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Council operations

Councils in New Zealand do not fit in a one-size-fits-all category. For councils to be efficient, they need to operate in a way that is in the best interests of their community, and this differs from the far North down to the deep South.

While territorial councils are required to have a mayor (elected by the community) and regional councils a chair (elected by councillors), other arrangements will vary.

Territorial authorities have between six and 30 members, including the mayor, while regional councils have between six and 14 members.  The average number of members per council is 11. 

In terms of political organisation, councils tend to have either a number of standing committees or a portfolio system.  They may also contain a number of sub-municipal bodies which bring decision-making closer to communities and/or have a number of services in Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs).

Standing committees

Standing committees enable a council to delegate decision-making on issues to smaller groups of elected members who have the opportunity to investigate issues in more depth and in consultation with citizens.  Some committees have decision-making authority while others are purely advisory.

Portfolio systems

As the number of elected members on councils has reduced, there has also been a move away from standing committees to portfolio systems.  Portfolio systems mean individual councillors take a leadership role in relation to specific policy issues, such as transport or the arts.

Sub-municipal bodies

Just as councils delegate responsibilities to standing committees, they also have the ability to delegate responsibilities to sub-municipal bodies, such as community boards, and local boards in Auckland. Once again, practice varies between councils, with some delegating significant decision-making powers and others limiting their community boards to an advisory role.

Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs)

CCOs are public companies owned by one or more local authority (or to which a local authority has the right to appoint more than half the directors).  Councils that operate trading activities will almost always incorporate them as CCOs which puts the activity at arms-length from the council itself.  The Auckland Council has seven CCOs to run a wide range of activities from transport and water to economic development and events.

The question of how to organise themselves, and whether or not to delegate decision-making responsibilities, is one that must be addressed by new councils immediately after their election and is outlined in each council's governance statement.  Governance statements can usually be accessed via council websites.

Local government staff

Local authorities employ approximately 30,000 staff, representing a broad range of disciplines, from Arborists and Dog Control Officers to Policy Analysts.  Each council, however, directly employs only one staff member, their Chief Executive, who employs the remainder of the staff on behalf of the council.

Staff numbers vary considerably according to the size of the local authority.  As an example, Auckland Council employs more than 8,000 staff while Kaikoura District Council operates with fewer than 30 paid employees.

Chief Executives are employed on fixed term contracts which are limited to five years, although the term can be extended for another two years following a formal performance review.  The positions must be re-advertised at the end of the negotiated period.  

Typically, a Chief Executive will work with a management team, however the organisational structures will vary according to the size of the council and the preferences of the Chief Executive.

Council services tend to be provided by internal departments, stand alone business units or Council Controlled Organisations.  Decisions about how services will be operated are usually made by the Chief Executive in consultation with his or her council.  The decision to form a CCO, however, can only be made after consultation with the community.