The Auckland Council seems to be constantly surprised by decisions of its subordinate bodies. Last week, the mayor and members were blindsided by the plans of Ports of Auckland Ltd to demolish Marsden Wharf. This week, the members sound as dismayed as many ratepayers to discover the Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development agency (Ateed) has set up at least three posts overseas, in London, San Francisco and Melbourne.
The London post is especially troubling because it is said to have been created for a senior Ateed executive whose wife wanted to return to Britain. The man may be worth every cent of the $230,000 it is costing to retain him in London but the case for setting up such a post ought to have been well publicised and discussed with the council before any appointment was made. Likewise, the decision to keep a representative in San Francisco after the 2013 America's Cup and an agent in Melbourne to seek conferences for Auckland.
It would not have been hard to justify setting up these posts. If Auckland needs a dedicated agency for tourism, events and economic development then it probably needs people on the ground overseas. Its San Francisco representative is also working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which pays the bulk of her salary, and the Melbourne staff member is funded by Ateed's convention bureau that has business subscribers.
Mayor Len Brown appears to have known about all these postings and defends them. Last Saturday, when the Weekend Herald disclosed the London appointment, the mayor and Ateed's chief executive jointly announced a plan to open another post in China. But clearly, most council members have been in the dark, as evidenced by the fact that one is now asking the Auditor-General to investigate whether the decisions are a proper use of public money.
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The larger question is whether Auckland needs its own agency to do essentially the same work that the ministries of tourism, trade and economic development do for the whole country. With a quarter of New Zealand's population, its largest port, busiest airport, biggest centre of business and as the city where most overseas migrants settle, Auckland probably reaps its share of the benefits of national efforts.
But it was the Government that set up an agency to promote Auckland for tourism, events and economic development as part of the Super City, so it must see some gain. Ateed appears to be energetic at home, helping to launch the league nines, regain a round-the-world yacht racing stopover and working with the hosts of rock stars and other visiting celebrities to get additional exposure for the city.
It probably can do just as much overseas with people well placed to spot opportunities for Auckland to attract investment, skilled immigrants and events. It is just a pity a so-called council-controlled organisation did not do more to ensure the council and its ratepayers were aware and content with its decision to set up offices around the world. It could have prevented cheap shots being taken at appointments that may be bringing the city benefits from afar.