I was at the Über Stadt parliamentary select committee this afternoon to hear what the Auckland Transition Agency - the government appointed entity that has sweeping powers to establish most aspects of the new city council - had decided in relation to the local boards. The Chair (Assoc. Local Govt. minister) John "Hone" Carter had recommended I come back today to witness it since my presentation to the committee on Tuesday focused mainly on how local boards could be empowered (more on my submission later).
So I turned up, I listened to the ATA's Grant Taylor trying to explain the ATA's thinking and I'm afraid I was as disappointed as everyone else. The boards are entirely toothless, everything they do will have to be done through the Council's governing body - the 20 member executive board-style Council - and that is just untenable. More disappointing than hearing the vague and nebulous responses from Taylor was the discussion document distributed to the public afterwards: total spin front to back.
More than spin - lies, I'm afraid - just lies. The biggest of which is the first: "Auckland Council will have two complimentary and non-hierarchical decision-making parts." No - it is the exact opposite of that: it is totally hierarchical with the Council having all the decision-making power and the local boards none. The organisational chart they have prepared is also a lie:- it's actually a very steep pyramid shape - not the supposedly neutral oblong structure they pretend it is.
Describing what the local boards do as "decisions" is a gross misrepresentation - they are only recommendations to the Council, they are submissions, part of a consultation process in the same way that Joe Bloggs can make a submission and a recommendation to Council. The local boards have no power to make decisions on these issues unless the Council delegates it to them and since they don't want any of the local/council demarcation put in legislation the Council retains all the cards - local boards have only what they are given. Taylor actually argued that putting specifics in about what local boards could do would be unhelpful and unproductive! To whom? Why?
Indeed, why should this unelected agency be making decisions on any of these constitutional issues? The MPs and the elected representatives should be telling the agency what they should be doing rather than the other way around. Talk about an executive take-over. It all stinks to high heaven and the average Aucklander can smell it a mile off and they are not happy
Every submitter I've heard - groups and individuals, elected officials and ordinary citizens alike - have been expressing hostility towards the fundamentally undemocratic and unmandated way the amalgamation has been handled. The two main concerns - amongst many, many concerns - are the powerless, pointless local boards and the powerful and unaccountable "Council-controlled organisations" that will run most of what the council does and swallow most of the budget but be controlled by CCO boards composed of Ministerial appointments without elected local representatives. Those are the two big issues and today's discussion document has aggravated the situation even further.
The whole process is arse-about-face: no initial referendum, a nano-second of public consultation, legislation rammed through under urgency - twice, boundary disputes continuing without an acceptable resolution process, an unaccountable agency preempting the legislation, and as the time counts down to the 1 November start to the Auckland Council all of these issues are still highly contentious and pending this third and final Bill are unresolved. What a mess - an avoidable mess too. Rodney Hide has blown a lot of political capital picking fights he never had to have. It didn't have to be this way - a rape rather than a love affair it could have been.
Phil Twyford was particularly aggressive in his questioning today and has posted on the ATA's document on Red Alert
David Clendon sits closest to the submitters and usually asks a few pertinent questions each time - his post about today is on Frogblog.
And finally the government's statement (via Scoop) in which Rodney Hide tries to tell us:
“Local boards will provide unique local representation and allow the local residents to take responsibility for a range of activities in their community. These include overseeing the management of local facilities like swimming pools and parks, community programmes and local services such as refuse collection and graffiti control. I am pleased to see that the ATA is suggesting that the Auckland Council could delegate responsibility to local boards for regulatory functions such as liquor controls,” says Rodney Hide
"Unique" alright - as in a uniquely pointless tier of pseudo-governance. "Unique" perhaps in that some of these boards (the lowest unit of local government and supposedly the closest to the community) have bigger populations than entire metropolitan areas? Is that what he means by "unique" - that the Waitakere board has a population of 166,000? That's bigger than Dunedin FFS!
And as for the claim the boards will be: "overseeing the management of local facilities like swimming pools and parks, community programmes and local services such as refuse collection and graffiti control"
- that just cannot be true. They cannot really oversee anything - certainly not in the sense of supervision or accountability. They can complain to the Council about the operations and make recommendations to the council about operations just like everyone else, but they have no power to suspend or sack staff or to do the things necessary to really change anything.
If the board wants to extend library hours at their local branch, if they want to change managers of the local pool centre, if they want to make local rubbish collections on Tuesdays rather than Thursdays they will have to do all that through the Council because all of those issues have financial and operational implications on the unitary systems that are supposed to be delivering efficiency savings. One local board changing things may also have the potential for city-wide changes too, for example if one local board was successful in lobbying the Council for an exemption or an extension etc. of some city-wide service then all the other boards might well start demanding the same thing. They will be as powerless as the current community board structure - and in the scheme of things as they stand now as contemplated under this third Bill - they will be made, relatively, even less important.