Auckland Council costs

July 14th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett says Brown has done what politicians have done to Auckland for years – offered low rates increases but not stuck to a spending plan that aligns with this.

He says if Auckland really wants to build a city that people want to live in there must be investment to attract people, investment and tourists.

Where the Auckland Council has gone wrong, he says, is not aggressively reviewing what it does with an eye on doing things better with less.

He asks: Does the council need 900 staff in planning and 600 in policy? Should Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency combine in Auckland? Does Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) need a $60 million budget?

“This is all stuff that should have been challenged over the last three years.”

900 planning staff? 6oo policy staff? My God.

And while some spending on tourism and events can be justifiable, $60 million is way over the top.

Quax said the mayor had shown no ability to say no to anyone who came knocking at his door, whether it be Maori, the Rescue Helicopter Trust, Holy Trinity Cathedral or Skypath.

Another right-wing opponent, Cameron Brewer, says the mayor has over-promised and rolled over to the wish lists of the former councils when he should have prioritised and cut projects at the outset.

Local body financial commentator Larry Mitchell, who produces annual “league tables” of council financial performance, said the council had substituted disciplined financial management with four years of “borrow and spend”.

Borrow, borrow and spend indeed.

UPDATE: Maybe a start could be made by not spending $100,000 for a silk curtain at the Devonport Library.

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Auckland Council facing reality

July 8th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Cutting back funding for park maintenance, reducing library hours and scrapping inorganic rubbish collections are among options being considered by a cash-strapped Auckland Council.

Its finances have reached crisis point where severe cuts are necessary in a black budget to put rates and debt back on an “affordable” and “sustainable” path. But families fear the proposals will leave the city’s youngsters worse off.

To rescue finances, slashing up to $2.8 billion of new spending is required, as well as stripping up to $486 million a year for each of the next 10 years.

The first overview of the new 10-year budget discussed by Mayor Len Brown, councillors and decision makers yesterday included the $2.86 billion City Rail Link, which has an enormous flow-on effect.

The more you spend on one item, the less you have elsewhere. It is elementary.

“We’ve been looking at a situation where on one hand we’ve got this ambitious programme but on the other hand we’ve got this constrained funding envelope.”

Welcome to fiscal reality.

The council has also identified parks and community services for cuts of up to $60 million a year with talk of closing “under utilised” halls, recreation centres and swimming pools. Fewer arts and culture festivals and events are under consideration.

The proposed cuts are on a scale never witnessed in Auckland before, and are certainly bigger than those of Auckland City Mayor John Banks’ razor gang of 2001, headed by former Finance Minister Sir William Birch.

Ratepayers should not be used as a never-ending source of increased revenue. Rates increases should be no more than inflation.

Under his first four budgets – based on the budgets and assumptions of the former councils – debt soared from $3.9 billion to $7.3 billion and households were hit with cumulative rates increases of up to 38 per cent.

The more debt you have, the greater the interest payments are.

Mr Brown has not ruled out breaking a key election promise to hold rates to no more than 2.5 per cent this term.

It will be his final term if he does. He may of course realise he won’t be re-elected regardless, so decide he has nothing to lose by breaking his promise.

However Councillors who vote for higher rates increases may face a challenge with re-election if they do.

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Public transport is for everyone else, not us!

June 25th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

First it was the mayor catching the train while being followed by his ratepayer-funded chauffeur-driven car.

Now, Len Brown’s staff have been riding in special shuttles zipping around Auckland – apparently because it’s faster than the public transport they provide to ratepayers.

Oh they are far too important to catch public transport. Public transport is for everyone else to use, to leave the roads free for the elite!

It reminds me of interviewing Green MP Sue Kedgley a few years ago. She spent most of the interview going on about the importance of public transport. I then askeed her how she was enjoying using the Snapper card, and she said she didn’t have one – it was obvious she never actually used buses herself much!

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Unable to cut down his own dangerous tree!

June 25th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Every time the wind blows Craig Newth and his family worry what will happen to a 25 metre gum tree that towers over their house.

The Beach Haven, Auckland, resident says he doesn’t understand why the council won’t allow it to be removed.

Because they’re the Tree Police. Despite Parliament passing several laws, they regard all trees as belonging to them!

Newth says gum trees, also known as widow makers, are notorious for dropping limbs.

A council arborist, Vector worker and private arborist have all on separate occasions said the branches from the tree could injure someone and it should be removed, he says.

But when Newth approached the council they told him resource consent was needed and then declined it on more than one occasion.

You should not need resource consent to chop down your own tree, especially when it is a danger.

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Get rid of 450 of them and Auckland might prosper!

June 10th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

About 500 planning staff at Auckland Council face an uncertain future in a major restructuring exercise announced today.

Chief planning officer Dr Roger Blakeley said the council planning office had undergone significant change since the chief planning office was designed by the agency that set up the Super City in 2009.

“Our world is very different today. We have moved from the development of major plans to their implementation. There is still much planning to be done such as the completion of the Unitary Plan, structure plans and area plans.

“Nevertheless, we need to prepare ourselves for the next three years to be fit for purpose,” Dr Blakeley said.

Town planners tend to be the biggest compliance cost on a city. I say get rid of 90% of them, and see if anyone complains.

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Herald on ashes bylaw

June 9th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Now, the Auckland Council has ventured into this area. As part of a wider bylaw covering cemeteries and crematoriums, it wants to prevent people scattering ashes in any public place – including beaches and parks – unless they have written approval from the council or Wahi Tapu Maori Komiti, a Maori committee overseeing sacred areas. Even people wanting to scatter ashes in a public cemetery would need to fill in approval forms and pay an “applicable” fee to the council.

Predictably enough, the proposal has attracted a storm of protest.

That anger is justified on several grounds. The council documents on the issue provide no detailed background to suggest major problems are arising from the scattering of ashes, either in terms of health or other risk, cultural sensitivities, or the growing extent of the practice. While cremations have become more popular, there are still only about 3000 a year in Auckland, compared with 2200 burials. That is a long way from the situation in Britain, where problems have arisen from the 420,000 cremations annually.

This suggests that, in the main, the council is looking for a solution where no significant problem exists. 

Exactly. And if there is a problem in a couple of discrete areas, then all you need is a couple of signs there asking people not to spread ashes there. What you don’t need is a law requiring you to gain permission to spread ashes anywhere in Auckland – let alone pay a fee for it.

A funeral celebrant described the council’s proposals as “crass”. That is apt. On an issue that demanded subtlety, it has employed a sledgehammer. Its proposal warrants the most rapid of burials.

It seems Wellington City already has such a policy. It should also be scrapped. I imagine almost everyone just ignores it anyway.

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Why is there a need for any bylaw on ashes?

June 5th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Plans to make grieving families apply for permission to scatter their loved ones’ ashes in public have been labelled crass and insensitive.

As part of a wider bylaw covering cemeteries and crematoria, Auckland Council wants to prevent people from scattering ashes in any public place – including beaches and reserves – unless they have written approval from the council or Wahi Tapu Maori Kimiti (a Maori committee that oversees sacred areas).

Even people wanting to scatter the ashes in a public cemetery would need to fill in forms for approval and pay “applicable fees” to the council.

The proposal, which could come into effect as early as November, has angered many people who feel the act doesn’t harm anyone and often helps grieving families to find closure by honouring a loved one’s final wish.

It’s ridiculous. Having to apply in writing and pay a fee to scatter ashes.

The Council should scrap its proposed bylaw. What need is there for one? What is the problem they are trying to fix?

If they do pass one, then everyone should ignore it. Dare the Council to prosecute you for scattering the ashes of a loved one at a local beach (for example), and watch the community rise up in outrage.

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How about funding neither?

May 27th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

The Auckland Council has money for the Parnell cathedral and Lopdell House in Titirangi but no money to upgrade marae, says Independent Maori Statutory Board member John Tamihere.

I’ve got an idea.

How about ratepayers don’t fund either, and instead the Anglican Church funds the Holy Trinity Cathedral and Ngati Whatua fund local marae?

Mr Tamihere criticised the “tyranny of the majority around the council table” for funding projects like Parnell cathedral while ignoring spending on marae.

Fair enough. So do neither.

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Nanny Auckland

May 12th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Auckland risks becoming a “nanny city” compared to party-friendly Wellington if a proposal to cut bar hours is adopted, a city councillor has warned.

Hot on the heels of new national 4am closing hours for bars, the Auckland Council wants to close Auckland pubs and clubs even earlier – at 3am in the city and Ponsonby, and 1am everywhere else.

Bars would not be able to sell shooters, shots or many cocktails after midnight throughout most of the city and not after 1am in city and Ponsonby bars.

The council’s proposed local alcohol policy, set to be approved for public consultation tomorrow, also specifies more restrictive hours for off-licences by limiting alcohol sales to not before 9am and not after 10pm.

National laws that began in December 2013 set off-licence hours from 7am to 11pm.

Auckland city councillor Cameron Brewer lashed out at the proposals and said Wellington would be the biggest winner from the proposed policy.

“This policy will make a joke of council’s latest marketing campaign that promotes Auckland as ‘the show that never stops’.”

Auckland has also made the same mistake as many other Councils and not distingished between types of off-licenses.  There’s a difference between people going into a bottle store to buy more spirits for a party and people wanting to buy a bottle of wine at the same time as they are doing their weekly groceries shopping. The proposed Auckland policy will inconvenience many responsible shoppers and drinkers – while not actually reducing alcohol abuse. A more targeted policy could reduce the inconvenience with no trade off in terms of reducing alcohol abuse.

Brewer said Auckland’s “puritan” laws had taken the new powers “to the extreme”. Events like champagne breakfasts for the Rugby World Cup or Commonwealth Games would become illegal with new minimum opening hours of 9am, he said.

Brewer said the limiting of off-licence hours would annoy a lot of people.

“Wine and beer will be roped off like we used to have in the old days when you couldn’t buy alcohol from supermarkets on Sundays. It’s ‘back to the future’ stuff,” he said.

“Mum and dad shoppers won’t be able to buy wine or beer with their weekly groceries before 9am and after 10pm.

“It makes no sense, particularly the morning ban . . . These grocery shoppers are not the problem.”

Exactly.

But councillor George Wood, who supported the proposal, said on-licence operators would be able to apply for extensions after a 12-month trial.

George is of course a former Police commander, and the Police view is that nothing good ever happens at 3 am. That’s an appalling view. I’ve been in town many times after 3 am with friends – and none of us have ever caused problems.

Wood said the Wellington City Council proposed 3am in its draft but 5am was adopted after consultation.

So will the Auckland Council listen, like Wellington did?

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18,000 new houses for Auckland

May 8th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland mayor Len Brown and Housing Minister Nick Smith have this afternoon announced a third tranche of “Special Housing Areas” for 18,000 new residences under the Auckland Housing Accord.

The announcement was made at a site at 11 Akepiro Street, Mt Eden, set to be developed into 18 units by Ockham Residential.

Big parts of Great North Rd, Otahu Coast, Flat Bush, New Lynn, Northcote, Albany East and Takanini are ear-marked as strategic areas, for big-scale redevelopment.

The Auckland Housing Accord, agreed to last year by Smith and Brown, provides for the creation of SHAs by Auckland Council with the approval of the Government. Qualifying developments in these areas are able to be streamlined and fast-tracked but the areas are raising alarm in areas from Takapuna to Newmarket, as people suddenly realise their streets will change dramatically.

Auckland needs more land and more houses (and more apartment buildings), it’s that simple.

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A win for the Helicopter Trust

March 14th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has called for a funding board at the centre of a row with the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust to be scrapped following its recommendation to slash funding for the trust by half. …

“It is difficult for Aucklanders to make sense of a decision to cut the rescue helicopter’s funding by 70 per cent in the last five years, while increasing funding for the nine other regional organisations it funds by between 30 and 150 per cent,” the mayor said.

“I think we have to be upfront and say this funding model is not working for Auckland and it’s time that council worked with central government to fix it.”

The first step, he said, would be to work with Auckland councillors to come up with a plan to fill the $900,000 gap in the trust’s finances.

Brown’s doing the right thing here. He’s basically saying the Board is making decisions that defy common sense, and they should be abolished. Until such time the Auckland council directly will step in and restore funding to the Helicopter Trust.

 

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Auckland sites needing a cultural assessment grow to 5,500

March 10th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Bernard Orsman writes:

The Auckland Council has confirmed that an extra 2000 or so properties are covered by a controversial rule requiring owners to seek iwi approval to work on their land.

A rule in the council’s draft Unitary Plan requires applicants carrying out work on 3661 sites of significance and value to mana whenua to obtain a “cultural impact assessment” from one or more of 19 iwi groups.

Now the council has told the Herald the rule applies to “significant ecological areas (SEA)”, of which more than 2000 were in the plan.

Maybe it would be easier for the Council to just provide a list of sites which don’t need a cultural assessment in order to remove vegetation etc. Eventually that will be the shorter list.

Politicians are divided on the iwi consent rule, which Auckland University associate law professor Ken Palmer said must be seen as invalid.

In a letter to the Herald on Friday, Professor Palmer, an expert on the Resource Management Act, said Labour amended the act in 2005 to clarify doubts over consultation, especially with iwi.

“The section unequivocally states ‘neither [an applicant nor a council] has a duty under this act to consult any person about the application’.”

Council chief planning officer Dr Roger Blakeley disputed Dr Palmer’s interpretation, saying a cultural impact assessment was not equivalent to consultation, but similar to a requirement to supply specialist reports, such as from an engineer.

Semantics. It is another step towards town planners undermining the rights of owners.

Professor Palmer did not agree with Dr Blakeley’s view, saying a specialist report might be justified on matters of land risk, noise and air pollution, etc, but any obligation to consult mana whenua on cultural concerns went beyond this “and impinges on normal rights of freehold ownership”.

Indeed.

Labour’s Maori affairs spokesman, Shane Jones, said the council should assure itself it was taking account of Maori criteria in the act because the average Kiwi would recoil when asked to engage in a long and expensive cultural impact assessment.

Mr Jones said no one doubted the need to embrace obligations to respect sacred sites, but the issue had morphed into something else.

I’m still waiting for someone in the media to pin Nanaia Mahuta down and ask her if she agrees with Shane Jones in his opposition to the cultural assessments. Or Phil Twyford. Or David Cunliffe.

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Stopping the double dippers

March 4th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

MP Maggie Barry is labelling a Shore politician’s claims she is trying to remove him from office as “ridiculous”.

But Devonport-Takapuna Local Board member Grant Gillon says it’s no conspiracy theory.

Ms Barry, National MP for North Shore, had her bill to stop people serving on two or more Auckland local boards drawn from the member’s bill ballot.

Very sensible. You can’t be the MP for Wellington Central and say the MP for Mana. Your job is to represent one locality.

Among the few politicians this would affect is Mr Gillon who serves on both Devonport-Takapuna and Kaipatiki local boards.

Mr Gillon believes it’s motivated by his support for stopping housing at Bayswater Marina and opposition to closing Takapuna Beach Holiday Park to make way for a national sailing centre.

“There can be no other reason why the local MP considers removing me from office as the most important issue for the North Shore in an election year.”

He says the bill is poorly drafted and will force at least six costly by-elections across Auckland.

There is an SOP with the bill to clarify it is not retrospective. There will be no by-elections. The issue is whether politicians such as Gillon should be allowed to serve on two or more local boards concurrently.

Ms Barry says double dipping opens up the “real potential for conflicts of interest”.

“This has allowed local board power to be concentrated in the hands of a few people, many of whom don’t even live in the area they represent.”

The idea of local boards is that they are, well local.

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Jones v taniwha

March 3rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Another good quote from Shane Jones:

A couple have been told to apply to 14 different iwi to keep the water running to their home.

Brent and Jennifer Tassell will need approval to renew resource consent on a bore hole that has been operating for 10 years, supplying water to eight Puhoi homes.

The bore draws water from 305m underground and is the only source of water for the properties in Slowater Lane, on the northern outskirts of greater Auckland.

“It’s a hole in the ground that’s been there for 10 years,” said Jennifer. “It’s completely over the top for our situation.”

Under the draft Auckland Unitary Plan, all applicants for resource consent for new or existing developments must apply to iwi for them to assess whether it would have an adverse effect on mana whenua.

Taking or using groundwater is on the list of activities that could have a cultural impact, so iwi may insist on a cultural impact assessment – at the applicant’s cost.

Applicants may also have to foot the bill for the “costs of engagement” in the process.

The Tassells will meet Labour MP Shane Jones, who has been vocal in his disagreement with iwi approval rules.

He warned the new Auckland Council lacked safeguards.

“Maori heritage, while it’s important, it must never be used as a basis for divisiveness – and I fear that’s a consequence in this case,” he said.

Iwi should not be allowed to intervene to “test whether there’s a taniwha down a 10-year-old bore”.

What a great quote. Any other MP saying it would probably get bashed, but Jones can get away with it.

Jones has transformed himself from one of the laziest Labour MPs to one of the most effective. It is great to see.

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A resignation offence

March 3rd, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An Auckland politician has admitted making threatening comments about getting a restaurant’s liquor licence pulled after being refused a free bottle of wine.

Howick local board member Steve Udy faces a formal complaint, after the incident last week at the Porterhouse Grill, a popular new family-owned restaurant in Pakuranga.

Resident Peter Barclay, who is related to one of the staff, has lodged a complaint with Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town, demanding Udy be censured for using his position to solicit a gift.

“When this was politely refused by management he became abusive and claimed that because of his position as a Howick board member he had the power to close the restaurant down,” the complaint alleges.

That’s so far beyond acceptable behaviour that I think it is a resignation offence. You should not hold positions like that, if you think it allows you to bully local restaurants.

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Is the Maori Party calling Shane Jones racist?

March 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Maori Party have said:

The Maori Party say a cultural impact assessment clause in Auckland’s Draft Unitary Plan is a good idea, and that people focusing on race and cost are missing the big picture.

Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party Co-leader says “the provision in the plan to seek a cultural impact assessment from mana whenua on certain sites tagged for development is a good thing. It’s good because Maori have knowledge, history and a unique cultural perspective that can and will add value to our resource management decisions.”

“We are, however, shocked and disappointed with some of the reactions to the proposal. It tells us that our Maori culture, our knowledge, and our history are still treated as second class here in Aotearoa.”

Shane Jones is opposed. Does this mean they are saying Shane Jones is treating Maori as second class citizens? Surely not.

I’m with Shane on this one. But am still waiting to hear if even a single other Labour MP agrees with Shane.

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How can you sue to demand a higher donation?

February 25th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

In terms of fundraising, few organisations are in such a favoured position as the Westpac rescue helicopter service. Such is the high profile and obvious value of its work that Aucklanders respond readily and generously whenever money is sought. This degree of public goodwill should never be taken for granted, however. There will always be the strong risk of a backlash when ratepayers learn they can expect a $500,000 legal bill to defend a court case brought by the helicopter service.

That situation has arisen because the Auckland Regional Rescue Helicopter Trust is challenging plans to cut its annual operating grant from ratepayers from $900,000 to $450,000. Both the Auckland Council and the council-funded Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board, which determines the grants allotted to 10 rescue, safety, arts and cultural groups, are standing firm. The helicopter service, they say, has been incredibly successful at fundraising and is in an exceptionally sound financial position. It is ready to stand more on its own two feet.

I don’t have a particular view on what the level of funding should be. But I do have a strong view that this is effectively a donation, and that the recipients of a donation should not go to court to try and force a higher level of donation.

The Trust provides a valued service and does much good. But this lawsuit risks a lot of goodwill.

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Brown inquiry cost ratepayers $250,000

February 4th, 2014 at 6:50 pm by David Farrar

Simon Wilson at Metro reports:

The cost of the EY report into mayor Len Brown’s affair with Bevan Chuang has come in at around $250,000. That’s the word from reliable, well-placed sources close to the council.

It’s an outrageous amount, and the reason it is so high can be traced directly back to the council’s then-CEO, Doug McKay. It was McKay who ordered the inquiry and then allowed it to blossom into an investigation far in excess of what was originally intended.

He earlier stated the inquiry would cost around $75,000. Then in December, he told the council the final figure was not yet known but it would be “over $100,000”. The final figure of a quarter of a million dollars is so far above these estimates, it begs the question: why did he provide such low earlier estimates?

The answer to that is obvious, and I suspect Simon is being spun a line from Len’s office.

Len lawyered up and hired QCs and the like to try and derail the report.  Because Len was refusing to co-operate initially and threatening legal review, the Council was forced to hire a top QC also.

This inquiry would not have been needed if Len kept his private life away from the Council. If his affair had not occurred with a Council board member and contractor, had not used Council resources, had not involved liaisons in Council offices, and not had him getting free hotel rooms for the affair – then there would have been no Council investigation.

If Brown’s affair had been with Mrs Smith-Jones of Papakura and they met in their own time, in private residences or hotel rooms they paid for, then there is no way there would have been a Council inquiry.

Having Metro blame the poor Chief Executive for trying to save the reputation of the Council is obvious spin from Camp Len.

The only question now is how much of the $250,000 cost will Len pay, and how much will be left for ratepayers to pay. I think 50/50 would be equitable.

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Berms being mowed again

February 3rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Transport has quietly backed down on mowing berms, but is skimping on the quality of grass-cutting.

After months of controversy and scruffy verges, the Auckland Council’s transport arm has resumed mowing berms where residents cannot do so, or refuse to.

But Auckland Transport will cut the grass only periodically, and to a lower standard than previously.

A quiet partial backdown.

Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer said he planned an amendment for the proper reinstatement of berm mowing, which could be funded from a special $101 million dividend from Auckland Airport, or internal savings.

“The policy has failed dismally and saved nothing. The silliness and constant fighting with the elderly, sick, migrants and those who don’t have a lawn mower has to stop,” he said.

My view is that the owner of the berm should be responsible for its mowing.

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Brown payment must be made public

January 27th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Expectations are rising for a settlement by Auckland Mayor Len Brown towards the $100,000-plus cost of a review into his extramarital affair to be made public.

Three of the five councillors negotiating a settlement – Chris Fletcher, George Wood and Dick Quax – believe it is the wish of the group to make the settlement public.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse and Penny Webster, the other two on the negotiating group, are staying quiet.

Mr Brown told the Herald last week that when councillors set up a group last month to enter into binding negotiations, the resolution was the settlement would be confidential.

Of course it must be made public. The Auckland Council is a public organisation and has public accounts, plus the payment could be requested under the LGOIMA. I’d be amazed if the Ombudsman ruled that such a payment could be deemed commercially sensitive or confidential.

We are still waiting to hear also the full cost of the inquiry. The legal fees incurred when the Mayor lawyered up are rumoured to be well in excess of the direct cost of the inquiry itself.

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Auckland Council charges for pool inspections

January 26th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

aklpools

 

A reader has sent this in to me. They note:

Just got a letter today that informs me that the Auckland Council will now inspect my pool fencing every three years to make sure it is still there and charge me for the privilege. Revenue generating at its best.

Original inspection received sign-off. It cost a fortune to put in a steel fence. Current charge for initial inspection is $75 – I am OK with that and foolishly thought that was the end of it.

Now it will be inspected every three years at a higher cost of $125 per inspection. For now.

My points are:

  • Why follow up inspections? It is a metal fence set in concrete – we are hardly likely to lift it out of the ground
  • Why more expensive since it is just (supposedly) reaffirming it is still there so technically they could look from the top of our drive and view it rather than inspect it
  • Why can’t we just send in a photo showing it is still there – saves them a trip and us a lot of money

This is revenue generating pure and simple. It is a loose interpretation of Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987 section 10 (Every territorial authority shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that this Act is complied with within its district.)Exploitation of vague legislation seen as a revenue opportunity.

Since Len(it’s all about me) came in our rates have increased and services decreased as well as additional charges sneaking into the mix. This is snowballing and there seems to be no vehicle to challenge other than talk to a child at the call centre who sounded very sweet but “that picnic may be short of a sandwich” if you know what I mean. She struggled to know what to say and failed to find me anyone to talk to. Any suggestions for recourse?

The $75 initial charge does seem okay, but checking every three years the fence set in concrete is still there seems indeed just revenue generating – especially as they will cost more than the original check.

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Brewer’s trip was declared to the Council

December 23rd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Cameron Brewer facebooked:

Auckland Council Electoral Officer and Public Information Officer Bruce Thomas has confirmed with Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer today that while he did not file a full “Register of Members’ Interests” annual statement by 30 June 2012, Brewer’s much criticised four-day sponsored trip to Australia was in fact declared by the Councillor for Orakei at the time and was subsequently in the Council gift register all along. 

In a surprise turn, Mr Thomas advised Mr Brewer in an email today that “You did however declare the Port Douglas trip and this was included in the gift register. A copy of the gift register was given to the Ernst Young Inquiry.”

In an email to Mr Thomas from Mr Brewer on 8 September 2011, Mr Brewer wrote “Bruce, please declare… 1 trip to Port Douglas courtesy of Mediaworks, Four nights in august. Value approximately 2k. Secondly, my partner and I are in SkyCity box for opening night and game tomorrow. Cost unknown. Please let me know what further information you require. Thanks Cameron” 

Mr Brewer was responding to an email by Mr Thomas titled ‘Code of Conduct – Declaration of Gifts’ he had sent to all elected representatives the day before on Wednesday 7 September 2011. 

The email read: “Dear Councillors and Local Board Members, with the Rugby World Cup about to start, I thought it prudent to remind you of your obligation to declare gifts in excess of $300. Some of the ticket and hospitality packages that you (and your partner) may be offered by a third party are likely to exceed $300. If you suspect this to be the case then you should advise myself and we will log it and ensure it is recorded as part of you declaration on 30 June 2012.”

Mr Brewer said he is very pleased to learn that he did in fact formally advise the council of the trip soon after his return, and that it was subsequently officially declared in the gift register. 

While procedurally Cameron still erred in not also doing the formal annual declaration, the substance is that he did disclose the gift to the Council.

What will be interesting is if it is revealed who informed the media (incorrectly) that the gift had not been disclosed? My money is on one of the six ratepayer funded spin doctors working for Len Brown.

The Herald reports:

“Given this information was put on the council gift register and was actually part of the Ernst Young review, I’m very disappointed that council staff didn’t give me and the media the correct information last week.”

Will the Herald now retract their editorial and story on Brewer?

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Auckland Council scrutiny

December 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Mayor Len Brown will forgo some executive powers as he sets out to rebuild his political career after a decision by councillors to keep him on.

A subdued Mr Brown yesterday accepted the unanimous decision by his colleagues to censure him with a warning from supporters Ross Clow and Chris Darby he would be on thin ice if any other skeletons came out of the cupboard.

Mr Brown gave an assurance there was nothing else out there and made a commitment to work closer with councillors on a common agenda in the new year.

Really?

In a blog written at the meeting, Metro editor Simon Wilson said if Mr Brown could not lead the council he needed to find the courage and grace to step aside. “He’s reached that stage,” wrote Mr Wilson, who said the subtext of the mayor’s supporters was they no longer had confidence in him.

“Len Brown will soon be gone. It’s hard to see him lasting past Christmas.”

He’s lost Metro! Wilson is as left as they come, so that is significant.

The Herald does another editorial:

If Len Brown declined to make a move yesterday, there was not going to be a move. That was the harsh reality for Aucklanders, the majority of whom clearly want the mayor to resign, and the councillors who met to publicly censure him. Mr Brown’s obduracy duly carried the day as he refused to acknowledge that the standing and influence he once enjoyed had been shredded by conflicts of interest and inadequate explanations and apologies arising from inquiries into his two-year extramarital affair. …

Auckland has a mayor who is politically reined in, reputationally damaged and personally unlikely to regain residents’ respect. It also has a mayor who must, one day soon, realise his diminished mana cannot allow him to speak for all in the region. At one level, a right-wing councillor, Sharon Stewart, reveals Mr Brown’s reputation so troubled schools and churches in her community they found it hard to have him present awards. At another, left-wing commentator Chris Trotter doubts Mr Brown’s ability to be taken seriously in Wellington.

The mayor’s failure to acknowledge the reality of his position was starkly apparent when, offered a “right of reply” to the councillors’ decisions yesterday afternoon, he offered a few perfunctory thoughts that came across as insufficient and offhand. The contrition that even his council supporters desired remained out of reach.

The manner in which Mr Brown has brazened it out with the council and the people this week shows he doesn’t, really, get that his tide has gone out. The city needs a new leader.

The reality will maybe set it, when Brown doesn’t receive any invitations to address businesses, schools, community groups and the like. No group will want him as a guest speaker.

Meanwhile scrutiny goes on other Councillors:

Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer, who has been baying for Mayor Len Brown’s blood for not declaring gifts, has admitted not declaring a four-day junket to the Gold Coast.

Mr Brewer yesterday admitted taking free air tickets and accommodation paid for by MediaWorks, which runs TV3.

The right-wing councillor said he made a declaration of interests in 2011, but not in 2012, which would cover the period he went to Queensland.

The 2012 declaration of interests shows that Mr Brown and just nine of the 20 councillors filed returns.

All Councillors should be filing returns, even if they are nil returns. Maybe the requirement should become a legislative one so there can be consequences for not doing so.

And why was Mediaworks paying for a Councillor to go to Queensland? Maybe he won a competition?

UPDATE: It seems it was to talk to a marketing and sales conference, in his role as a former head of Newmarket Business Association.

UPDATE2: The Pants Down Brown song is now the No 1 selling country song on iTunes for NZ. You can buy a copy for just $1.79, for endless fun.

UPDATE3: The Dominion Post also calls for him to go:

Len Brown is done. The sooner he and the councillors who slapped him over the wrist with a wet bus ticket yesterday realise it, the sooner Auckland can get on with its business.

Mr Brown’s crime is not his extra-marital affair with a woman 25 years his junior. It is the way he has dealt with the affair becoming public and what has been revealed by the investigation into his conduct.

His attempts to paint himself as a victim and to duck responsibility for his actions have damaged his credibility. His breaking of Auckland City Council rules has damaged the reputation of the council. Pleading ignorance of the rules or that he was distracted by other matters is not an excuse. As mayor Mr Brown had a responsibility to acquaint himself with the rules and to abide by them.

And:

He, and his remaining supporters on the council, need to realise that Auckland is bigger than him. His continuing presence is an embarrassment and a distraction to the city he claims to love.He cannot impart a sense of direction to the city while he is ducking the public and avoiding the media. He cannot uphold standards for councillors when he has lowered them himself. And while questions persist about his conduct, the council cannot turn its attention to matters that actually concern Aucklanders. …

”You have sat too long for any good you have been doing,” Oliver Cromwell famously told the Rump Parliament in 1653. ”Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Mr Brown should heed the sentiment.He has broken the rules, lowered standards and lost the respect of the people he represents and the people he is required to deal with as mayor of the country’s largest city. He should resign.

Is there anyone at all saying he should stay? No, Brian Rudman doesn’t count.

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Brown to be censured

December 17th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Mayor Len Brown has lost a firm grip on the Super City after an unprecedented message from councillors yesterday to shape up or ship out.

Councillor Dick Quax went one step further and called for the mayor to resign immediately, saying Aucklanders had lost confidence in Mr Brown, who stood to be paid $750,000 over the next three years for a lame-duck role.

The Mayor is doing almost no public meetings or functions. I think he will be surprised at how hostile a reception he will get when he does try and resume them.

The vast majority of councillors, however, decided to censure the mayor at Thursday’s council meeting, discuss Mr Brown meeting some costs for a $100,000-plus review into his behaviour and clip the wings of the mayoral office.

This will include greater oversight and control by councillors of the mayor and his office, which has wide powers, a $4 million budget and up to six spin doctors.

Brown has more spin doctors than the entire Labour parliamentary party.

The censure is actually very beneficial for Brown. If the Council had done nothing, then resentment would continue to build. The censure means there is a possibility of that being the end of the matter.

However there are still unanswered questions over the secret trip to Hong Kong, other people who have provided unofficial translation services for the Mayor, related LGOIMA requests etc.

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The costs of the Brown report

December 16th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says he will not pay any of the $100,000-plus costs of a damning review that found he failed to declare more than $39,000 in free hotel rooms and upgrades.

Mr Brown said he supported the review by council chief executive Doug McKay and agreed to the terms of reference, which cleared him of using council resources or providing preferential treatment in connection to his affair with Bevan Chuang.

But when it came to costs arising from the rest of the inquiry that found he received nine free hotel rooms worth $6130 and 64 upgrades worth $32,888.50, Mr Brown said that was something Mr McKay had pursued.

Mr Brown said he he would pay his personal costs for legal advice from Philip Skelton, QC, but would not pay any costs of the review.

Mr McKay has estimated the cost of the EY (Ernst & Young) review at $100,000-plus. Other associated costs include legal advice to the council by Crown Solicitor Simon Moore, QC.

Brown brought in his own QC and threatened the Council which had to hire a QC also. The legal costs on top of the EY costs will be significant.

Mr Brown has never apologised to the council for the two-year affair and showed little remorse on Friday when his free hotel rooms and upgrades were revealed.

He views the report as a vindication. No one fair who reads it could see it that way.

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