Political neutrality and the public service

What is going on in the Super City?

It’s hard to work out whether this is a failure in governance or management, but it is certainly another massive fail.  Yesterday a mild-mannered, Council bureaucrat called David Hay told us all that he is going to spend the next seven months campaigning to be the next male co-Leader of the Greens. By March he will need to have impressed the Hui that ranks their list,  and by June he will have sold himself to the whole membership for the big annual line dance.

Problem is that it seems Hay is going to fund his campaign through the ratepayers of Auckland – he is a senior policy advisor.

There’s a time honoured process where once every three years frustrated bureaucrats decide they don’t like having to do what they are told and try to get into Parliament. They stand down from their  pen pushing jobs, campaign, lose, and scurry back to a new public trough.

At central Government level the State Services Commission have a fascinating edict “State servants must keep their jobs out of their politics and their politics out of their jobs.”  Of course public servants can be involved in some campaigning, leaflet drops and the like but the political neutrality line is not to be crossed too much.  The Electoral Commission also has a view during election time.  Section 52 of the Electoral Act pertains to public servants seeking election and suggests that

To avoid the possibility of a real or perceived conflict of interest, the Electoral Act requires public servants that stand as candidates to take annual or unpaid leave from nomination day until the first working day after the election.

Now in Hay’s case, he is only seeking election to be the male co-Leader of the Greens however will he be campaigning on Council time? Is the important line of political neutrality of Council employees crossed by his action to seek the Greens co-Leadership?  Why is it even important?

It is important as Government and Council officials are required to give independent, non-partisan, objective advice. That is why public servants usually wait until the last minute to let their intentions be known – not a good year or so out.

Now that his name is out there, can anyone expect that Hay can use that year also giving objective, unbiased advice to Auckland Council. Everything he does could be trying to gain favour with the Greens membership.  Again, it is that “possibility of real or perceived conflict of interest” that will dog poor Mr Hay.

Which raises some questions, did he tell his bosses before he announced his highly political campaign? Did the bosses tell the Mayor? Did anyone think… hold on a minute, this is a massive problem for the credibility Auckland Council?

My guess – no, no, no.

Rest assured though, by next week they will have expensive lawyers arguing with each other, crawling all over it and charging the long suffering ratepayer for the pleasure.

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