Archive | Auckland Council

Governance framework review a leading topic for local boards

In this round of local board meetings, all boards will consider the governance framework review (links taken from the Orakei Local Board agenda for its meeting on Thursday):

12, Governance framework review recommendations  
Summary table of report recommendations    
Regional decision-making and policy processes    
Allocations and delegations    
Reserve Act land exchanges    
Local boards and Auckland Transport    
Confirmation of draft transport recommendations    
Waiheke Local Board pilot project cover paper    
Waiheke pilot project outline    
Funding and finance workstream paper 1    
Funding and finance cover paper July    
Funding finance description of 2 models    
Number of local boards    
Representation options    
Naming conventions

Who gets the name Wesley?

The Puketapapa Local Board will return this week to the topic of where in Auckland the suburb name Wesley should be used:

12, Notice of motion, official naming of Wesley suburb
Notice of motion, official naming of Wesley suburb    
Wesley boundary map 

Airport access

The Puketapapa board also has airport access – light or heavy rail, and the route – on its agenda this week:

17, Airport access
Benefits of LRT and heavy rail to Aucklanders    
Auckland Transport board resolution    
Progression pathway

Three Kings plan change

And the Puketapapa board has a request for its view on whether a plan change request from Fletcher Residential Ltd to amend the Three Kings precinct, and to rezone some land within the precinct, should be accepted as a private plan change or adopted as a council plan change.

The council’s planning committee will make the council decision on how the plan change request will be treated.

21, Plan change proposal for Three Kings precinct 

Sediment discharge

After a submission from the Friends of Okura Group, the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board has received a report on sediment discharges from the Envirofill cleanfill site at 1627 East Coast Rd at Redvale, and the Weiti village development nearby, which has concluded the developments meet their consent conditions.

12, Envirofill & Weiti developments, sediment discharge inquiry

Attribution: Local board agendas.

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Council to choose Auckland Plan refresh option

Auckland Council’s planning committee will decide tomorrow on which of 5 options to follow to refresh the region’s overarching planning document, the Auckland Plan.

The plan was approved in 2012, in the first term of the super-city council, and was followed by a series of related plans for the central area, the waterfront, local board plans and, the biggest of them all, the unitary plan combining regional policy statements & the district plan.

The council’s strategic advice manager, Denise O’Shaughnessy, said in her report to the committee that, while the Auckland Plan had proven to be an important & useful document, “it has shortcomings which have become evident during implementation. These shortcomings include outdated data, limited integration, a complex structure, too much low-level content, limited prioritisation and a weak monitoring & reporting framework. In addition, the plan is in hard-copy form and therefore cannot be easily updated or accessed.”

Staff have recommended option 4 – “a streamlined spatial approach” – to replace the existing plan “on the basis that it provides appropriate focus on spatial components while ensuring these are strongly connected to the achievement of high-level social, economic, environmental & cultural objectives. The option structures the plan around a small number of interlinked themes that address Auckland’s biggest challenges.”

The other options were a light update, a full update, updating only the development strategy, and a streamlined version that would include detailed non-spatial initiatives & narrative.

The recommended option 4’s update cost is estimated at $2.69-3.53 million, in the mid-range of estimates for the 5 options.

Option 4 would:

  • update & add new general facts & figures
  • use a small number of organising & interlinked themes around Auckland’s key challenges
  • set high level objectives, both spatial & non-spatial, in these theme areas with a brief narrative
  • focus on development strategy to reflect unitary plan decisions; infrastructure strategy; strategic work on urban, rural & future urban development areas; national policy statement on urban development capacity requirements; and create a new growth model
  • exclude any further non-spatial initiatives, narrative or detail and remove more detailed operational directives
  • creates a limited number of high level indicators to track progress and measures to guide the work programme
  • removes all other material in the existing plan, and
  • create a digital plan.

Staff have recommended targeted early public engagement through channels such as online feedback/polling & workshops with community group representatives from May-July. That would be followed next year by a special consultative procedure on the draft refreshed Auckland Plan, at the same time as the council consults on its draft long-term plan.

Committee agenda item: Options for refreshing the Auckland Plan

Attribution: Committee agenda.

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Next Takapuna Beach reserve decision – how to run a camping ground

The Takapuna Beach camping ground is back on the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board’s agenda on Tuesday, not for another round in the battle between camping & a sailing centre, but for a report on evaluating whether it should be run by the council or leased out.

Pro-campers won decisively in December 2015, though the board allowed 600m² to be carved off. Last November, the newly elected local board resolved to re-establish the full footprint of the camping ground site.

Yachting NZ, through the Harbour Access Trust, had campaigned to get a sailing centre built on the reserve. When that failed, the question for the local board was how to run the camping ground.

The council community facilities department has been developing an in-house model and will formally seek a decision from the board in April on whether to continue down that track or to opt for an external lease. Council organisation Panuku Development Auckland had developed 2 external options.

It’s not a straightforward choice. To run it in-house or lease it short-term, the council would have to spend $1-2 million renewing infrastructure & facilities, but that money’s not in the budget.

The council has taken steps, however, to make an in-house operation a practical proposition. It recently established a specialist unit in the new community facilities department to manage the holiday accommodation portfolio that’s under the direct management of council staff. This includes holiday park operations at Orewa, Whangateau & Martin’s Bay, the Waiheke backpackers hostel and numerous baches, lodges & tented campgrounds in the council-owned regional parks.

Earlier story:
14 December 2015: Takapuna Beach campground up for debate again

Attribution: Local board agenda.

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Uptown BID expansion scheme moves to final stages

The Uptown Business Association – straddling the start of New North Rd on the south-western fringe of downtown Auckland – is working on a programme to expand its business improvement district just over the railway line to take in the first blocks of Mt Eden.

Image above: Map shows the existing Uptown business improvement district hached in blue and the proposed extension hached in red.

The expansion area would run a short way down Dominion & Mt Eden Rds, cutting across at Brentwood & Sylvan Avenues. It would extend down Mt Eden Rd to Normanby Rd on the eastern side, taking in the block between Esplanade Rd & Puka St on the western side.

The business improvement district would incorporate the business & apartment precinct developed on the former Robert Holt timber yard & neighbouring streets on the city side of Maungawhau/Mt Eden, and also include Mt Eden Prison on the run across to the Southern Motorway.

The existing business improvement district boundary runs around Boston Rd, bordering the prison, follows the railway line to Park Rd then heads back west along Carlton Gore Rd to Grafton Rd.

The Uptown Business Association requires local board support before balloting businesses in the proposed extension area. This extension sits in the Albert-Eden and Waitemata local board areas. Approval from both boards and from target businesses will increase association membership from 1800 to 2100 members, and its target rate from $180,000 to $250,000 as of 1 July 2017. The Albert-Eden board approved it in December. The ballot requires a 25% return of votes, with 51% of those votes supporting the boundary expansion, to succeed. Voting will take place from 6-31 March.

18, Proposed Uptown Business Association, business improvement district expansion boundary map

Earlier story:
11 April 2016: Uptown project, name change & paid parking zone on local board agenda

Attribution: Council agenda.

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Youth leader replaces MP’s wife on Howick Local Board

Mike Turinsky.

Mike Turinsky (Practical Not Political Party) has won the by-election in the Botany subdivision of Auckland Council’s Howick ward with 3510 votes – 40.2% of the 8739 total (excluding 32 informal or blank).

Mark Johnson (Labour) was well back on 1045 votes, with 5 independents making up the rest of the field.

The by-election was called after the successful candidate in the October 2010 election, Lucy Schwaner, quit immediately after being sworn in.

She’d stood for the chair to unseat incumbent David Collings, but lost the vote 5-4, walked out and issued a statement half an hour later saying she resigned because she had no confidence in the chairmanship of Mr Collings.

Ms Schwaner is the wife of the National Party MP for Botany, Jami-Lee Ross, who was campaign manager for the unofficial National Party team, Vision & Voice. Only one of the 9 board members wasn’t a member of that team, now joined by Mr Turinsky, who’s chief executive of the Young Life New Zealand Trust, a charitable trust based in East Auckland which helps provide youth workers to 3 local schools – Botany Downs Secondary College, Pakuranga College & Edgewater College.

He said on his website he valued fiscal responsibility and staying under budget.

Attribution: Council, Schwaner statement, Turinsky website.

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Council to tighten reins on CCOs

Auckland Council will tighten the reins on its council-controlled organisations, made all the more certain after woeful presentations by the organisations’ heads to the council in December.

The common theme for the boards when they gave their presentations to the council’s finance & performance committee on council letters of expectation on 13 December was that they were autonomous, with their own boards.

Those boards, initially appointed by a transition authority, are now appointed by the council governing body.

The relationship between these organisations and the governing body over the first 6 years of the super-city has ranged from fractious to, at best, awkwardly & reluctantly accepting submission before getting on with their own thing again.

When Rodney Hide, the Act Party’s leader & Local Government Minister, decided on the super-city scheme put in place in 2010, it was clear that he & the Government wanted a separation of powers, which would also have more easily enabled sale of some of these divisions, such as the water & transport operations.

Despite the preferred separation, however, these commercial parts of council business remained under the council umbrella.

The super-city’s first mayor, Len Brown, tried to work with the council-controlled organisations, but continuing efforts by Ports of Auckland Ltd (owned via Auckland Council Investments Ltd) to reclaim more of the Waitemata Harbour for port facilities, and disputes on the business cases of Auckland Transport & Watercare Services Ltd emphasised the resistance to subsidiary status.

New mayor Phil Goff was less inclined to allow the organisations a long leash when he put his views to the December meeting, and that’s been followed up with a proposal for this afternoon’s appointments & performance review committee on improving accountability mechanisms and activating unused mechanisms.

Principal advisor Rose Leonard said in her report for today’s meeting the governing body had 20 mechanisms available to control the CCOs, and some were already programmed for review this year while others were continuously improved at every cycle of direction-setting & reporting.

Her report offers the council 3 options “for a work programme to enhance the transparency, alignment & responsiveness of CCOs, and to improve the recognition of ratepayer funding for CCO activity”.

The choices:

Option 1 (status quo): existing programme of 12 mechanisms for review which would be completed in line with the finalisation of the long-term plan. This ‘default’ programme will proceed even if the council doesn’t agree to the enhanced programme in options 2 or 3
Option 2 (recommended option): adds 5 mechanisms into the existing work programme within the same timeline (including operating rules for Auckland Transport). “This option is recommended because it best meets the governing body’s new expectations and can be met within existing budgets
Option 3 (expanded scope or some elements delivered sooner): envisages that the council might want to bring the timing of some mechanisms forward, or expand the scope of option 2.  “Option 3 would likely have costs which have not been budgeted for. More work would need to be done to see which elements could be fast-tracked, or what the cost would be.”

The staff recommendation to the committee is to approve option 2, and send that recommendation to the governing body at its 23 February meeting.

Today’s committee agenda

Attribution: Council agenda, December meetings.

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A messy start to forward-aiming governance at Auckland Council

Auckland Council’s governing body supported new mayor Phil Goff 19 votes to 2 yesterday on a resolution to enable closer scrutiny of the supposedly council-controlled commercial organisations, particularly Auckland Transport.

One of those opposing was Cllr Mike Lee, one of 2 councillors who’d been on the Auckland Transport board for the first 6 years of the super-city. The other, Cllr Christine Fletcher, said she’d intended to stand down anyway, but was upset that it looked like she was being shunted out.

If Cllr Lee had paid closer attention to the governance guide – which recommended councillors take a board seat for a maximum 2 terms – he’d have been aware his term had come to an end. And if the mayor had wanted more effusive support, he’d have mentioned this before launching on a campaign which included pitting any future councillors wanting to be board directors against non-councillor applicants on a merit basis, and looked like he was sacking the 2 councillor directors.

The automatic reaction from some councillors – notably Cllr Cathy Casey, who supported Cllr Lee in opposing the mayor’s resolution – was that they’d lose against corporate candidates if they didn’t have some kind of corporate governance experience & skills.

That in itself is an encouraging sign: Being elected for their passion to a cause is one part of politics; having the skill to perform once elected is quite another. Upskilling would go a long way to improving councillor understanding and ought to reduce the interminable debates which are standard practice on the road to an agreed point (or, too often, the road to somewhere else).

Yesterday’s debate mixed 2 topics – one, scrutiny, the other how Cllrs Lee & Fletcher were dealt with.

Although the 2 councillors’ input at the Auckland Transport board table might have been valuable, and although Cllr Lee maintained he’d ensured reports on Auckland Transport business were regularly tabled at the 2 council committees he chaired (first transport, which became infrastructure in the second term), there was nothing incisive about council consideration of how Auckland Transport was dealing with council policies & strategies.

After several councillors were critical of the way Cllrs Lee & Fletcher were treated, in the end the vote was about the way forward.

  • I dropped into yesterday’s governing body meeting 3 times over its 6½ hours, need to pick up on some elements of it and will write further about governance at the council over the weekend. On one element Mr Goff undoubtedly scored well: he insisted that questions (asked of submitters or information providers preceding debate) be questions, not statements dressed up as questions. Some found it hard to adapt.

Governance stories, 9 November 2016:
Goff to employ CCO-scrutiny tools old council wouldn’t use
Fletcher suggests Goff take her Auckland Transport board seat
Lee takes potshots at Goff, ‘independent’ directors, ‘systemic inefficiencies’

Attribution: Governing body meeting.

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Goff to employ CCO-scrutiny tools old council wouldn’t use

New Auckland mayor Phil Goff added an item yesterday to the council governing body’s second business meeting, scheduled for Thursday – “a raft of new & improved accountability tools to significantly strengthen scrutiny of council-controlled organisations (CCOs), including Auckland Transport”.

In quotes from the mayor’s media release, because some of the words in it are unlikely:

  • Raft, new, improved – The governing body is being asked to approve a few measures which were already available. The improvement will come from the reporting back by Auckland Transport staff. The easy way to lose that part of scrutiny is for the CCO item to be down the bottom of a long agenda, and for the reporting CCO staff to say: “Any questions?”
  • Scrutiny – Mr Goff decided, without talking to either councillor who’d been on the Auckland Transport board for 6 years, that if councillors were to be on that board it should be by merit in competition with non-councillors. While the degree of effective scrutiny that surfaced through public council meetings was limited, mostly confined to the format of reports from Auckland Transport executives & questioning of them, it could have been much stronger. That format produces what the person reporting wants to say; beyond that, inconvenient questions can be answered either later outside the public eye or from further inquiry back at the office.

Under the Goff plan, both the input to Auckland Transport at board level and takeout from councillors reporting back are removed, unless the recruiting agency deems a councillor or 2 acceptable.

Cllr Mike Lee, one of the 2 councillors on the Auckland Transport board for 6 years, had more to say about board recruiting in his response to a mayoral inquiry.

The other councillor on the board, Christine Fletcher, said she’d intended to finish after 2 terms, which is the recommendation in the CCO rulebook, and move her focus to other areas of council business. Instead of merely being replaced, she found herself at the centre of uproar when the mayor disclosed his intentions.

  • Significantly strengthen – More measures are available to the governing body to tell CCO boards what the council wants – policy, strategy, finances – but, as the council found in its first 2 terms, some of the answers came with different interpretations of ordinary words.

How really to strengthen scrutiny?

How, then, will the council strengthen its scrutiny? CCO financial monitoring is one of the matters to be addressed by the new council finance & performance committee, chaired by Cllr Ross Clow with new councillor Desley Simpson as deputy. Unless the report/questions format is replaced, committee scrutiny will be no different.

But finance is only one part of the equation. How will this committee work out, for example, the dollar value of measures to reduce the number of free-riding passengers on trains? Or, the dollar value of doing nothing to stop free-riding? And how will the committee know the question needs to be asked?

That’s one of the points Cllr Lee has made in his response to the mayor.

The governing body in the first 2 terms of the super-city council didn’t impose all the conditions on performance & reporting it could have, and reached a stand-off where CCOs pushed back.

Auckland Transport had 2 councillors on its 8-member board, but other boards were all independent, initially appointed by the transition authority that prepared the way for Auckland Council’s start in 2010.

In general, those boards are about getting on with business, which is precisely as Act Party leader & local government minister Rodney Hide wanted it when he saw the super-city council set up.

Mostly, public organisations butt out of the boardroom, and certainly out of how policies are implemented by organisations they own. But generally, relationships & understandings build up, and the managers of the business know their boundaries.

Auckland Transport is a new conglomerate, running businesses which range from operating train & bus services to managing parking buildings to mowing (some) street lawns (and there, making executive decisions on which blades not to cut). All that is small beer compared to its role as partner in developing the city rail link.

Auckland Transport’s capital & operating budgets total $2 billion this financial year, at a cost of 38c in every dollar of rates.

Mr Goff said in his release yesterday: “Strengthening the oversight of the CCOs, including AT, will result in solutions that are better aligned to the outcomes Aucklanders want. That includes easing congestion on our roads, the development of an effective & efficient public transport system and the protection & enhancement of our natural environment & communities as we bring large infrastructure projects online.

“Aucklanders want the council to have greater scrutiny & control over CCOs, and the feedback I have received from many councillors shows that they share those concerns. The practice of simply appointing 2 councillors to a board of 8 directors has not been effective in achieving adequate accountability or responsiveness from AT.”

Mr Goff said he wanted Auckland Transport directors to be appointed on merit in an open & competitive process, “to ensure we get the right mix of skills, knowledge & experience to deliver the best outcomes for Auckland. That includes financial & governance expertise as well as the requirement to act in the best interests of the shareholder, Auckland Council, on behalf of the people of this city.”

If the council governing body agrees on Thursday, the council’s appointments & review committee will start the process to fill 3 vacancies on the Auckland Transport board (2 previously occupied by councillors, one other) on Wednesday 23 November.

In addition, he said, “I am recommending the introduction of a suite of new & improved measures to address community concerns about the lack of accountability. Some of these powers, including the introduction of operating rules for AT, have never previously been exercised by the council.”

In the first 6 years of the super-city, the council stumbled on making CCOs’ statements of intent better than wallpaper because, although CCOs had to consider council comments, they weren’t required to adopt any of them.

The council did achieve some changes, but the directors of these subsidiaries didn’t see them as subsidiaries.

Under recent legislative changes, a prescribed set of new measures must be included in statements of intent. Mr Goff said it made sense to review all key performance indicators at all substantive CCOs before the next long-term plan is adopted in 2018.

The mayor said his proposal included:

  • introducing new rules for Auckland Transport to determine how its governing body must operate
  • modifying CCOs’ statements of intent to better meet council objectives
  • undertaking a comprehensive review of accountability policies
  • developing fresh, comprehensive letters of expectation for all CCOs, and
  • strengthening council committees’ ability to scrutinise CCOs’ achievement of their outcomes.

“The focus solely on board appointments has distracted from the bigger issue we are facing, which is the need to drive the performance of CCOs using every possible lever. The steps I am recommending will make a real difference and help us win the confidence of Aucklanders by showing that we are listening to their concerns and acting in their best interests,” Mr Goff said.

Those Auckland Transport operating rules are written in the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act and say the council can decide how the board must operate, how Auckland Transport must appoint & employ staff, including its chief executive, and how it must acquire & dispose of significant assets.

Those rules are about boundaries & distrust, imply anticipated misbehaviour and discourage leeway in interpretation. They’re not about setting a positive course to meet goals, which is what the transport alignment project was about.

With these parameters in place, councillors will be no better off after their meeting on Thursday than they were before it, which means a rethink will in due course be needed.

Governing body meeting, 10 November 2016: Addendum agenda
Legislative & other accountability mechanisms for substantive Auckland CCOs
Communication from Cllr Christine Fletcher
Communication from Cllr Mike Lee

Related stories, 8 November 2016:
Goff to employ CCO-scrutiny tools old council wouldn’t use
Fletcher suggests Goff take her Auckland Transport board seat
Lee takes potshots at Goff, ‘independent’ directors, ‘systemic inefficiencies’

Attribution: Council agenda, Goff release, Fletcher & Lee letters.

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Fletcher suggests Goff take her Auckland Transport board seat

After telling new Auckland mayor Phil Goff she’d thought her job in transport was finished with the signing off of the city rail link partnership and the Auckland transport alignment project with the Government, Cllr Christine Fletcher has told Mr Goff he would be her best replacement on the Auckland Transport board.

Mr Goff asked Cllr Fletcher and the other councillor who was on the Auckland Transport board for the last 6 years, Mike Lee, for their written views on the issues of directors & accountability at the transport organisation after he’d already made it clear their positions would be up for filling on merit, not necessarily by them or any other councillor.

Cllr Fletcher wrote back: “I would encourage you to request the council appoint you to the board of Auckland Transport. The biggest issue for Auckland is how we play catch-up on infrastructure without pushing the boundaries on rating increases. We need reprioritisation of council expenditure, contestable policy advice, and an open debating environment that draws the best from councillors.

“Transport is one area where strong interrogation of the options is going to be critical. We have to free up our congested roads for people & freight. Politics, as we both know, can be complex, and commercial directors don’t always get the entire picture or understand the nuances. Equally, politicians do not always have a good understanding of responsibilities of directorship, and the serious legal & financial risks directors incur when things go wrong.

“As mayor of a council with a number of commercial entities, wearing the 2 hats of political & commercial responsibility would provide invaluable insights. Where better to do this than at Auckland Transport, a CCO at the heart of thinking through how we shape our future city?”

Auckland Council sends its CCOs a letter of expectation every year as input to the draft statement of intent – a convention not written into legislation but borrowed from governance of state-owned enterprises.

Cllr Fletcher said ministers had greater involvement & experience with state-owned enterprises this way, and the select committee process provided a thorough interrogation of the statement of intent – “something yet to happened fully at Auckland Council, where any monitoring usually focuses on local activities that should be matters better delegated to local boards and not Auckland Transport. Councillors are yet to realise the power of an agreed statement of intent. I am looking forward to working on this within the new council structure.”

Cllr Fletcher believed the breakthrough of the alignment project with the Government on prioritising key transport infrastructure wouldn’t have happened as readily without the input from elected members: “Auckland Transport provided the strategic grunt & determination to create the advanced methodology to deliver robust project prioritisation, which in turn became the foundation for the transport alignment project, including the city rail link.”

For herself, Cllr Fletcher said she wanted to be free to play a new role in shaping & monitoring more effective letters of expectation & statements of intent and she was keen to see other councillors join the Auckland Transport board: “My planned focus this term, which was well socialised around family, friends & close colleagues, was to complete the policy work I had started on the parks, sports & recreation committee last term. This was in response to the huge challenges facing our magnificent Auckland green space.

“There is much to be done to protect our magnificent network of regional parks, provide for the sustainability of sporting clubs, growth in volunteers & partnerships including aligning the council with the Department of Conservation on ecological issues, all while meeting the expectations & requirements of the Auckland unitary plan.”

Governing body meeting, 10 November 2016: Addendum agenda
Legislative & other accountability mechanisms for substantive Auckland CCOs
Communication from Cllr Christine Fletcher
Communication from Cllr Mike Lee

Related stories, 8 November 2016:
Goff to employ CCO-scrutiny tools old council wouldn’t use
Fletcher suggests Goff take her Auckland Transport board seat
Lee takes potshots at Goff, ‘independent’ directors, ‘systemic inefficiencies’

Attribution: Council agenda, Goff release, Fletcher & Lee letters.

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Lee takes potshots at Goff, ‘independent’ directors, ‘systemic inefficiencies’

“I will accept in good faith,” Auckland councillor Mike Lee told new mayor Phil in a response on 31 October, “your questionnaire that you ask me to complete as a genuine quest for knowledge, despite you already making your own preferences known in such a public way.”

Sugar, but not sweet. Cllr Lee had learned that the new mayor intended to have no councillor on the Auckland Transport board just because there were seats for 2 councillors, which he & Cllr Christine Fletcher had filled for 6 years.
Instead, any councillor wanting to sit on that board would need to compete for the job on merit against any other contestant.

In his response to Mr Goff, Cllr Lee weaved his way through the fragile state of democracy, cast a few aspersions and saw no good coming from the change.

Cllr Lee said in his letter to Mr Goff the parliamentary Labour Party, of which Mr Goff was leader at the time, had issued a minority report decrying the loss of the democratic mandate as the super-city bill corporatised much of Auckland local government. The Labour report said there was no evidence running Auckland transport as a CCO would be more efficient than running it in-house, and 4 government departments said it would lack transparency & accountability to ratepayers.

“Now, as the newly elected mayor of Auckland, you have revealed your preference to abolish even the minimal democratic level of oversight that the National-led government felt it was obliged to provide.”

The Green Party also opposed “the bulk of the council’s work & assets being out into the hands of appointed rather than elected representatives, given the near certainty that the organisation will claim that commercial imperatives can override the public’s right to know how their assets are being managed.”

Incidentally, Cllr Lee said, “I have found most ‘independent directors’ are quite uncomfortable with interacting with the public, as anyone who has attended an Auckland Transport ‘open session’ will attest. And I well recall the former ‘independent’ deputy chair of the Auckland Transport board successfully arguing why a request by the former council chief executive, Doug Mackay, no less, to sit in and observe a confidential board session – most Auckland Transport business is deemed confidential – should be declined, adding that it was inappropriate for to have even asked!

“As one example for my personal efforts to seek better accountability, I also attach a benchmarking report I went to a lot of trouble researching & compiling and provided to the Auckland Transport board as well as to the mayor & governing body, in 2015, highlighting systemic financial inefficiencies relating to 10s of millions/year of public money in Auckland Transport’s commuter rail operations, compared to the operation of a similar operation funded by that of the (democratic) ‘Greater Wellington’ Regional Council.

“Finally, I would point to my willingness to challenge management policies, whether it be the failure to address chronic rail fare evasion (or even to admit the true level of evasion, now, 5 years on, grudgingly & inadequately being addressed by installing gates at the worst-affected stations) and the deeply flawed decision to dismiss any future possibility of train services to Auckland International Airport.”

On Mr Goff’s question on the competencies & personal attributes he believed Auckland Transport directors must possess, Cllr Lee said: “I will not attempt to respond in regard to ‘independent’ directors, but it should be glaringly obvious. However, ‘independent directors’ seem to all come through one privileged recruitment company, have no special experience or interest in transport, but all apparently acceptable to – or actual supporters of – the National government.”

Comparison of Auckland & Wellington rail costs.

Cllr Lee said he’d repeatedly argued for more inclusion in the statement of intent of meaningful metrics which would enable direct comparability with the performance of other jurisdictions” “Example: a ‘fare box return’ metric which is comparable, for instance, to that of the Wellington Regional Council and not ‘sandbagged & made to look better by adding in non-subsidised commercial services.

“Another important metric – lacking despite my repeated requests – is ‘percentage of public transport trips per capita’, which also would allow effective benchmarking with comparator cities which use this metric.

“To be fair, the weakness for failing to demand this rigour is really the council’s. Council senior management appears to be averse to challenging Auckland Transport senior management in any way. The council itself, as shareholder, needs to be prepared to lift its game.”

Cllr Lee said he’d also argued “for the retention of those Auckland Council officers with expertise to provide contestable transport advice to councillors. My letter to the council chief executive, Mr [Stephen] Town in 2014 on this matter was never responded to, though the letter was acknowledged by his personal assistant. Unhelpfully, the small council transport planning team was soon after disbanded and the highly respected manager, who also managed the transport-infrastructure committee, was made redundant. He now works at the NZ Transport Agency.

“I understand this was done at the behest of management f Auckland Transport, who resented councillors receiving occasional expert challenge to its approach. The council’s transport committee from 2010-13, which I chaired, was a popular & effective monitoring tool, of Auckland Transport, so effective that apparently Auckland Transport lobbied for its abolition.

“It was renamed the infrastructure committee in 2013 but with the subsequent disbanding & dispersal of the council’s own team of transport experts, and now your own decision to abolish this committee, it has been effectively removed as a monitoring mechanism of Auckland Transport for councillors & the public alike.”

To finish, Cllr Lee reminded Mr Goff of his time as Labour spokesperson on Auckland affairs, when he sought information & advice from Cllr Lee on transport matters on numerous occasions: “I recall the briefing I gave you at your rather urgent request on Auckland Transport’s plans for light rail, which had just been announced that day, and the subsequent arrangements I made for you to have a special technical briefing from Auckland Transport staff.

“While I view your preferred approach – the removal of the role of elected representatives on the board of Auckland Transport – as likely to result in the antithesis of better accountability & public confidence in Auckland Transport, and against the public interest, I am bound to say I am also personally disappointed at the manner in which you have gone about this.

“Regardless of the pros & cons of the question of councillor-directors being on the board of Auckland Transport, the peremptory approach you have adopted has been unfortunate, and could & should have been avoided.”

Governing body meeting, 10 November 2016: Addendum agenda
Legislative & other accountability mechanisms for substantive Auckland CCOs
Communication from Cllr Christine Fletcher
Communication from Cllr Mike Lee

Related stories, 8 November 2016:
Goff to employ CCO-scrutiny tools old council wouldn’t use
Fletcher suggests Goff take her Auckland Transport board seat
Lee takes potshots at Goff, ‘independent’ directors, ‘systemic inefficiencies’

Attribution: Council agenda, Goff release, Fletcher & Lee letters.

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