctioning this overt political funding but it won't even provide councillors with an office, let alone a secretary because apparently that would be too political.
“But somehow allowing the mayor to employ six political spin doctors on the ratepayer is perfectly acceptable.
“It is wrong and it’s time for the auditor general to step in.”
Mr Brewer told NBR ONLINE he’s giving serious consideration to writing to the auditor general “particularly if the mayor takes his ratepayer-funded car, driver and communications staff out on the campaign trail in the coming months”.
The mayor’s six spin doctors are now headed by Dan Lambert, a former press secretary to Labour education minister Steve Maharey.
Mr Lambert returned to New Zealand recently after several years working as a public service press officer in the UK.
Working to him are chief press secretary Glyn Jones, who appears to have been moved sideways, and senior communications advisor Melanya Burrows.
Part-time staff include “strategic political advisor” David Lewis, who is a former press secretary to Helen Clark, speech writer Steven Armitage and communications advisor Steve Boyd.
Mr Lambert told NBR ONLINE that the mayor “is empowered by statute to have an appropriately staffed office for the purpose of achieving his statutory roles and responsibilities”.
“These include to articulate and promote a vision for Auckland and to ensure there is effective engagement between the Auckland Council and the people of Auckland.”
“Employees working in the mayor’s office are employees of Auckland Council (and) as with all council staff they have no involvement in mayoral election campaigns.”
Mr Lambert says the mayoral budget is set by statute at a minimum level of 0.2% of the council’s annual budgeted operating expenditure.
The major components of the $3,929,000 mayoral office budget for 2012-13 are:
- Staffing costs, including policy advice, communications advice, diary management and correspondence - $2.47 million.
- Contractors and consultants, including project costs - $717,000.
- Policy development, research and monitoring - $71,000.
NBR ONLINE sought comment from Mr Brown but he did not reply.
Mr Brewer says if ratepayers are angry about the expenditure “they need to make a submission to the draft annual plan for 2013-14 which is allocating the mayor’s office $4.9 million”.
Submissions close on February 25.
In the meantime, the ombudsman is investigating a complaint from Mr Brewer over the council’s refusal to disclose details of its external legal bills.
He claims the council has spent more than $20 million a year on lawyers.