It’s been a year since we were shocked at the news that Andrew King – used car salesman and ‘second chance finance peddler’ had taken the helm of the Hamilton city council as Mayor. We were shocked because it had looked like a two horse race between Paula Southgate and Chris Simpson and shocked again because he was one of the most uncharismatic and uninspiring characters to hear speak. But, after a recount with just a handful of votes between him and Paula it was confirmed and so the King of Hamilton was born.
I’m not going to lie – I was sure that he’d ruin everything – all the progress made to make Hamilton a vibrant and happening city to live. Upon reflection I may have been slightly dramatic about it – because no one person can have that sort of impact. But, fast forward to today – how has he done in his first year?
I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with the Mayor on a monthly basis for FreeFM to ask whatever I feel you want asked. I feel he has been extremely generous with his time and a ‘good sport’ when I’ve asked curly questions; even if he doesn’t give me the answer I was hoping for.
Availability – TICK
It’s been a big ‘tick’ that he has made himself available for the public. He has set aside regular weekly spots that you can book, to have a word with him in his office. An open-door as such. It’s been often noted that he makes a point of greeting everyone at events he attends (which are many…). This is really good, I don’t think we see enough of our elected Councillors out and about so he sets a good example.
Inclusiveness – TICK
Inclusiveness is important in leadership, and one of the first things he did was change the Council’s committee structure so that all Councillors were in all committees so there were no surprises and everyone is involved in decisions (this helps accountability too). As a West ward Councillor he had alluded to their being factions within the Council under the last Mayor so it’s good to see that he dealt to this quickly.
Openness – TICK
Being Mr Popularity isn’t his thing – “doing the right thing by Hamiltonian’s is” (his words) and he hasn’t been shy of telling it like it is. Which is something I appreciate even if I don’t want to swallow it. For example, rates hikes next year seem inevitable, possibly to the tune of $500 per household. I’m not happy about that – but I can understand where he is coming from and appreciate him giving warning as early as possible – which was back in March. There seems no way to avoid it for next year … unless we want service cuts or are willing to forego some of the things we love about Hamilton… like playgrounds, libraries and pools. It would be an easier call to make to bow to public pressure and keep rates down – even if it is to the detriment of the bank balance. I’ll be interested in how the Councillors vote on that in the 10 year plan next year.
Despite this, there are a few things I haven’t liked about his work so far if I had to be picky.
No advisory committees – UMMMM?
I’m not sure he should have disbanded the advisory committees (heritage, youth, older persons). He said they weren’t necessary but I believe the community needs as many points of influence in plans and policies as possible. Councillors often spend so much time in the administrative side of the job (or just plain don’t do enough) that they don’t get out and about into the community as much as they should. However – it would really be the call of people on those committees to say whether being abandoned has had a detrimental impact on decision making.
No surprises – FAIL
Earlier this year the Mayor made another slight error in judgement … when it was uncovered that there was a $12 million dollar “black hole”… for real, not like the Steven Joyce one – he knew about it, and was in talks with Briggs about it but didn’t tell Councillors immediately – so it was sprung on them at a meeting – rather unfairly. Upon asking him he said he did tell them as fast as possible, but there was about a week, and I think a heads up slightly earlier in that week would have been a better way of handling it and could have changed the outcome of the meeting at the time by giving Councillors time to get their head around what was happening. He did say on reflection he could have handled it better – so I guess that’s something – he was only a few months into the role.
Accountability – FAIL (kind of)
Finally – accountability. He refused to place accountability on whoever it was within staff for this deficit. It should have been Briggs I reckon, but King didn’t throw him under the bus over it – if anything the Councillors were thrown under for approving the report. Accountability is a huge issue in politics, and seems to be a systemic issue rather than a personality one. Do we blame staff/CEO Briggs or Councillors?
When I spoke to him on Tuesday – reflecting on the past year he has done what he said he was going to do, reduce red tape – with a transparent council (no closed door meetings) and working together.
So, a year in – He is doing well, much better than I expected. I talk to him on the third Tuesday of every month at 8.10am, you can listen in live on FreeFM89.0. I’ll continue to ask about the things that need challenged, and will continue to share with Hamilton his progress as Mayor in the hope we can all be a bit more informed heading into the next election.
Score 3.8 / 5