When it rains it pours…and pours.

I know, that is a pretty corny title but given the circumstances here in the Auckland region, I just had to say it. The more oblique reference embedded in the phrase is that beyond the rain and wind, there is the matter of the leadership failures exhibited by Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown and his senior management team when confronted by the crisis brought by the cyclonic water bomb that dropped on the upper North Island. Their response to the natural disaster has been a cluster f**k of epic proportions, particularly on the communications side of things where his high profile and highly paid National-linked advisors disappeared as soon as the excrement hit the fan once it became apparent that for the first 12 hours or so after the rain began the mayor was AWOL (and in fact is reported to have been playing tennis on a dry court while water levels rose precipitously in South and West Auckland and slips and flash-flooding were already closing roads throughout the region).

To be clear, Wayne Brown was elected to cut rates and prioritize public services and amenities to the salubrious Eastern and Northern suburbs where the well-heeled and light-skinned live securely and in comfort (even if, to paraphrase Pink Floyd, they are living lives of quiet desperation as well). He was installed to serve the interests of a specific demographic rather than the city and its surroundings as a whole, and is therefore not interested in helping (mostly) brown-skinned opposition voters living in flood plains and gullies. For him, the once-in-a-lifetime storm has been more of a nuisance that interferes with his social schedule than a moment to rise above his own ego and partisan biases in service of the commonweal.

I should note that for all the commentary about “leadership” and why business types like Brown and National Party Leader Chris Luxon may not be good fits for public office leadership, relatively little is made of the fact that political leadership in liberal democracies has many more external as well as internal horizontal checks, balances and veto points imposed on decision-making when compared to the hierarchical ordering and competitive environment of business firms. Competence in businesses is measured in the first instance by profitability and return on investment under given market conditions, whereas competence in liberal democratic politics is about managing public sector responsiveness and delivery of services to the polity under given political conditions. In the case of Mr. Brown, his business acumen appears to have been exaggerated for electoral purposes and his understanding of the responsibilities of public office holders in a democracy appears to be negligible.

I will leave it for others to dissect the remaining political entrails of this corpse of a mayor but suffice it to say that a politician who cannot even fake empathy and compassion for those in his electorate who have been negatively impacted by the storm (including many who have lost everything, and in four cases, their lives), and who victim-blames those worst affected and finger-points at his subordinates when it comes to assigning responsibility for response delays and “mistakes” while arguing with media in front of cameras during press stand-ups, is not fit to be a parking warden much less mayor of NZ’s largest city.

I went on the infamous social media platform to briefly summarize my take on things. Here are my comments:

“Times of crisis render transparent leadership qualities and flaws. Covid did this on a world scale, with Trump and Johnson baring their ineptness (and ignorance) for all to see while Ardern, Hipkins and Bloomfield (demonstrated) what a competent leadership team looks like. Now Auckland is confronted by an unprecedented natural disaster and the Peter Principle is being demonstrated at the highest local government level. Shame because this could have been prevented had voters understood what their votes were really getting in terms of “leadership.” OTOH, the doddering mayor’s media stand-ups have been unwitting comedic gold. Perhaps this is why what should have been dealt with as a First World problem becomes a Third World reality.

Put shortly: The crucible of crisis is the pressure test of leadership. Under it some hold, some crack. The Auckland weather bomb is such a crucible. The test results are clear.”

6 thoughts on “When it rains it pours…and pours.

  1. Amen to that Pablo. Love your writing style as always, makes me laugh but if only it wasn’t so serious. I lived in Auckland almost 40 years, my whole adult life, and cannot believe the footage, photos I have seen – and the rain continues, it seems. Still Red warnings out.

    I couldn’t believe it when Aklders elected Wayne Brown. He seemed too old. Not meaning to be ageist – we’re all getting old aren’t we. But he looked then like he couldn’t cope, couldn’t quite ‘get it’, in the press standups & selective interviews – refusing high profile news sites like stuff (still doing that on Saturday apparently when he visited South Auckland) – because of some kind of what looks to me like ‘latent senility’. I think he thinks he’s in control, but he just looks stupid, doddering as you say, and incompetent.
    Now the voters’ chickens really are coming home to roost.

    It seems to be the nature of Life nowadays that as soon as you get into office you will be tested in some way, and as you so rightly point out, some pass, and some fail.
    My son still lives in Akld – he and his family are ok (they are on a slight slope! so the water drains away…) I think you may live there too ? Trust you are all ok.

    Kind regards.

  2. Thanks Barbara,

    I have updated the post to reflect some additional thoughts on this debacle, in case you are interested. At the Pablo homestead we managed to dodge a bullet even though we had an eight hour power outage and total road closures in and out of our rural community because of surface flooding and multiple slips closing all access roads. My wife (the intellectual home “prepper’) has a good habit of stockpiling food and dry goods (she did live in US tornado country while doing her Ph.D. after all), so we are good for the short term and will see what happens once if the now re-opened roads close again because of the next round of storm bands.

    As for that sorry excuse of a mayor…’nuf said.

  3. I cannot believe the reports coming out about Wayne Brown.

    After a very good complement to your comments above about political leadership, by Todd Niall on stuff this morning,


    now it seems you were right – he was playing tennis!


    and a similar report on stuff as well.

    There’s a lot of bad press coming out about him today, again.

    I think he should go. The deputy is not the mayor and cannot make up for or excuse his shortfalls and gaffes, be his shepherd.
    It is Brown himself who is the drongo, thats so obvious.

    It appears, as you have also suggested, that Brown is a frontman for conservative forces in the City and vested interests. I have come to the realisation that he is actually incapable of doing press conferences, and that is why he avoids them.

    In an interview with Kim Hill on Saturday morning, as the devastation began to become clear, he cast a low blow to the effect that ‘wait and see how Wellington will cope in an earthquake’, trying to excuse his hopeless, hapless response. Well, I remember how Bob Parker responded when Christchurch suffered its earthquakes. He was front and centre. He symbolised the response, and the recovery. He was brilliant, gave his all.
    Someone from among Brown’s cronies should show him some footage from that time, maybe he could learn something.
    Or maybe Brown’s just an old dog now, and should be put down – in a kindly manner of speaking ;-)

    I feel sorry for Auckland.
    How on earth could this happen to our biggest city.
    To elect such a useless, thoughtless, bumbling and now almost pitiful figure. 3 more years! Surely, not.

    Kind regards.

  4. You are so right in your criticism of Wayne Brown, Pablo. I was (unfortunately) in the position of seeing Sir Bob Parker close at hand, tirelessly working to keep the spirits of Christchurch people up and front the vital information we all needed during the sequence of quakes. Due to my work in local govt. at the time I was also at the public-facing side of civil defence. That man was amazing and worked all the hours God sent, even though (in the Feb quake) he’d sustained a bad back injury. I’d see him arrive at the Civic Offices early in the morning and he often seemed to be one of the last to leave. I think all of this came at a huge cost to him as he has had a series of cardiac problems and a stroke that has meant he is now in fulltime rest home care.

    But my memories of him as a mayor, and as a person, is that he cared deeply for his city. He was the only person in the organisation I worked for that checked up on the frontline staff to see how they were doing. The ensuing nastiness with Gerry Brownlee and then the bad press due to his association with Tony Marryatt (then CEO) didn’t do him any favours, but if there’s one thing the Wayne Brown disaster has highlighted, it was Sir Bob’s heroic leadership at a time the city needed him most. A pity leadership skills such as his weren’t part of the requirement for any potential candidate.

    I’m very grateful to Barbara for acknowledging him in this way.

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