City will not control key roles

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Former North Shore mayor George Wood warns that the way the Super City is being set up will leave its mayor impotent and toothless.

Prime Minister John Key chats with Super City mayoral contenders John Banks and Len Brown. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Prime Minister John Key chats with Super City mayoral contenders John Banks and Len Brown. Photo / Kenny Rodger

In just 11 months, the Auckland region will be transformed from a disparate grouping of eight local authorities into one large super council. Many Aucklanders have great expectations that this will be the panacea for well-established long-term problems.

The question still to be answered is: will the new mayoralty have the authority and power base to make necessary changes? The jury is certainly still out and Aucklanders have many and varied unanswered queries.

Residents and ratepayers seem to be gaining the impression that the transition is tending to resemble a mushroom management exercise. There was no community involvement through the first parliamentary process.

The delivery of the new council's services like roading and public transport and water and wastewater services is being devolved to stand-alone entities, organised at arm's length from the new council and the region's communities.

There may be much merit in this system but taking the appointments of the boards' directors away from the new mayor concerns me.

This new Auckland Council has much riding on it. The journey to the current position has not been all plain sailing. In September 2006, I was one of the four mayors who, with a degree of trepidation, approached the then Prime Minister, Helen Clark, asking the Government to work towards the reform of Auckland local government.

That the Auckland region, on many fronts, is not performing adequately is not in dispute. Helen Clark's Government grasped the nettle and the process was under way. Four years later, after the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, we are nearly at the start line.

People to whom I talk on the subject of the Auckland Council still express reservations and concerns about whether it will be able to deliver services for the same value for money as that currently being experienced. People in North Shore City have issues over whether costs will rise and possibly spiral out of control.

The big question is whether the new mayor and council will be sufficiently hands-on to exercise firm control.

All has now been revealed in the Government's latest bill. The high-powered Auckland Transition Agency is tasked with establishing various agencies ahead of the mayor and council even being elected. It is proposed that the directors of the various agencies will be appointed by the ministers of local government and transport, some for up to four years.

It is interesting to see that, as the new arrangement is presented in the latest bill, the chairman of these separate organisations will be appointed internally without the formal involvement of the elected mayor.

This new proposed concept of operations for the new council has the potential to become a muddle. Imagine the difficulties if the directors of the new Auckland Transport Agency have elected a chairman with vastly different opinions to the mayor on transport.

The mayor may have to tolerate this person for the duration of his term of office because some directors can be appointed for up to three years. This would be similar to President Barack Obama coming into office and having to tolerate Cabinet secretaries appointed by some other authority.

Do the declared mayoralty candidates realise just how impotent and toothless they actually may be in the whole process?

The new mayor will be elected with a sound mandate to pursue his or her own vision and policies. It will be difficult enough for the mayor to work on the development of a strong esprit de corps within the council without having to juggle the pressures of other ad hoc bodies that he or she has not had an involvement in appointing.

Currently, the water and transport bodies are operating with boards of directors. Surely the time to appoint the new directors is soon after the mayor and his councillors are sworn into office.

Clearly the new mayor has a lot riding on his or her ability to do the job with panache. This person must be a critical thinker who is audacious and prepared to sometimes go against the tide of conventional views and ideas.

It won't be helpful if the mayor is constrained immediately on taking office by having to work with a layer of chairpersons and directors whom he has not appointed.

It will certainly be interesting to read the submissions on this point from the mayoral contenders. Their views and comments will indicate what stance and role they intend to take if elected to the office.

* George Wood is the former three-term mayor of North Shore City (1998 to 2007).

- NZ Herald

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