Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Nats come to Phil Goff's rescue

Desley Simpson, wife of National Party president Peter Goodfellow, has sprung to the defence of Phil Goff.
Desley Simpson, wife of National Party president Peter Goodfellow, has sprung to the defence of Phil Goff.

Two National Party members on the Auckland Council are rallying behind new Auckland Mayor and former Labour MP Phil Goff for choosing not to appoint councillors to the Auckland Transport board at this stage.

Just three weeks into the job, Goff sent a letter to councillors on Friday night spelling out his reasons for leaving councillors off the board of Auckland Transport, which spends about half of ratepayers' money.

Six of the 20 councillors have expressed opposition to Goff's move, and the matter could go to a vote of the governing body.

Deputy Mayor and National Party member Bill Cashmore said to continue with the existing system of board appointments will not be sufficient.

Cashmore said it is very clear there is a level of frustration by the public with Auckland Transport over things like response times and quality of work.

"A whole of council approach is required," said Cashmore.

And Orakei councillor Desley Simpson, who is married to National Party president Peter Goodfellow, has sprung to the defence of Goff's approach.

"Understanding what, why and when Auckland Transport does what it does often alludes even the best of us.

"For six years we have tried a model with two experienced councillors sitting on the Auckland Transport board. It doesn't hurt to explore other ways of keeping Auckland Transport more transparent and accountable to council and to Aucklanders
before staying with that model," said Simpson, who Goff has appointed deputy chair of the finance and performance committee.

Right-wing councillor Dick Quax also agrees with Goff that the present model of having councillors needs to be looked at, but says the Mayor does not have the power to appoint councillors to the board.

The Super City legislation gave the power to the council, he said.

"Since there has been no meeting of the governing body or any committee the Mayor has acted beyond his powers," Quax said.

When Goff was Leader of the Opposition in 2010, he slammed the National Government for setting up council-controlled organisations like Auckland Transport to run much of council business.

He described the boards as a "set of cronies" who would not be accountable and make the real decisions while the elected mayor "will simply be a figurehead".

In his letter to councillors, Goff said he had yet to see evidence that the appointment of councillors to the board has enabled the council to better hold it to account. Councillors Mike Lee and Chris Fletcher have been on the board for the past six years.

Goff, who has made rebuilding public trust and confidence in the council his number one priority, said he was deferring a decision on councillors appointments until the new appointments and performance review committee he chairs can assess the options to strengthen Auckland Transport's accountability and performance.

He said he had been influenced by a report by the Office of the Auditor-General saying setting clear expectations of council-controlled organisations (CCOs) should do away with the need for councillor directors.

Goff also said he had significantly increased the scrutiny of CCOs through the new committee structure and received feedback from councillors that the appointments did not improve the flow of information from Auckland Transport to the council.

"There was also concern about the inequity created by these appointments given that appointees earn more than $50,000 in directors' fees a year while other elected representatives who carry out extra duties receive no additional payment," the letter said.

In an open letter to Goff, the Public Transport Users Association, said Auckland Transport needed more political oversight, not less.

"Political representation has worked well, politicians help make transport decisions everywhere else in the country. There's no reason they shouldn't continue to do so in Auckland," said the letter, signed by chair Christine Rose and co-ordinator Jon Reeves.

"To remove political representation on Auckland Transport is to reduce accountability, not to improve it...please reconsider your decision," they said.

The councillors who have publicly opposed the mayor are Mike Lee, Chris Fletcher, Daniel Newman, John Watson, Cathy Casey and Sharon Stewart.

Mike Lee has described the move a "retrograde step", City Vision councillor Cathy Casey has vowed to fight it and Stewart wanted the issue discussed at an extraordinary meeting.

"Auckland Transport is such an important issue for the people of Auckland. I think we need to have representation from the governing body at the table and collectively the elected councillors and the mayor should nominate an elected member and vote on who will be the best voice to represent us," she said.

- Herald on Sunday

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