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Agency Urged Not To Override Democratic Council Decisions

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Auckland, May 22 NZPA - Local Government New Zealand says the newly-appointed Auckland transition agency must ensure it doesn't override decisions from democratically-elected councils.

Five people, headed by former Watercare chief executive Mark Ford, were today announced as the people on the agency which will oversee Auckland's transition to a single unitary council next year.

The agency has power to stop expenditure in Auckland's current seven city or district councils and its regional council that go past November 2010, when the super city is due to be set up.

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said the five-person agency, which was not elected by Aucklanders, needed to realise it was not there to re-litigate democratically-made decisions.

"We realise the agency needs to have a close working relationship with the existing councils to work through transition arrangements and to sign off long-term financial commitments over $20,000," he said.

"However, it will be wasteful for the Government if appointed people with no democratic responsibility are remaking decisions which councils have made.

"There is too much riding on Auckland to get it wrong."

Mr Yule said Mr Ford had "more implied powers than the Minister of Local Government" and it was crucial he and his team managed the transition process well.

"We expect the agency to take advantage of the existing knowledge and skills of elected members and staff in the current councils."

Labour Party leader Phil Goff said the establishment of the agency meant Auckland would be run by a non-democratically elected body.

He said the five people appointed appeared to be competent, though Labour thought the region's mayors should have been consulted about the agency's make-up.

"The agency has the responsibility of approving almost every decision now taken by Auckland's councils, right down to the purchasing of toilet paper. The bottlenecking of decisions is a significant risk," Mr Goff said.

"We expect full transparency around any undertakings given to Mr Ford, who has given up his present positions as a result, around future positions on the management structure of the Auckland council."

Green Party local government spokeswoman Sue Kedgley said the agency had too much power, especially as it could make decisions with a quorum of just two.

"The group is very well qualified to make rapid change happen, it's just too bad that Aucklanders don't approve of many of those changes," Ms Kedgley said.

"If we had an open and transparent process, where the people had been consulted, this team would be lauded. Instead, we'll be marching in the streets on Monday."

She said the six Green MPs would march in Monday's Auckland Hikoi to protest the Government's abandoning of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance's recommendation that three seats on the new council be reserved for Maori.

Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey, a supporter of Maori seats and an opponent of the Government's plan for 20-30 local boards under the council, said he supported Mr Ford's appointment.

"Auckland's transition has always needed someone with the street-knowledge of a London taxi driver and the executive clarity of a powerful local government leader, and Mark Ford is the man for that job."

He was also pleased to see former Rodney Mayor John Law on the agency, as was Manukau Mayor Len Brown.

Mr Brown was unhappy it had taken so long for the agency members to be announced, and that the Government did not talk to Auckland councils about it.

"However, that said, the appointment of the board will at last allow the councils to get on with the business of making the transition happen."

The Public Service Association, the union for many of Auckland's local government workers, said it wanted to meet the agency members.

PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said staff were fearful for their jobs after Auckland Mayor John Banks said 40 percent of Auckland's 6800 staff could lose their jobs.

Mr Banks later backtracked on the figure but Mr Ford today said there would definitely be redundancies.

"We want to meet with the transition agency and ensure that it's aware of the need to retain Auckland's local government workforce to ensure Aucklanders continue to receive the essential services that they provide," Mr Wagstaff said.

Council for Infrastructure Development chief executive Stephen Selwood said keeping the business of the councils going needed to be a priority for the transition agency.

He said councils had been reluctant to commit to work programmes and new infrastructure investment pending the appointment of the agency given that councils can't spend more than $20,000 without its authorisation.

"The priority is for the transition agency to set up a process which allows councils and their service providers to get on with business as usual," he said.

"The last thing we can afford at this time is inertia."

NZPA

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