I was round at Gerry Hill’s and Sally James’ place on Ponsonby Terrace the other day. As everyone knows, over the last two years Gerry has been courageously battling motor neuron disease (MND). He’d just returned home after a spell in hospital, some of it in intensive care, but in better shape than I expected. Cheerful as ever, despite difficulties with his breathing, he was in full flight, discussing politics with a room full of well-wishers. There was general dismay expressed all round at the way the so-called ‘Super City’ is going. A growing concern that ordinary ratepayers are being marginalised and citizen’s rights’ increasingly over-ridden by an all-powerful council/CCO bureaucracy – with mayor Phil Goff and too many councillors and local board members going along with it all. Those politicians fail to understand that the primary role of an elected representative is to represent the public to the council – not the other way round.
Gerry’s friends were also convinced, like many Aucklanders, that the council is selective in the way it enforces planning rules. The bureaucrats can be enfuriatingly pedantic when it comes to ordinary Aucklanders seeking consents but certain people, especially johnny-come-lately developers and the super rich, seem to get a free pass. The non-notifed Duke helicopter landing pad in Herne Bay and council’s failure to enforce helicopter consent rules, come to mind – as does the destruction of century-old villas without even need for a resource consent.
Gerry’s friends were also not particularly impressed with the mayoralty contest, and the huge sums of money donated by wealthy interests being thrown about.
Ponsonby resident Richard Howard summed it all up very succinctly: “Whose city is it anyway”?
It seems this conversation, or something very much like it, is taking place all over Auckland. In a series of opinion pieces in the NZ Herald , the latest on 29th July, senior writer John Roughan, deplored the loss of our local government, putting much of the blame on the ‘corporate model’ given to the ‘Super city’ at its creation. Roughan observed that this corporate model and the sheer size of the ‘Super City’, has made genuine local government in Auckland a thing of the past. Like Gerry and Sally’s visitors, Roughan evidently draws not much comfort from the prospect of either mayoral candidate winning in October. He instead proposes another solution: Auckland councillors stepping up to take more responsibility in the governing of Auckland. He wrote:
“So how can we change it? …There might yet be time for enough candidates to get together and promise that if elected they will take control of their agenda.
They need to declare they will not spend most of their days in the council chamber wading through windy reports of no particular consequence. They will organise themselves into smaller committees, call for reports on things they want to know, meet once a week and spend more of their time with constituents.
They will assign themselves a portfolio and get alongside staff, keeping tabs on what is done and reporting results to the council.
I hoped Phil Goff might do something like this. I thought he’d be appalled to find he’d become mayor of a staff-driven organisation. But he appears to have done nothing about it. Surely there is something determined councillors can do, their role cannot be restricted by legislation. If it is, we need to look to national politics for a solution.
Next year the Super City will be 10. National, having set it up, should admit its mistake and put a review in its platform for next year’s election…We need 12 candidates determined to reclaim local democracy”.
I completely agree – and I’m not the only one. It’s time the council’s Governing Body, which has since its inception been overly dominated by the mayor, lived up to its name – whoever wins the mayoralty. More democratic government, better accountability to the public, and checks and balances in Auckland Council are well overdue.
As for the widespread disenchantment with Phil Goff, as mentioned, I haven’t found that much enthusiasm for his only realistic challenger John Tamihere either, but that appears to be changing. Tamihere’s candidacy hasn’t been helped by his bizzare pronouncements about selling the Ports of Auckland and Watercare. But I was at a community meeting recently when a woman, who runs a business on High Street, and was evidently so frustrated with Goff and the council that she told the meeting, “I don’t like John Tamihere or his track record – but I intend to vote for John Tamihere.” There was momentary silence in the room as we all took this in.
Politics is a funny business and so it may be wise not to write Tamihere off. Many Aucklanders are so disallusioned with the apparent front-runner Goff that they may just vote for Tamihere – to make a point about what they think about the ‘Super City’ – and to use their once-in-three-year-opportunity to remind the powers-that-be just whose city this is.
Mike Lee is an Auckland City Counsellor