Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Auckland Council to remain member of lobby group

Membership of the Property Council costs $43,127 for council and three of its business arms. Photo / Doug Sherring
Membership of the Property Council costs $43,127 for council and three of its business arms. Photo / Doug Sherring

The Auckland Council has voted to remain a member of the Property Council after concerns it should keep a professional distance from the lobby group.

The governing body voted 13-7 yesterday to stay a member after legal advice saying there is no conflict of interest arising from the membership and a political call to leave decisions on membership of professional organisations with chief executive Stephen Town.

Membership of the Property Council costs $43,127 for council and three of its business arms.

Councillor Mike Lee moved a notice of motion to terminate membership to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest as the Property Council is a major submitter to the Unitary Plan process.

Councillor Mike Lee moved a notice of motion to terminate membership to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. Photo / Greg Bowker
Councillor Mike Lee moved a notice of motion to terminate membership to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. Photo / Greg Bowker

Mr Lee said he had no problem with the Property Council furthering the interests of property developers but he had a problem when the council as regulator joined up with the lobbyist.

He quoted guidelines from the Auditor-General about managing real and perceived conflicts of interest, saying the council needed to ask itself "Does this pass the pub test ... and stack up to ordinary members of the public?"

The relationship with the Property Council, he said, should be reset to one of professional respect and distance.

Councillor Cathy Casey said there was a perception that council was far too aligned with the development community.

"The Property Council is the commercial property voice of New Zealand. Our main concern is the voice of the people and little communities across Auckland," Ms Casey said.

Mayor Len Brown said the issue boiled down to the line between the council and the chief executive, whose job it was to determine membership of professional organisations -- not the old Auckland where politicians stepped all over the operational side of council, and vice versa.

The issue, Mr Brown said, was wider than Mr Lee's issue with the Property Council membership, but how the council had set itself up and trusted the judgment of the chief executive.

An opinion from Meredith Connell concluded there is no legal issue with the council being a member of the Property Council, saying it was strongly preferable to have the chief executive deciding the council's external memberships.

Meredith Connell partner Anna Adams told the meeting that terminating membership of the Property Council could potentially have the opposite effect and expose councillors who voted for the notice of motion to allegations of bias or predetermination when council votes on the Unitary Plan in July/August.

Ms Adams was questioned about Meredith Connell's membership of the Property Council, which she confirmed and was not declared on the legal advice to council.

How they voted

To stay a member of the Property Council

• Mayor Len Brown
• Deputy mayor Penny Hulse
• Arthur Anae
• Bill Cashmore
• Ross Clow
• Linda Cooper
• Chris Darby
• Alf Filipaina
• Denise Krum
• Calum Penrose
• John Walker
• Penny Webster
• George Wood

To quit

• Cameron Brewer
• Cathy Casey
• Mike Lee
• Dick Quax
• Sharon Stewart
• Wayne Walker
• John Watson

Professional organisations that Auckland Council belongs to costs $1.7 million a year

The International Plant Propagation Society and the UK Institute of Archaeology are among 250 professional organisations that Auckland Council belongs to at a cost of $1.7 million a year.

Others include the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology, and the International Committee of Monuments and Sites.

A list of professional memberships was given to councillors for a vote yesterday on whether the council should remain a member of the Property Council.

This year's membership of the Property Council for council and three council-controlled organisations(CCOs) -- Auckland Transport, Development Auckland and Regional Facilities Auckland -- cost $43,127.

It was disclosed to councillors yesterday that the council paid $400,000 a year to be a member of Local Government New Zealand.

A council spokeswoman said the most readily available costs for council memberships was the 2013-2014 financial year, which was forecast to be $1.7 million. The figure does not include the costs of about 120 memberships for CCOs.

She said the membership list reflected the breadth of interests across the council group.

"For example, Auckland Council staff have a variety of different backgrounds and professions, including librarians, engineers, botanists and horticulturalists, geologists, event managers, valuers, lawyers, accountants, planners and scientists, to name a few."

The spokeswoman said the council was continually looking at opportunities to consolidate and evaluate costs and benefits of memberships.

Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokeswoman Jo Holmes said it was bad enough for council to be funding the Chamber of Commerce and the Property Council, but ratepayers will be aghast to learn it is funding overseas organisations like the Institute of British Engineers, the International Society of Automation and the Oral History Association of Australia.

- NZ Herald

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