To paraphrase the old movie, there are eight million stories in the naked city, this is one of them.

Auckland is not 1940s New York; this is not a story of street-wise mob rule, quite the opposite. It is a thoroughly modern story of distant, dysfunctional city government that has no idea what is happening on the streets.

Quite a number of Aucklanders have begun writing to the paper about the appalling state of the parks and other public places. My story is not about long grass and litter, it is about a park gate.

The park is mostly dense, regenerating native bush in a gully of the East Coast Bays. In among the trees there is a lovely tennis club. You wouldn't know it's there, even at night with the floodlights on, unless you drove into the park from one of the two street entrances.


The entrances are supposed to be closed from dusk till dawn by barrier arms padlocked to posts. That posed a slight problem for our tennis club because a great deal of tennis is played under lights on weekday nights.

Until this year we resolved the problem by simply supplying our own padlock to be interlocked with the council's on one of the gates. At least, it used to be simple.

One morning in June we found our lock had been removed and left neatly on top of the post with the shackle sawn through in two places.

Mystified we contacted the park security contractors, who knew nothing about it. But they also mentioned their contract with the Auckland Council was ending on June 30.

I set out to find the new contractor and explain the system to someone on the ground. I got as far as the council's maintenance officer for the Hibiscus and Bays ward, based in Orewa.

He understood the system I was describing and said he would pass the information on to the new contractor who went by the name of Ventia.

Weeks went by, repeated calls were made to the council man, no response. By this time players had been locked in the park a couple of times and the council's emergency line had to be used to let them out.

Thereafter, I started calling the emergency line every night people were playing at the club, suggesting they not lock the gate.


Naively, I thought this would prompt someone to come up with a permanent solution, like interlocking padlocks.

No such luck. The security firm, a subcontractor to Ventia, just stopped locking the gate. Sometimes it appears to be open all night, other times the barrier arm is across but not locked, though our new padlock is there.

Consequently, the park is accessible all night for the kids in cars who do wheelies on the shingle, park among the trees and smoke their dope. So far, touch wood, they have not started a bush fire or vandalised the club.

I'll wager none of the 194 people on $200,000 salaries at the Auckland Council will know anything about this. But they have caused it.

It turned out the senior echelons of the Super City had done a grand rethink of their property maintenance.

They had adopted "an outcome-based model as opposed to a prescriptive model".

For example, explained the General Manager Community Facilities, Rod Sheridan, "The new contract model ensures, 'rubbish bins shall not exceed the bin's capacity and items shall not overflow" rather than, 'empty a rubbish bin once a day'."

Some of the council's 234 communications staff wrote on the council website: "Aucklanders can expect better maintenance of their local parks, buildings and open spaces."

We were promised, "more responsive, streamlines local maintenance services. One supplier will manage the cleaning of a public toilet and while they are at the site, will ensure bins are emptied, lights fixed, and gates and doors locked or unlocked ..."

The chosen contractors were announced in April. Ventia, an Australian company, was said to have nearly 200 staff in an Auckland office, plus 600 field workers. I've not seen one.

Auckland used to have local government. We still have local boards whose members know what needs to be done.

All the North Shore board chairs, Julia Parfitt, Lisa White, Grant Gillon and Danielle Grant, expressed doubts about the wisdom of replacing a long-serving Shore based contractor.

But local boards can be ignored by the "governing body", which is itself not allowed to interfere in the "operational" decisions of executive officers, the $200k gang.

Layers of contracting now separate the Auckland Council from the citizens, and contractors are answerable to unelected mandarins with their heads in the clouds, devising rarefied managerial plans that cannot get down to the small, necessary arrangements of real life.