12 Nov 2015

Chch mayor's office doubles in size

10:10 am on 12 November 2015

The Christchurch mayor's office has more than doubled in size under Lianne Dalziel but her chief of staff says ratepayers are getting good value for money.

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council Photo: RNZ

Figures released to RNZ News show the office, which comprises a chief of staff, a senior advisor, a community advisor and four administrative staff, cost ratepayers more than $1 million in a little under two years.

Chief of staff Cate Brett said extra roles were needed because of the additional powers mayors nationwide had been given as part of an amendment to the Local Government Act.

"The whole interface between Crown and local governance is changing, and I think what we're seeing increasingly with councils around the country is looking at boosting the elected representatives' and mayor's ability to engage meaningfully in those processes."

While the council was having to tighten its belt, thanks to the costs of the post-quake rebuild, the mayor's office was worth every cent, she said.

"When the office was first established it had a staff of nine and, I think, a budget of about $900,000.

"It's now been reduced to seven staff and the current budget for the office is around $460,000, so it's almost half that of which it was established."

Former mayor Bob Parker, who got by with three staff, said he could have used the extra advisors Ms Dalziel had.

"On a purely selfish level, it would have been great to have had a couple more people being able to assist in the mayor's office around those areas of policy and initiatives but it was for us a luxury item we didn't feel we could justify at that time."

Lawyer Grant Hewison, who specialises in local government, said while the amendment to the Local Government Act did empower mayors to take the lead in developing policies and budgets, it did not make the setting up of a mayoral office a statutory requirement.

"It is about the mayor and councillors and other staff around that and probably also the community at the end of the day as well, giving some indication of what role they want the mayor to be playing.

"Is it a minimal role in terms of what the statute provides or do they want the mayor to be doing much more?"

Massey University local government expert Andy Asquith said like all councils in the major centres, Christchurch's was left leaning and therefore came under extra scrutiny from a National-led government.

Any council in this position was wise to spend extra money on advisors who could ensure council policies met best practice, he said.

"Christchurch, I suspect, has taken a leaf out of the Auckland book in making sure they have the right number of people of the right calibre that can do the work that needs to be done and do it well, so that when it comes down to the inspection, if you like, by central government, the mayor of Christchurch can say 'we've done our homework'."

A larger mayoral office could also be justified on the basis that the city faced a greater range of challenges than other cities, he said.

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