GUEST BLOG: Mike Lee – Secret reports – plausible denial: Auckland Council’s Winter of Discontent

By   /   July 2, 2018  /   21 Comments

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It’s certainly proving to be a Winter of Discontent within the Auckland Council. It’s this discontent that was behind the recent letter expressing ‘strong dissatisfaction’ with the ‘secretive and non-inclusive’ leadership style of Mayor Phil Goff, signed by nine councillors including myself

It’s certainly proving to be a Winter of Discontent within the Auckland Council. It’s this discontent that was behind the recent letter expressing ‘strong dissatisfaction’ with the ‘secretive and non-inclusive’ leadership style of Mayor Phil Goff, signed by nine councillors including myself, (the so-called ‘Albert Street Nine’). The letter can be traced back to a report commissioned by the mayor on a ‘downtown national football stadium’, and kept secret from the councillors for nearly a year.  It didn’t help either that the report cost nearly $1 million. Nor that Goff only made it available to councillors when its existence was disclosed by Radio NZ and under pressure from the Ombudsman – and then in a form so heavily censored that it was quite unreadable. I have been in local government for 26 years and I’ve never seen ‘redacting’ on this scale. Whole pages were simply blacked out. Several weeks on, Goff has finally agreed to release the report uncensored, on request – but the damage has been done.

At a meeting called to discuss the affair I had the opportunity to question the mayor face-to-face.  Mr Goff confirmed that he requested the report early in 2017, via the CCO Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA).  The report by PWC was completed in June 2017 but according to Goff, while he was briefed on its contents, he never asked for a copy.  However at this briefing he asked for further information and so a second report was commissioned, again by PWC, and completed in September.  Same story. Goff was briefed but according to him he never asked for, nor was he given a copy. Nor did he ask for or was told the price. Goff claimed he only received the report(s) and became aware of the cost in April this year. We have to take his word for all this but for someone who obviously has a bit of an obsession with a new football stadium, not reading the reports he commissioned is certainly strange behaviour.  And certainly given the secretiveness, unacceptable behaviour. Goff’s fixation with a ‘downtown’ stadium can be traced back to late 2006 when the then Labour government led by Minister of Sport Trevor Mallard came up with the idea of a ‘waterfront’ stadium located in the harbour, for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Goff has been putting it about that the government pledged to build the stadium for free. This is simply not true.  Fortunately as I was the chairman of the Auckland Regional Council at the time I’ve kept a file. While there were certainly hints of government largesse, Mr Mallard was careful to avoid making commitments. Talk of government support melted away as the estimates for this very challenging project (in terms of engineering and deadline), climbed towards $1billion. After two weeks of intensive briefings from a range of experts, including Mallard himself, in November 2006 the ARC unanimously voted against it.  It was my job to tell Prime Minister Helen Clark that having carefully studied the proposal it was our best judgement that Eden Park was a more sensible and affordable option for the Rugby World Cup. It was a sound decision and was backed by a clear majority of Aucklanders – but clearly not by Mr Goff.

Back to the present where it appears that despite all the other pressing problems and costs Auckland faces, a new football stadium appears to be still very much the mayor’s ambition.  The final catalyst for the nine councillors was to be called to an ‘urgent briefing’ late on 7 June to be told discussions were underway about moving Speedway from Western Springs where it has been for 90 years, to a venue in South Auckland.  Despite assurances that this was no ‘done deal’ and had no implications for cricket, the NZ Herald the next morning announced a memorandum-of understanding was to be signed that day by the mayor, RFA and Speedway promoters committing to the move and that Western Springs indeed was intended for cricket.  Speedway has long complained of pressure to get out but now to assist the move support amounting to $14m including up to $300,000 for a council-paid project manager is part of the deal. That RFA and Goff want to move cricket from Eden Park to Western Springs is no secret – and hotly opposed by Auckland Cricket. The game plan seems to be to undermine Eden Park (which completed a major upgrade in 2011) and thereby make a ‘downtown’ stadium (now estimated to cost nearly $2 billion) to be somehow justifiable.  It’s this sort of behaviour that’s causing councillors from across the political spectrum to question Mr Goff’s leadership style and judgement. And now we have learned of the existence of another report, this one on light rail, commissioned by Goff from Auckland Transport. Given the importance of this project, the mayor’s convoluted explanation for keeping it from councillors for 8 months is unconvincing. This is why this Council is not a happy ship. It looks like it’s going to be a long winter.

Mike Lee is an Auckland Counsellor 

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21 Comments

  1. Sanctuary says:

    Just retire already Mike Lee, you are an artifact of a distant past and wrong on everything from PT to how to run the city. You and Cathy Casey should go set up the sensitive egos who complain about everything party.

    • savenz says:

      No sure how you can think Phil Goff’s actions are acceptable. Shooting the messenger or in this case messanger’s is not helping democracy. Should we accept secret reports of millions for boys toy personal projects when people are homeless and they are implementing a fuel tax and raising taxes? Nope!

    • countryboy says:

      ‘Sensitive egos’ ? You won’t mind of I tell you to fuck off then @ SANCTUARY !
      I’m impressed with how precise, exacting and refreshingly investigative Mike Lee seems to be, given he’s a senior Auckland City Councillor and under Gooff’s gap toothed glare all the while trying to do his job. Am I right?
      Goff’s been caught out red handed and his vagueness is a jonk-E tactic with which we’re all too familiar with.
      Goff is an old neo liberal goon and part of the squad that tanked our NZ/AO remember.

    • I’ve never met or engaged with Mike Lee – so can’t comment.

      But I’ve had dealings with Cathy Casey and found her to be a thoroughly trustworthy, honourable progressive who has much to contribute. Labelling her as a “sensitive ego” is unwarranted.

  2. RosieLee says:

    Is Mike Lee a counsellor or a councillor?

  3. XRAY says:

    The question is why does Goff feel he has to operate like this? What is going on in Auckland Council where the Mayor operates in secret?

    Why does Auckland Council not divest itself of so many useless stadiums like North Harbour for example and turn that into affordable housing or at least use the money from it for the same?

    And does the thought of Sir John Key being Mayor, (a distinct possibility) fill you with a sense of foreboding that makes Phil seem like a good guy?

    • Jack Ramaka says:

      Remuera Golf Club and Chamberlain Park are going to be chopped up for housing, golfers in Auckland not happy about that ?

    • savenz says:

      Surely Key could not go so low as a play for Mayor? The polls show that Auckland wants (or used to) a left wing Mayor.

      The right ran 2 right candidates just to shoo him in for the role as they knew he would be perfect. Just split the votes and he was in.

      Pity the leftie Mayors screw it up with their vanities, but the righties are worse, remember John Banks selling off that social housing in Freeman’s bay and all around Auckland…

      • XRAY says:

        There has been a focus group with him as the candidate.

        It is very much a real possibility and there are so many ratepayer owned assets that just need liberating from ratepayers to transfer to the rich to make their additional wealth from!

  4. Jack Ramaka says:

    Why is Goof Ball operating a Secret Squirrell Society inside Auckland City, typical neoliberal approach ?

    • savenz says:

      Especially when the Secret Squirrell Society is just him and his mates selling off the city and doing pet projects to bankrupt the city so more assets can be sold off.

    • Lone comet says:

      +200%

  5. savenz says:

    Do Aucklander’s want our rates to go up 31% as councillor pay for bad secret decisions by councillors, we get the Kaipara situation.

    https://www.interest.co.nz/news/61636/kaipara-district-councils-ratepayers-paying-government-appointed-commissioners-nz1400-day

    Do the councillors pay when they go bankrupt, nope, they get golden handshakes, incompetence pays it seems!

    Kaipara council chief given $240k golden handshake
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/7522398/Kaipara-council-chief-given-240k-golden-handshake

    Then the lawyers get their $700,000 out of the ratepayers, ‘chasing up the debts’, and to make matters worst charging them interest on late payments and rejecting deals to take the rates money without the interest.

    Kaipara council chases $2m in rate arrears
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/northern-advocate/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503450&objectid=11327989

    And finally where would we be without paying the non elected consultants like chairman John Robertson, who is an ex-MP National Party and United New Zealand MP and former Papakura mayor, Richard Booth, a Whangarei-based business owner and farmer, Colin Dale, who was chief executive of Manukau City Council for 21 years, and Peter Winder, a former chief executive of Auckland Regional Council and chief executive of Local Government New Zealand. $1400 and $900 a day for part time work to ‘take over’ the situation as per link above.

    And it gets worse around the world as the private companies start taking over and shutting off people’s water…

    Detroit City Council imposes new 7.5 percent water rate hike
    https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/08/04/watr-a04.html

  6. savenz says:

    Detroit bankruptcy
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit_bankruptcy

    Fee controversy
    As of October 1, 2013, Detroit had spent almost $23 million in fees to lawyers, consultants and financial advisers for the bankruptcy.[77] Some of the fees are:[77]

    $11 million to law firm Jones Day
    $4.59 million to Conway MacKenzie, a Detroit area restructuring firm
    $4.17 million to Ernst & Young, accounting firm
    $1.5 million to Plante Moran, accounting firm
    $1.2 million to Miller Buckfire, investment banking firm
    Orr used $95 million earmarked for unsecured bond debt and pension payments to Detroit’s restructuring initiatives, which caused Detroit to first miss bond payments in June 2013.[77]

    Fees paid to 3 Jones Day partners who billed the city for more than $1000 per hour of their time, as well as for trips to or from vacation homes, proved particularly controversial, but their former partner Kevyn Orr, did not consider them overbilling.[78] On December 31, city officials disclosed that the city’s general fund paid $164.91 million in fees relating to the bankruptcy, although they did not reveal concessions made by various parties pursuant to a mediation order, said to be worth about $25 million. The city’s plan of adjustment allotted $177 million for legal and consulting fees. Disclosed fees included:[79]

    $57.9 million to Jones Day,
    $17.28 million to Conway MacKenzie for operational restructuring
    $20.22 million to Ernst & Young for financial restructuring
    $22.82 million to investment banking firm Miller Buckfire, and
    $15.41 million to Dentons US LLP, a law firm that acted on behalf of an official committee of city retirees fighting pension cuts
    $980,000 went to two Detroit mediator firms
    Furthermore, the two pension funds paid attorneys at Clark Hill $6.25 million and financial advisers at Greenhill & Co. $5.71 million to fight the bankruptcy case. Judge Rhodes, whose judicial salary is set by Congress, had up to 14 days to determine whether the agreed-upon fees are reasonable.

    • countryboy says:

      Great stuff @ SAVENZ.

      • savenz says:

        Thanks county boy – I love your descriptions, still laughing about when you described it as breeding season in Devonport with the Lamborghini chasing the Porche….

  7. Andrew says:

    SAVENZ makes a very good point – cities can indeed go broke and the results are dismal for the inhabitants.

    And in Goff we’ve got a mayor that could do it!

    The Council has never seriously tried to manage its finances since the inception of the Super City. A bloated, ideologically driven council that has twice the number of employees it should have.

    His medium term solution to fixing his money problems is a fuel tax that will impact the poor more than anyone else. This fuel tax will feed through in inflation because businesses will pass this straight on to consumers. Some businesses will move to greener pastures.

    When is the next election? We need him out!

  8. Jack Ramaka says:

    Goff was one of the cheerleaders along with Helen Clarke who promoted Neoliberalism with Douglas, Lange, Prebble etc, selling off State Assets for a pittance to their crony mates ?