Although the first full meeting of the governing body may suggest otherwise, Wayne Brown says his team of councillors have his back

New Auckland mayor Wayne Brown is shoring up his support before choosing council committees and chairs over the next week.

Although it has been nearly three weeks since the former Far North mayor became the second Brown to wear the Super City’s mayoral chains, he told the gathered press yesterday that he wanted to meet personally with each member of the governing body before making those calls.

His first few weeks in office have consisted of a good amount of meetings, with ward councillors, MPs, ministers and even the Prime Minister making the trip up to his office for a one-on-one with the self-described ‘Mr Fix-it’.

However, Maungakiekie-Tāmaki ward councillor Josephine Bartley taking a fall over her dog and hurting her leg meant she only met with the new mayor yesterday, finally bringing him to the end of his list of face-to-faces with councillors to discuss their priorities.

Brown said this meant announcements for chairs and committees could get underway – the governing body gathering for the first time in chamber next Tuesday signalling this term of Auckland Council truly beginning in earnest.

“I told them all I wouldn’t make any strong decisions until everybody had had the opportunity to say something to me,” he said.

When asked if this process of interviewing dozens of people before getting into delegation could slow the council down, he disagreed.

“I don’t think so, I think if you want to make strong steady progress, which I do, then you’ve got to set out the groundwork to make sure people are happy and will come with you.”

Brown spoke to media following the announcement of Ōrākei Ward Councillor Desley Simpson as deputy mayor, a day before his own inauguration as mayor on Friday evening at the Auckland Town Hall.

It’s a move that should surprise no one. 

Simpson was considered a front-runner even in the event the decidedly more left-leaning Efeso Collins took the mayoralty. Simpson and Collins had been sitting next to each other in the chamber and deliberately working together as representatives from Auckland’s richest and poorest wards.

Simpson explained the marked differences between herself and Brown in diplomatic terms, while still referencing his reputation as a brusque taskmaster.

“We’re not short of knowing where the mayor comes from,” she said. “I suppose I’m naturally more conciliatory, would that be the word?”

Simpson said Brown had been up-front with his ideas, and now her job was to go around the other elected members and make sure they were onside.

“The way this is going to work is his worship the mayor has quite obvious ideas, he’s been quite articulate in those ideas and it’s my job to help populate those ideas around the elected members and try to find a consensus.”

Simpson said she and the mayor had yet to make agreements on what she would back him on.

She follows in the footsteps of former deputy mayor Bill Cashmore, who gained a reputation as a staunch supporter of Phil Goff, despite the two initially coming from different sides of the political aisle.

Simpson said that wasn’t her style.

“I have a huge admiration for Bill Cashmore but we’re different people,” she said. “I will always have my own views and the mayor will be very clear about what they are. But that’s what a team does…”

Brown was full of praise for his new deputy, saying she was regarded as a regional leader with a broad Auckland-wide perspective, also pointing out that she yielded the most votes out of the councillors in the election. Simpson received nearly 25,000 votes.

“Desley is both my choice for deputy mayor and is overwhelmingly supported by members of the new governing body who I have been working with and consulting with over the last three weeks,” he said. “She is universally admired for her integrity, professionalism and loyalty, and her ability to get things done through the council bureaucracy and committee processes.”

Simpson said Brown didn’t ask her to be deputy mayor with any conditions around her support. However, he didn’t seem too worried about being able to gain that support from the governing body.

He suggested the political mandate delivered to him by his 181,810 votes meant he could feel pretty sure Auckland wanted the same things he did.

“I stood on very plain simple four or five points and I received an overwhelming majority for those. 

“The people that voted for me are the people that voted for all of the councillors, and they will all be aware that going against those things would be going against the very things that put them in there in the first place.”

He said in his meetings with the councillors, they were agreeable to his plans.

“They are sensible [policies]. So far in interviewing my councillors, they also see them as sensible,” he said. “But will they be sworn to utter allegiance? No.”

Brown said he was unwilling to make some announcements, such as what his next instructions for the boards of council-controlled organisations would be, until after the governing body had met.

This hesitation seems to be a new thing, given he was quite willing to fire off letters with an array of marching orders in the first two weeks after the election without having met with all of them.

Not going ahead of the governing body was one reason he had been reluctant to speak to the media, along with the time pressures of meeting with elected members and senior management.

“My first thing is to be available to elected members and then to the senior management, and there are many layers of management in here,” he said. “There’s a fair clamour for my time … and I don’t want to get ahead of the governing board until we’ve met and they have understood their positions in the team and how we are going to go ahead as a team.”

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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