After reading Sir Howard Marshall's rather optimistic view of how local boards are to perform in the new Auckland Council, I was reminded of the number of times I have been told "it will all be all right on the day as long as we all behave".

The problem is democracy has a way of finding the cracks in the empire. The announcement by the Remuneration Authority on salaries for Local Board elected members (between $20,000 and $37,000 a year) combined with the Auckland Transition Authority's release of documents outlining expected staffing levels for local boards are revealing.

It is clear the underlying motivation for restructuring of local government in Auckland is to remove the second tier of local government - namely the present councils.

This has been done with little understanding of the potential for local government to address some intransigent issues in Auckland. And in spite of the realisation that central and local government partnerships hold the key to better and more efficient policy and programme delivery at a local level.

Goodwill will not be enough under the new arrangements when you look at where the decision-making power lies. People and organisations have a funny habit of exercising their power when there is disagreement.

One big regional council is not local government. Councils will be replaced by beefed-up community boards called "local boards". Can anyone name the members of their current community board?

Despite all the rhetoric local boards will be empowered and we will have better local democracy in the Super City we will have a bunch of lowly-paid part-timers representing our interests with a small number of staff; employed by the parent Auckland Council.

This is democracy on the cheap and it is woefully inadequate. Higher tiers of government ignore local self-governance at their peril. Better local democracy will enable better metropolitan governance.

The alternative does not bear thinking about and the march up Queen St by Maori will be just the beginning as Aucklanders wake up to the realisation their local elected member "can't talk right now" because they're working in their day job.

How can we expect to get a talented, representative, cross-section of the Auckland community to run for local boards on $20,000 a year.

And how can we seriously believe claims by the minister that local boards will have real power?

The ratio of local board members to voters, roughly 1/11,000, will be higher than most councillors outside of Auckland.

The ratio of Auckland councillors to voters, roughly 1/70,000, will mean only elected members with any real power will be trying to represent a constituency bigger than most cities in New Zealand.

We will have 21 annoyed and vocal advocacy groups (local boards), one step removed from Council Controlled Organisations, trying to influence 20 ward councillors and the mayor.

I fear that with all the twists and contortions made to "streamline" local government we may end up with the worst of both worlds - disenfranchised local communities and a distant Auckland Council that is constantly lobbied and maligned.

Auckland councillors are also in danger of being one-term wonders as they will find it difficult to put regional interests ahead of their own wards.

What we have failed to achieve is a strong, second tier of local government that can take care of business and allow the greater Auckland Council to get on with regional governance.

David Wilson is the Director of the Institute of Public Policy at AUT