How I would do representation in Auckland

April 2nd, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

I’ve spent a bit of time discussing parts of the Royal Commission report that are not that flash (I should note I am a strong supporter of the overall direction of one Council and an elected Mayor with enhanced powers), so here is where I spell out what I would do.

First of all I would scrap the at large seats, or at least reduce their number. Ten at large seats is a huge amount and what it means is that you may have say 50 people standing for 10 positions, and in that scenario it becomes name recognition only – not informed decision making.

It also means that an area such as Manukau could end up with only 2 Councillors out of 23, despite being 30% of the Region.

Plus it will be confusing to have people vote for three sets of Councillors – local Councillors, ward Councillors on Council and at large Councillors on Council.

No Right Turn has a model that works well with no at large, and 1 to 6 Councillors per ward, which has equality of representation.

My second decision would be to have local Council boundaries and Ward boundaries the same. The Royal Commission allows them to be different which is confusing.

My third decision would be to have more, yet smaller, local Councils (and in fact don’t call them Councils as that confuses them with the Auckland Council, so I will call them Local Boards).

The local boards should be small enough to not need further wards underneath them. I quite like the 11 council/board option in the RC report.

If you had 11 smaller boards and wards, then each of them could elect two Councillors each (if their boundaries were adjusted so populations were similar enough) to the Auckland Council. And each of them would have perhaps just half a dozen members.

Finally you have the Maori reps. Putting aside my personal views that long-term these take us down the wrong path, I think it is inevitable the Council will have some as they have been recommended. But under the current proposal, their number is way too high as you have one per 30,000 residents compared to one per 120,000 in the main wards.

However if one gets rid of the at large seats, then the correct number of Maori seats would be around 1.5 – so say two Councillors elected off the Maori roll. I don’t think mana whenua should directly appoint a Councillor, but can live with a Maori roll election as we do have the precedent.

So in total my principles would be:

  1. Abolish at large Councillors
  2. Ward boundaries for Auckland Council should match local Council/Board boundaries
  3. Have more, smaller local Councils/Boards
  4. Have local Councils/Boards small enough so that they in turn do not need another set of wards beneath them
  5. Have a Maori roll ward with one or two Crs, but do not have direct appointment by mana whenua

As I said I am supportive of most of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, but the representation model they have devised is one that can be improved upon – in my opinion.

23 Responses to “How I would do representation in Auckland”

  1. PhilBest (4,967 comments) says:

    I agree, DPF. Apparently France has one “mayor” per 250 people on average – they like their accountability and representation down to as fine a level as possible.

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  2. david (2,340 comments) says:

    thats rigt PhilBest. And it becomes totally discretionary on the part of the mayor whether your building consent gets approved or delayed, just forgotten or totally rejected. Why, for all we know, the giving and acceptance of favours/money/women/toyboys might become the acceptable norm. Now wouldn’t that spice up the place a bit and attract some new talent into the political scene?

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  3. baxter (799 comments) says:

    Why not have someone competent look at overseas models and adopt the best one. The last reforms resulted in increased bureaucracy, increased rates, poorer services, less community pride, and the current proposals seem destined to achieve the same….Why not simply elect the Lord Mayor and allow him to select a board of specialists to run the whole shebang.

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  4. Nigel Kearney (1,977 comments) says:

    Maori seats are absolutely wrong and I’m surprised you suggest otherwise.

    We don’t have to accept racism because a commission recommended it, and we certainly don’t have to accept it because it has occurred elsewhere in the past. Those are just terrible reasons.

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  5. jarbury (464 comments) says:

    I pretty much completely agree with you there David. Fortunately the big things are right: one real council, one District Plan, one transport agency, one rates bill and so forth. This stuff feels like “tinkering around the edges” in some respects, but obviously it is pretty central to ensuring that we get fair democratic representation.

    There are clearly some holes in the proposal with regards to “ensuring we keep the local in local government” and also in terms of ensuring fair representation (why should Waitakere local council have the same number of councillors as Tamaki Makau Rau, when the latter has twice the population). I do have faith that these issues will be sorted out.

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  6. insider (935 comments) says:

    I find it bizarre that people think more ‘big government’ is necessarily better.

    Why not just run every council from Wellington using this logic? What’s the bets the savings never eventuate?

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  7. pkiwi (82 comments) says:

    Also agree with you David – with the addition of only having 1 Councillor per ward (ok so you have a few more wards). This is something that should be implemented nationwide as otherwise we water down true democratic accountability.

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  8. jarbury (464 comments) says:

    insider, integration and consistency are the main gains here. Having to deal with 7 different District Plans adds tremendous costs to the construction industry. Having a myriad of transport agencies means that nothing ever gets done and so on. I think the cost savings in terms of councils’ operating budgets might be minimal, but the gains for everyone else should be fairly significant.

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  9. Gerrit (105 comments) says:

    I cant see a difference between the supercity proposal and what we have now. The ARC overseas the whole province, the local cities their individual patches. All the supercity proposes is a divergence of power from the existing cities to the ARC.

    Surely all we need to do is upgrade the powers of the ARC to what is proposed in the supercity model, rename the existing cities as wards, and it is done.

    Much ado about nothing where even if we change, it will achieve absolutely nothing to better the province. Except of course line the pockets of the implementation “consultants” with rate payer money for no measureable gain.

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  10. s.russell (2,072 comments) says:

    I wrote the following about the Rotorua District Council after the 2007 election. It is quite relevant in this situation too:

    Some people have called for the abolition of wards so we can have at-large elections for all councillors.
    They resent the fact that someone they like is standing in another ward and they cannot vote for them. Or perhaps that someone they don’t like is standing in another ward and they can do nothing to vote them out.
    Apparently good candidates are missing out because the voters in their own wards are too stupid, and vote for the wrong people. Or maybe all the good candidates stand in one ward (with most missing out) while the other wards only get duds.
    This may be (at least partly) true. While the best candidates are spread around the wards, they are not spread perfectly.
    Abolishing wards would solve this problem. But it would introduce others too.
    Rotorua had 29 candidates for council this year, plus a couple for mayor who were not doubling up. Imagine what candidates’ meetings would be like.
    Most people find it hard enough sorting out three people to vote for out of six. The sad fact is that, unable to come to grips with so many candidates, many voters would use a pin – or choose those with the prettiest names. Cherry Blossom and Moon Unit Rainbow would bolt in ahead of better-qualified but less well-known candidates.
    You still would not get the 12 best, and doubtless even fewer people would vote.
    At-large voting also tends to result in majority views getting overwhelming representation and minority views being squeezed out. In theory, a single large block of voters (it doesn’t even have to be a majority) could capture every seat on the council, while everyone else gets no-one.
    Wards make that less likely.

    I went on to say:

    Then there is the unthinkable option: STV, which can be used with or without wards.
    A few councils have chosen to use this system, but most seem to have a mental block and regard it as a bit wacky. But if STV is to be rejected as an option, it should be rejected on the basis of analysis, not prejudice.
    It is certainly the most democratic option. It is deliberately designed to ensure that all significant shades of opinion are represented around the council table.
    If one quarter of the district believes Moon Unit Rainbow is the best person for Council, STV will put her in. The current system will probably leave her out.
    This may or may not be a good thing. Diverse views can make councillors’ jobs harder, just as MMP has made life harder for politicians in Wellington. But councils do need some diversity of views in order to make balanced decisions.

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  11. bearhunter (837 comments) says:

    I’m with Gerrit on this one, mostly. Hand over region-wide responsibilities (building, planning, transport, water, environment, tourism etc) to a beefed-up ARC and simply have one regional plan for each of those areas. Instead of electing members to the ARC let the individual councils appoint members from among those elected by the voters. Then maybe have an election for chair of the ARC. The RC proposals involve so much wasted money that it seems idiotic to take on the plan as it stands. FFS, I’ve received information on Waitakere’s 10-year plan today and no one knows if the council will still be here in 18 months, never mind a decade. The resources that have gone into that plan will have been simply wasted if the proposals are taken on board.

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  12. Owen McShane (1,193 comments) says:

    We are scared this depression will lead to trade protection – like the last one did.

    We should be more afraid that it leads to Fascism – like the last one did.

    The Royal Commission’s report is Fascism from A to Z. (You have to read the whole 800 pages, and know something about the theory of Fascism to appreciate this.)

    One Uber City, One Uber Mayor, reflects the classic fascist position of “strength through unity”.
    Fascism comes from the Latin fasces which was a symbol carried by the early Roman Victors – an axe wrapped in a bundle of bound sticks, reflecting the idea that a stick can be broken one at a time, but when bound together the sticks become strong.
    So we have the idea of the Uber City needing to be strong to deal with Wellington and to “speak with one voice”. Amalgamation is normally driven by the desire to reduce costs but we cross the line when it is designed to increase the “strength” of the City State.

    So we have the proposal for One Uber City, with one Uber Mayor, so that the City State “speaks” with one voice, and strikes one rate, and has one plan. And the people cannot appeal anything in the plan. After all it must be perfect having been made by the Uber Mayor’s uber team. And of course the Urban Form Plan promotes the monocentric city model even though Auckland is naturally becoming multi-nodal as are the vast majority of cities in the world.

    I approve of one RMA plan with one set of environmental standards but we are talking about a plan to manage “Urban form” to reflect an aesthetic ideal of the vision for Uber Auckland. After all, Fascism is essentially an aesthetic theory.

    The Commission says we must all live at high density to ensure the viability of public transport because high density living and public transport is more energy efficient than low density and motor cars. Neither statement is true.
    And of course we must build no more roads – because cars set us free.

    And of course the Uber Mayor will get the trains to run on time.

    But the commission recognises that this is difficult and will require rigorous “enforcement” because we have the wrong “attitudes” and these bad “attitudes” must change – or be changed. So Aucklanders must be socially engineered to gain the right attitudes, presumably using the social budget allocation recommended in the report.

    We don’t need the Jews as the enemy of the state any more. The 21st century “polluters of the pure” are those who don’t turn their lights out for Earth hour, who want to have a decent shower, and use plastic bags and drive cars – and of course farm belching cows.

    The document never mentions the wants or desires of the people. The people’s actions must serve the state and they are subservient to the needs of the city state. Fascism allows the people to own their property and the means of production distribution and exchange, but they must all use their property to promote the strength of the State.

    The report sets up a powerful republic with an all powerful “President” but without the countervailing discipline of the US constitution and Bill of Rights. The six city mayors would be a joke. They get their main funds from the Uber Mayor and so would challenge the Uber Mayor at their peril. However they can raise funds from charges for resource and building consents. Guess where that leads?

    Fascism is largely an aesthetic theory so the Commission recommends that every significant development in the region must be approved by an Urban Design Panel. (ie an urban design censorship board.)

    The problems with infrastructure will probably be solved by the RMA reforms and setting up a few region wide service organisations to manage water and sewage etc – preferably on a fifteen year franschise so they compete like the French do.

    We tend to confuse democratic form and function with engineering form and function – but that is a fascist view because they see Government as a design process.

    Lange decided to use the famous 4000 page Social Services review as a doorstop.

    This piece of Labour (or work) is only 800 pages but would keep the door open for some sensible ideas and democratic reform.

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  13. jarbury (464 comments) says:

    Owen McShane wrote: “…And the people cannot appeal anything in the plan.”

    Owen, I assume that you’ve made a submission against the RMA reforms that would stop appeals against Plans or Plan Changes unless they are points of law or unless you get leave of the Environment Court?

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  14. garethw (205 comments) says:

    Very much agree with your analysis Mr Farrar, although I would have a few more than 11 wards I think – it’s still too big an area for creating the kind of interesting “grand neighbourhoods” I think Auckland could have.
    I saw some merit in the concept NBR discussed of having 25-odd Local Boards (your term, not theirs) clustered around 6 shared service “management centres” to undertake the operational side of their activities. Perhaps you then have one councillor elected from each ward/Local Board area.

    Question – in your model would you have two members of the Local Board also be councillors? Or keep them separate?

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  15. bchapman (649 comments) says:

    You could just ask the Auckland region MP’s to earn their keep and take over the running of the city. After all they are elected democratically, on an identical basis to that described. this would avoid repeats of the same election, discussing exactly the same issues every four years. They would be highly accountable, if they and there party wanted re-election. Maybe then they could fight for the resources we deserve from Wellington.

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  16. jacob van hartog (309 comments) says:

    Why not use the name boroughs for the smaller areas. New York still refers to its boroughs , Brooklyn having about 2 million people, and I think London still does have boroughs as well

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  17. Owen McShane (1,193 comments) says:

    Yes, I did, and said we must be able to appeal about the science and technology assumptions behind plan objectives policies and rules at any time because so much of the science is junk, but also because we gain more knowledge and more means of mitigation every day.

    I do not like the notion that if after consulation a plan decides that water runs up hill I have to live with it for years.

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  18. jarbury (464 comments) says:

    I’m glad to hear that Owen, it seemed like some pretty weird stuff got thrown in with the RMA reforms that most people missed. Like how councils will now make the decisions on designations rather than just recommendations, which the requiring authority could choose to accept or reject. Can’t see how that will make life easier for large-scale infrastructure projects.

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  19. Repton (769 comments) says:

    @Philbest: “Apparently France has one “mayor” per 250 people on average”

    Do you have any references for this? A quick look on Wikipedia shows that Paris has 20 councils, each with their own mayor, who in turn elect an overall mayor of Paris. That’s about one mayor per hundred thousand people. Unless there’s armies of mayors outside the big city …

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  20. Owen McShane (1,193 comments) says:

    Yes there are armies of Mayors outside the city.
    THe figure may be closer to a mayor for every 300 people now.
    But the French do not confuse engineering efficiency with democratic effectiveness.
    Five private companies manage all the water and sewage for the country and they operate under a 15 year franchise which means about 5% of the councils change their management contractor every year. So the five companies are always sharpening their pencils.
    This is how we should manage our blood labs too.

    There are all these useful models overseas and I keep telling our leaders about them but then what would I know – I live outside the urban limit so must be country hick.

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  21. Owen McShane (1,193 comments) says:

    And I should have mentioned: The Assault on Property Rights.
    On page 533 the Commission recommends an Urban Development Agency, and says:
    “The Urban Development Agency would give effect to the spatial plan and infrastructure plan, and its activities must be consistent with the RPS, regional transport plan, and regional economic development plan. This agency could also have a role in ensuring that the more complex urban renewal in planned nodes and corridors is achieved. Compulsory acquisition powers for the Urban Development Agency should be considered under the Public Works Act.”
    In other words we should adopt the Keno vs New London decision of the US Supreme Court, in spite of the outrage that decision has caused in those US states which have accepted the decision rather than written their own legislation to overturn it.
    Why bother owning property if the Urban Development Agency can use a modified Public Works Act to compulsorily purchase your property and sell it to another developer who will develop it according to Council’s whims rather than to your own assessment?

    Remember the 1960 Hunn Report that wanted to confiscate “under-productive” Maori land? Maori should be wary of such ‘new’ ideas too.
    We know that the worst thing to do during a recession is reduce investors’ confidence in their property rights. Such agencies have been tried in the US and found severely wanting. We should not be surprised. The Council proposed to exercise these powers is simply a larger one than the one that brought David Beckham to Auckland.

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  22. Patrick Starr (3,674 comments) says:

    I believe one of the biggest errors made was in the terms of reference of the Royal Commission. It bound them to observe the purposes and principles of the Local Government Act, whilst asking what changes to other current legislation.
    By doing so the government presumed the LGA was without fault and the best fit for Auckland, when in fact many of Aucklands problems were as a result of the LGA’s ‘one size fits all’ requirements.
    IMO they should have given the RC a blank sheet of paper and ask what is the best way to structure Aucklands local government – and then compare that to the purposes and principles of the LGA

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  23. bchapman (649 comments) says:

    At present development agencies, councils (and pretty well anyone wanting a plan change or any major development) needs ARC approval to confirm it meets the district plan. Under the new scenario, the new ARC (or whatever it is called) will become developer, decider and probably joint partner with the private sector, and a competitor in the commercial property market. I can see it will be very difficult to organise opposition to such a powerful organisation.

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