Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Bureaucrats show Phil Goff who really runs Auckland

Wily bureaucrats are giving new Auckland mayor Phil Goff the run-around. Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Wily bureaucrats are giving new Auckland mayor Phil Goff the run-around. Illustration / Peter Bromhead

New Auckland mayor Phil Goff is yet to be sworn in, and already the un-elected mandarins are trying to show him who really runs the place. First was the council's development agency Panuku, which lodged a resource consent application for a $12 million, 75m boardwalk into the harbour from Queens Wharf while the rest of us were diverted by the final week of the election campaign.

This despite a campaign pledge by Goff that as mayor, he would ban any further reclamation into the harbour. True, the 3.5m wide public walkway will be on piles, not reclaimed land. But it's hard to see it as anything but a deliberate attempt to sneak around the new mayor's promise.

Mr Goff has now demanded a rethink and told Radio NZ "I've made it clear to council and to the council-controlled organisations that when any matter that may be controversial comes up, I need to be advised on that; I expect that to happen on each and every occasion."

It seems to have lasted about as long as previous mayor, Len Brown's similar "no surprises" edict.

Last weekend, up popped Brett O'Riley, chief executive of economic development CCO, Ateed, declaring he will spend "hundreds of thousands" of ratepayers dollars to prop up the proposed WBO heavyweight boxing match in December.

It will be "one of the most high-profile events that Auckland has ever hosted," Mr Riley said. "We definitely intend to be a major partner in the fight."

So much for the new mayor's belt-tightening regime. Personally, I was outraged that my rates were going to be squandered on a night of show-biz brutality. With families living in cars, the last thing I want my money spent on, is a contest between grown men trying to bash each other's brains out. If we're going to spend money on violence, it should be on reducing it in our homes and streets, not glamourising it.

No doubt Mr Riley could similarly drum up world-wide attention for Auckland by inviting Spanish bull-fighters to set up shop at Eden Park. But is it the sort of profile we want for our city?

Luckily, as I write this, it seems like the boxing event is all hot air. A pie in the sky attempt by the promoter to rustle up a seven-figure sum in a couple of weeks to bring it here.

With Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce telling him to join the queue at the Major Events Development Fund - and cheekily pointing him in Auckland Council's direction - and with no private fight lover willing to put up the cash, it seems our rates are safe.

As for Mr Riley. Well I'm still waiting to hear whether he briefed the mayor beforehand. If he did and the mayor went along with it, I'd be surprised. During the election campaign Mr Goff highlighted the $70 million Ateed spent on promotions each year. He called on the agency to make savings by, amongst other things, working in "joint ventures" with government agencies. Here would have been a good place to start.

Putting the boxing to one side, the try-on with the Queens Wharf walkway alone, was a warning signal to the new mayor, that his wish to return politicians to the top roost at Auckland Council was going to be anything but easy. This makes yesterday's decision to dump the two councillor-directors from the board of Auckland Transport a backward step.

They were the only councillor-directors on the various council controlled organisations set up to run the business activities of the super-city. It was an exception to the rule, made because of the huge ratepayer subsidy going into public transport.

Over the past six years, the two councillors on the AT board, former Auckland mayor Christine Fletcher and former Auckland Regional Council chair, Mike Lee, have ensured there was a voice amongst the suits on the AT board, representing the rest of us.

Both brought deep institutional knowledge to the table. And asked embarrassing questions. Mrs Fletcher was responsible for building the Britomart train station. Mr Lee led the fight for the electrification of the train network and the rebirth of Auckland public transport.

What an own goal for Mr Goff. The bureaucrats and the professional directors will be cracking open the champagne.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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