The chief executive of Auckland Transport, Shane Ellison, has taken the unusual step of writing to Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere about claims he has made in his campaign material.
Ellison says in his letter that there are "two clear errors of fact" in a radio advertisement Tamihere has been running this week. He sent a copy of the letter to the Advertising Standards Authority.
The ad criticises current mayor Phil Goff and AT for safety proposals that involve reducing speed limits on some Auckland roads.
In the ad, Tamihere says, "Did you know [mayor] Phil Goff was letting Auckland Transport cut the speed on 700 kilometres of roads to just 30 kilometres per hour? No suburb will escape this crazy plan."
Ellison says both sentences contain false claims. "In the first instance, Auckland Transport is not proposing to cut the speed of 700 kilometres of roads to just 30 kilometres per hour."
The true figure, says Ellison, is 72km. It is largely confined to the city centre and a small number of other centres.
Tamihere made the same claim about 700km being reduced to 30km/h in an interview on NewstalkZB last Sunday and in his column in the Herald on Wednesday.
The "interactive map" on the Auckland Transport website identifies all the roads where AT wants to reduce the speed limit. There are 700km in all. Most of them are rural roads, identified as dangerous by AT, where a limit of 80km/h or 60km/h is proposed.
The roads proposed for a 30km/h limit include the city centre and about a dozen other parts of the city, including Te Atatu (south of the motorway), part of Papakura and the coastal parts of village centres like Mission Bay, St Heliers, Mairangi Bay and Orewa.
Very few suburbs are affected.
There are 7000km of roads in Auckland. The speed reduction proposals affect 10 per cent overall, while the 30km/h proposal affects just 1 per cent of that total.
The Herald asked John Tamihere for comment. He responded with a copy of a letter he wrote to Ellison in reply to the complaint.
In his letter, Tamihere says, "I am a declared Mayoral Candidate, you are not. You are a Public Servant, you have no right to seek to muzzle me whilst on my pay roll so to speak. I am standing against this arrogance of yours, this entitlement that you are above reproach."
Tamihere also made a number of complaints about the information on Auckland Transport's website, the operation of its call centre and app, and the way it was consulting the public.
We asked Shane Ellison if he thought it was unusual for the CEO of a council agency to write directly to a mayoral candidate.
He advised, "We're in the middle of a very significant consultation process. We have a serious road safety crisis, with over 800 people killed or seriously injured on Auckland roads per year. It wouldn't matter what organisation or individual it was, if we felt it what they were saying was inaccurate, we would ask for that to be addressed."
He added that Tamihere has requested a meeting and that will happen next week.
Since this story was originally posted Tamihere has contacted the Herald again to say, "In AT's own hand they say the 30km applicable on 700km of the network. My adds are factually correct." [sic]
He said he was referring to an AT leaflet about the proposed changes, and sent photographed copies. We have checked his photos and the original of that leaflet, and nowhere does it state that the 30km/h proposal is "applicable on 700km of the network". It seems Tamihere has simply misread the material, and when made aware of his mistake, has doubled down on the claim.
We also asked mayor Goff to comment. He said, "Anyone running for public office has an obligation to be honest." He called the ads "grossly inaccurate and dishonest".
He added that "speed limits are not set by elected representatives, but by the appropriate agencies after due consultation with the public".
That's true, although the mayor, with majority support from council, can instruct Auckland Transport in such matters.
AT's proposals are currently out for public consultation. You can find the details at at.govt.nz and have your say on that website until March 31.