ILANZ, In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand

Profile – Katherine Anderson, Director Legal and Risk, Auckland Council

Profile – Katherine Anderson, Director Legal and Risk, Auckland Council

By James Greenland| 17 November 2015

Katherine AndersonTokoroa-born Katherine Anderson has advised both the Clark and Key governments, co-led the Police’s participation in the Pike River Royal Commission, and still considers litigation a part of her “legal DNA” despite having had a primarily in-house focus in her latest role.

The Auckland Council’s director of legal and risk has tallied an incredible set of experiences during her career, especially for a lawyer who didn’t start law school until after the birth of her now adult-son.

“The combination of having a young child and studying law was challenging but also a fabulous time. Taking the time out to study law transformed my life and set me on a path to a great professional experience,” she says.

Katherine was once a senior litigator with a major firm. She has also worked for Crown Law. It was during employment with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) that she advised two governments and first worked with the New Zealand Police – helping the development of a strategy to implement a cultural change that put victims’ needs at the centre of strategy and operations – where she went on, after receiving a Police Commissioner’s Commendation for her work relating to Pike River, to become general manager of policy, performance and legal and a member of the Police Executive.

Now, leading Auckland Council’s legal and risk teams; Katherine says she is privileged to draw on her many and varied professional experiences, roles and accomplishments to help make the city she was raised and educated in the “best place it can be”.

“There are numerous and obvious challenges ahead for Auckland given the projected population growth,” she says. “The Auckland population has grown by 100,000 in five years and is expected to be 2.2million in 30 years.”

Challenges and opportunities – to transport, infrastructure, housing – will be presented by both the Super City’s swelling population and shifting demographics, she says.

“We need to embrace and accommodate that diversity if Auckland is to be the world’s most liveable city.”

Katherine says the victim-centric Prevention First model being embedded during her time on the Police Executive radically and effectively changed policing culture over a five year period.

“Auckland Council is now five years into its amalgamation journey and the cultural change underway is about putting our customers at the centre of our service delivery operating model. My time with Police has strengthened my conviction that significant cultural change in a relatively short period is possible if driven from the top. Now at Council I can help be part of the team driving our own significant cultural change piece.”

As part of the Council’s executive team, Katherine supports elected members to deliver their strategic priorities and prepare for the challenges ahead, she says.

Wearing her legal hat, her focus is on statutory compliance, risk management and the provision of the quality advice that enables transparent and robust decisions.

“Being a litigator is part of my legal DNA,” Katherine says. "I have not led a court case for Council, given my focus on settling in to the role and growing my legal team over the last 18 months. However, I thought it important to, and did, open the Council’s case on the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan before the Independent Hearings Panel. There will almost certainly be test or high profile cases in the future that will give me the opportunity to represent Auckland Council in Court. I look forward to those opportunities.” Katherine also sits on the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which she says provides a different way to participate in the resolution of disputes.

“For those lawyers who want to work in public service in Auckland, the Auckland Council legal team is a great place to work,” Katherine says. “There is a fantastic diet of legal work, much broader than many realise exists within Council. For example our legal book includes Treaty-related work, supporting co-governance post-Treaty settlement entities, planning, commercial contracts, infrastructure and development agreements, procurement, retail bond issues, private-public arrangements – like Skypath, prosecutions, judicial review – environmental and non-environmental, civil litigation, major property transactions and advising Local Boards and Governing Body.”

Proud of her collegial and talented team, Katherine says her department’s topping of a recent staff engagement survey, rare perhaps for in-house legal teams, demonstrates the quality working environment and variety of interesting work offered at the Council.

Having achieved so much success, and raised her son to the point he’s now “fully-formed, independent, and living in Dunedin”, Katherine now manages to make time to indulge her love of the garden at her Mount Albert home on the weekends.

She and her husband Rosario, whom Katherine met on a Sicilian sojourn in 2007 during a cooking course, now enjoy growing their own “veges” and together “transforming them into tasty Italian food”.

“Rosario made the bold decision to leave permanent work, take his first flight ever for the (30 hour) trip here in 2010 and start a life with me in a country where he did not speak the language. Fortunately he loves Auckland,” Katherine says, though they do get back to Sicily whenever they can.