Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

'Good news' flyer riled ratepayers

Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Steven McNicholl

The Auckland Council is getting flak from ratepayers over the $376,774 cost of a glossy flyer containing a message from Mayor Len Brown, official papers show.

About 540,000 copies of the flyer were sent to ratepayers in July, despite one of Mr Brown's senior advisers, Theresa Stratton, warning there were cheaper and more effective ways to communicate a message on rates.

After the cost was reported in the Herald, it was left to call-centre staff to field criticism.

"What a waste of ratepayers' money," was a common message.

Papers obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act show that the flyer was part of a wider rates communication project that blew out in cost from $250,000 to $512,000, and which the communications department commissioned work on "without formal agreement from budget holders".

The papers show that the chief operations manager, Patricia Reade, led moves to pull the mailout on July 18 because of the extra workload on the already stretched call centre, which was going through an annual-leave "freeze".

"I think the risk is too high for us to continue with the mailout at this time," she said.

Customers services manager Nigel King also had "a bit of a heart-stopping moment when I found out about the proposed campaign".

The following day, Ms Reade and Mr King's reservations were challenged by Mr Brown's chief of staff, Phil Wilson, with the backing of chief finance officer Andrew McKenzie. Mr Wilson said rating matters were the number one risk area for the council and properly and carefully informing people was the best form of defence.

"I believe the price of not doing so will be an ill-informed majority of ratepayers.

"It's an unnecessary risk and also loses us the opportunity to tell a good news story about the total [3.94 per cent] rates rise," Mr Wilson said.

Furthermore, he said, the council had printed all but the flyer for the old Manukau and Franklin council areas at considerable cost and it would be hard to justify wasting this money.

On July 20, Ms Reade said that after reflection and input from the mayor's office and the executive leadership team, "it has been decided that the mailout should proceed as planned".

- NZ Herald

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