Auckland City officers are floating the idea of replacing elected councillors with businessmen to run the city's parks, swimming pools, libraries and zoo along commercial lines.
In a surprise move, officers have expanded the proposal for a "holding company" to manage the council's interests in Auckland Airport and Westhaven Marina to include a vast range of community services.
Officers acknowledge the plan would be a sensitive issue with the public and create a perception of maximising profits and a step towards privatisation.
But they are firmly of the view that professional, business-focused directors would bring improved governance and increased commercial focus, lacking from the likes of Mayor John Banks and councillors.
In a report to yesterday's finance and strategy committee meeting, officers said a key benefit from aholding company would be "a separation of commercial decision-making from political decision-makingwhere appropriate".
City Vision leader Richard Northey said a holding company with a commercial focus could spell the end of free library services, free entry to the art gallery and free access to parks and wharves. Zoo charges could also rise.
Mr Northey said successive councils had recognised the need to run such services in an efficient and businesslike way. It was in the best interests of the public that they remained under the control of elected councillors.
Finance chairman Doug Armstrong said his Citizens and Ratepayers colleagues favoured a holding company to look after commercial assets such as the council's airport shares and Westhaven Marina.
But he said C&R would have to give the matter a great deal of thought before considering moving social services such as libraries across to a holding company.
"There is no plot to shovel everything off beyond the accountability of elected people."
The officers' report, written by policy analyst Kirsty Colquhoun and approved by finance general manager Andrew McKenzie, said the council would have to consult ratepayers before placing any assets in the holding company. Officers stressed that examples like the zoo, parks, art gallery, swimming pools, libraries and The Edge were only "hypothetical" to demonstrate the benefits to councillors.
City Vision councillor Cathy Casey said the ideas had been sprung on the public and would be a shock to people who still remembered the sale of airport shares and pensioner housing under the last John Banks-led council.