Hardaker spends up big on spin doctor

COME IN SPINNER: Julie Hardaker's mayoral office will cost ratepayers $365,000 a year to run and will now pay for a spin doctor to deal with the press.
COME IN SPINNER: Julie Hardaker's mayoral office will cost ratepayers $365,000 a year to run and will now pay for a spin doctor to deal with the press.

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Hamilton's new mayoral office will cost ratepayers $365,000 a year to run, with Mayor Julie Hardaker given her own spin doctor.

The scope and budget for the expanded mayoral office has been revealed by council chief executive Barry Harris in a memo to councillors with some of them labelling the new structure excessive.

New executive mayoral powers came into force after this year's local body elections, including mayoral offices funded to lead critical annual and 10-year budgets.

Hamilton's new mayoral office will have five staff and a budget of $365,000, of which $165,000 is additional cost for two new roles: a press secretary, and a community and policy co-ordinator.

Mr Harris said he had agreed to resource the mayoral office after consulting the mayor. Additional funding for the office will be absorbed within the council's customer relationships operating budget for the remainder of the financial year.

Ms Hardaker said the new structure represented a "lean, efficient office with a very frugal fiscal budget".

"I've been very constrained about the support because I do recognise that we have the organisation to support us but I need to be able to focus on what my job is as a mayor."

Asked how a press secretary would assist, Ms Hardaker said the council's communication unit often focused on organisational matters, whereas elected members' work was not always picked up.

"It's very important at the elected level, the proper communications are able to be gotten out to the public," she said. The council's communication unit employs nine staff with a salaries budget of $744,000.

The unit's total cost is $1.188 million.

Councillor Ewan Wilson said the expanded mayoral office was a "frivolous and unnecessary waste of ratepayers funds" and not a good look in light of staff redundancies.

He said the council had been producing annual plans and 10-year budgets within existing resources for years, and these resources should have been made available to the mayor at no extra cost to ratepayers.

"The mayor is acting presidential.

"She has chosen to build her own small republic, including employing her own spin doctor and chief of staff, at a time when council has recently made significant redundancies, including in the community sector, and our ratepayers are struggling," Mr Wilson said.

Councillor Dave Macpherson said councillors should have been given the opportunity to debate the structure and resourcing for the mayoral office.

"There's a growing lack of democracy in council and this is the latest example," Mr Macpherson said.

"Between the chief executive and the mayor, they seem to be making all the decisions themselves."

Councillor Martin Gallagher said that in the interests of "transparency and accountability", councillors should have been able to debate the restructuring.

The new law allowed for an increased concentration of power in the hands of the mayor and chief executive, Mr Gallagher said, but it was not necessarily in the interests of good local democracy. In reply, Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman said the mayoral office's structure was minimalistic, given Ms Hardaker's new responsibilities.

"I suppose the extra hundred and sixty odd thousand is what a couple of councillors have a problem with but the chief executive has assured us he will find that money in his budgets.

"To the councillors who aren't happy, it's probably a surprise, but it shouldn't have been because they understand the mayor has executive responsibility for a range of things. She needs these people on board to do that work."

Council's finance committee chair Rob Pascoe said he was briefed on the new mayoral office structure and was confident it could be funded from existing budgets for the next six months.

"It will come up as a line item in the 2014/15 budget because it wasn't there before. But we've tried to look at what's happening around the country and . . . install what we see as an efficient and lean sort of structure . . ."

Waikato Times