From right to left, from John Banks and Michael Barnett to Len Brown and Mike Lee, Auckland's local politicians have begun protesting at a distinctly undemocratic element in the constitution being written for the Super City.

Legislation setting up the new Auckland Council threatens to delegate most decisions to a number of "council-controlled organisations" (CCOs), a piece of Orwellian newspeak if ever there was one.

They will not be directly controlled by the council. They will be run by boards appointed by the council but short of dismissing them there will be little public representatives can do to have a say in decisions about Auckland's roads and public transport, waterfront development and much else.

The CCOs are being set up precisely because it is believed decisions are best made by specialists protected from political influence. This principle was first applied when chargeable Government services were reconstituted as state-owned enterprises. Later it was extended to local bodies, and their chargeable operations became "local authority trading entities" (LATEs).

But LATEs became CCOs in 2002 under a Labour Government that wanted no distinction between commercial and non-commercial services. Labour MPs loudly protesting the Super City's "corporate" model today might need reminding of that.

They are right, though, that the model is not suited to non-commercial operations. Some local government facilities can be expected to finance themselves from charges for their use - water supply, stadiums, concert halls, zoos, airports, seaports and marinas, for example.

It is possible to put appointed boards in charge of them and hold the directors accountable by clear measures of financial performance. But many of the roles envisaged for CCOs in Auckland's new set-up cannot simply be priced and measured by financial returns.

The proposed agencies for transport, waterfront planning and economic development could be making crucial and contentious decisions at arms-length from elected representatives. The nightmare haunting Len Brown and no doubt other candidates is that they might campaign and win office on specific proposals in, say, public transport and the voters' will could be resisted by the transport board.

That example has to be qualified by the fact that Auckland transport advocates are accustomed to promoting projects that they expect national taxpayers to fund. Unless they can convince Auckland voters to foot the full bill for their schemes they cannot expect the transport board to fall into line. Even if it does, the Government might not provide the funds.

Road congestion is Auckland's greatest problem, and the task of designing public transport for a city of such diverse travel needs is its greatest challenge. Yet transport is the area in which the mayor and council elected by the Super City this year might have least power.

To add insult to injury, they will be expected to confine their role to writing long-term plans, "spatial plans" and agreed "statements of intent" with the CCOs. Typically these are anodyne documents that beg more questions than they answer.

They leave concrete decisions to the appointed body, which will be able to make the decisions behind closed doors without public scrutiny or participation until it thinks it safe to announce them. This is a recipe for severe disappointment in a Super City that was presented to Auckland as a device to give the city a strong, united voice.

The way it is shaping up, the single mayor and council will be a puppet show, purely for democratic appearances, while the real decisions are made by people the public has not elected and will never see. It cannot stand.