Is WCC value for money?

May 4th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

By any stretch of the imagination, the nearly $66,000 base salary paid to Wellington City councillors is not a pittance, especially when most have top-ups of $14,000 or more. For that sort of money, Wellington ratepayers have a right to expect their elected representatives would at least stay awake around the council table, make firm decisions on matters of vital importance to the city and keep informed about what is going on within the organisation they govern.

What Wellington has got is councillors who are unable to work together on key issues, and who at times appear to be woefully ignorant of vital aspects of the council’s operations. Ratepayers should be asking themselves whether this crop are worth their present salaries, let alone the $76,600, plus top-ups of up to 50 per cent that will kick in after the next election under changes announced by the Remuneration Authority.

There are some good Councillors, but there are also som who have been there far too long, and need to go.

Already this year, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has revealed she had no idea that up to $350,000 had been budgeted to house her in temporary offices while the council chambers were earthquake-proofed. How did she and other councillors find out? They read about it on the front page of this newspaper.

That was a damning admission.

With this level of competence from a Green Mayor, imagine what fun we may have with six Green Cabinet Ministers?

Then there was the months of dithering over whether to support the proposed flyover for the Basin Reserve, a project some councillors still cannot bring themselves to accept as the best option for fixing the city’s transport problems, despite voting to pay $40,000 for a report that clearly stated just that.

Yes, they rejected the very advice they commissioned!

One of the rationales for paying councillors above-average salaries is to entice talented candidates who can offer something of real substance to local government. It is hoped that proves to be the case when ballot papers for October’s local-body elections are delivered to households later this year.

It is about time Wellington started getting value for money from its elected representatives.

Hear, hear.

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18 Responses to “Is WCC value for money?”

  1. NK (919 comments) says:

    Already this year, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has revealed she had no idea that up to $350,000 had been budgeted to house her in temporary offices while the council chambers were earthquake-proofed. How did she and other councillors find out? They read about it on the front page of this newspaper.

    That was a damning admission.

    Yes, sure was. All she needed to do was ask Clint.

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  2. Manolo (12,643 comments) says:

    The mildly-deranged Wade-Brown stumbled on the major’s chair by electoral fluke, and she has been a walking example of supreme incompetence.

    No leadership, no vision, nothing at all. The Luddite bikes, makes inane speeches and public appearances. That’s all.

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  3. lazza (296 comments) says:

    Ahh Yes “Value for Money!” … a term to conjure with in local government.

    Either this is an oxymoronic phrase or at best is now a disused and discredited one.

    One little known fact is that the Public Finance Act 1989 ascribes to the Office of the Auditor General duties termed “Wider Mandate” or value for money “audit” duties … a full scrutiny and review … and reporting.

    These responsibilities require the OAG to spend sufficient time on investigations and reporting of cases where Council (public) money has been wasted or defaults have occurred.

    Only problem is that for local government audits of late, (over the last decade at least) there has been risible attention paid by the OAG to promoting value for money exercises.

    I cannot think of one OAG/VFM project worthy of the name … and the lists of OAG projects conducted from 2009 to 2012 (on their website) reveal NO VFM projects with cost effectiveness/wastage of public monies objectives front and centre.

    We have, over the years (unsurprisingly) come to believe that NZ Councils cannot be trusted to mark their own homework. So what we get in this cowboy, uncontrolled, audit-free zone is ample evidence of ratepayer’s money being misspent or pooly managed.

    Is it not time for a shakeout of the OAG? They have failed at Kaipara District Council to do their job and have failed over the whole sector to do their VFM duties preferring the easy life of a Poodle rather than that of a Bulldog.

    It would be very revealing if Kiwiblog (or others) were to survey Councillors and ratepayers to ascertain the “Doh!” … Value for Money! we are (not) currently receiving from our public auditors.

    RAdical thought … Maybe the OAG themselves would like to run one?

    They bloody well ought too if, that is they were the least bit interested in their own performance and wanted to find reasons for their lamentable current reputation as servants of the people.

    I am happy to design such a survey (for free). Any sponsors/takers?

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  4. holysheet (196 comments) says:

    the old saying “pay peanuts and you get monkeys” is so true. the idea of paying them more to try and attract a better class of candidate might be good in theory, but the problem is the great unwashed dumb public don’t realise the difference between someone buying their vote and a good candidate. The recent greens/liabore offer to reduce power prices is a case in point. As long as the voters are too thick to realise this point then we will always get what we pay for.

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  5. Rex Widerstrom (5,129 comments) says:

    The grandly named Lord Mayor of Perth gets $60,000 a year (plus $14,000 in meetings fees, $13,000 in “expenses” and a chauffer-driven car). Councillors get $7,000 a year.

    Of course Ms Scaffidi (whose most notable contributions this year have been to try and ban smoking outdoors anywhere in the city and bringing a film crew from the US to shoot a humble TV commercial while the local industry languishes) thinks she’s worth three times that. But what politician doesn’t, no matter what the salary?

    Given the impossible pressures on infrastructure caused by population growth I’d imagine Ms Scaffidi’s job (when not interfering in the lives of her subjects and squandering their money on Hollywood) is slightly more taxing than Ms Wade-Brown’s, but somehow she scrapes by. Given she’s in her 2nd term, I’d imagine she knew the pay before she applied to voters for the job. Perhaps Ms Wade-Brown didn’t read the job description.

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  6. davidp (3,329 comments) says:

    Wellington’s new electoral system is designed to replace the mayor almost every election. Mayors are well known and people have opinions on their performance, so they’ll either be ranked first or last in voters’ preferences. They’ll be unlikely to win 50% in the first ballot. What they receive in the first ballot is pretty much where they’ll stay, while the least offensive of the other candidates continues to collect the preferences of candidates dropping out of the process until they make it over 50%, and are elected.

    So Wade Brown will be gone, regardless of the general cluelessness regarding everything going on around her.

    In general, local government elections seem to be about name recognition. That’s why hopeless councillors seem to stick around forever in Wellington. And also why Auckland supercity voters had a chance to elect a fresh energetic council at the first election, but instead elected a bunch of retired or sacked MPs and mayors or the previous councils. Auckland Council looks like a retired person’s home, rather than the country’s fastest growing city.

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  7. hj (5,708 comments) says:

    Whatabout Jenny Shipley watching over CERA ….for ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS PER DAY hmmm?

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  8. davidp (3,329 comments) says:

    hj>for ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS PER DAY hmmm?

    I make that as an IT contractor. You think she’d earn a lot more than that given her experience.

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  9. hj (5,708 comments) says:

    In the case of Kaipara the developers were the lizard which runs off shedding it’s tail (the Council).

    or to put it another way The Developers are The Council.

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  10. hj (5,708 comments) says:

    davidp (2,703) Says:

    I make that as an IT contractor. You think she’d earn a lot more than that given her experience.
    …………..
    I don’t think Jenny’s field is IT; she’s an overlooker: she makes sure only the right people are overpaid..

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  11. backster (2,000 comments) says:

    It seems to me we only need one elected official who could then commission reports from experts before implementing them.

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  12. Warren Murray (239 comments) says:

    I reckon the high salaries become something of a trap for some of them. If they have nothing else to fall back on, they work to get re-elected just for self preservation, rather than for any particular political purpose. Im amazed how long Helen Ritchie has been on the Council, also on the DHB, I think. Good money, but she doesn’t really do anything or make much of a contribution.

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  13. Johnboy (13,439 comments) says:

    You Wellingtonians really should let HCC annex you and help you all towards having the lowest rates increase in the country.

    Not to mention giving you the best mayor that NZ has seen since 1840!! :)

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  14. Inky_the_Red (719 comments) says:

    Be happy that people in Wellington still have control of their local authorities. Here in Chch the CCC have been usurped by central government (as Gerry and Johnkey know what is best for us). Meanwhile the voters here are not deemed to have the skills to even vote for regional councilors.

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  15. Johnboy (13,439 comments) says:

    Did they reach that decision after giving you an IQ test Inky? :)

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  16. Nostradamus (2,772 comments) says:

    Rex Widerstrom:

    Yes, Lisa Scaffskimidi is certainly in favour of bumping up her $60,000 base salary to $180,000 (no doubt before other allowances are factored in). Her justification: “… it’s more than a full-time requirement to undertake the role professionally“. Of course, if it’s all too hard for her, others would be happy to step up to the plate.

    Quoting from your link:

    Earlier, she told The Sunday Times “to not pay makes running for this type of role somewhat elitist and not accessible”, adding that a pay rise would “therefore in itself be more democratic”.

    That’s a false comparison between not paying anything (unremunerated role) and paying more. The middle-ground, which she appears to have conveniently overlooked, is to pay the same as now.

    The rest of the article shows various vested local government interests looking enviously at what they could potentially earn in other states. Their definition of equality: they earn more and we should be paid the same as them!

    The modern trend has been towards having remuneration determined by independent salary and allowance tribunals. That allows those in public office to conveniently support any increase (has there ever been a decrease determination?) while emphasising that they had nothing (nothing, I tell you) to do with the tribunal’s determination!

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  17. ZenTiger (421 comments) says:

    Good point Nostradamus, and I’d add to that the tendency for our elected representatives to outsource a lot more than just this, so that they cannot come under fire for making bad decisions. Kapiti Councillors approved a massive pay-rise for a replaced CEO a year or two ago, and then withered under the “WTF” criticism. Their response was not to apologize for their bad form, but demand that another government agency should set the pay scales so they didn’t have to make those decisions. Then there was the other example of outsourcing for advice on the fly over to justify them stopping it, but finding to their annoyance the consultant wouldn’t play the game and support their intention. Even more reason to throw them out, because we aren’t getting people who actually hold the bureaucratic machine that councils are, to account nor are they steering them in accordance with the votes of the people that put them there.

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  18. Andronicus (185 comments) says:

    If Wade-Brown didn’t know something, presumably she hadn’t been told. How does this make her incompetent?

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