Translating Phil Goff

June 30th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Phil Goff criticises Auckland ‘presidential’ leadership | Stuff.co.nz

Auckland mayoral prospect Phil Goff says he would run the city differently from the current “presidential” style of leadership.

In a local television interview the Mt Roskill Labour MP has reiterated that he’s seriously considering standing for mayor, but claims he still hasn’t made the final decision.

Translation: I’m definitely running

“If I ran for mayor, that’s the reason I’d run as an independent.

Translation: Labour is unpopular in Auckland, so I’m hoping to con people into thinking I haven’t been a Labour MP for the past 34 years.

“I think a mayor needs not to be partisan, but to be inclusive to look after the whole of the city and to try and work with the whole of the council.

Translation: I hope to win with no policies, no position on rates increases by just promising to be inclusive.
Also Phil Goff claimed that Auckland is 40% of NZ’s GDP. He’s out by $11 billion or so. NZ GDP in March 2014 was $220 billion so 40% is $92 billion. Auckland’s GDP was $81 billion.
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A ratepayer funded party to celebrate a 10% rates rise!

June 28th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown and council staff held a ratepayer-funded party hours after passing a new budget that includes a 9.9 per cent average rates rise for households.

Senior staff have defended the function as a way of thanking staff but critics say the decision was misguided when thousands of Aucklanders were smarting from big rates increases.

If this just adds even more pain to the 9.9% rates rise, you can do something about it – join the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance. The 10 Councillors who voted for the 9.9% rates rise will be targeted for defeat at next year’s election – to send a signal to all Councils and Councillors in NZ that if you massively hike rates, you will lose your jobs.

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The guilty 10

June 26th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar
  • Arthur Anae
  • Len Brown
  • Bill Cashmore
  • Linda Cooper
  • Chris Darby
  • Alf Filipaina
  • Mike Lee
  • Calum Penrose
  • Wayne Walker
  • Penny Webster

You now know who not to vote for Auckland.

Special attention must go to Mike Lee who correctly labels the 9.9% rates increase as odious and deeply flawed, yet votes for it.

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Even Rudman is lashing the Councillors

June 25th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Brian Rudman writes:

Tomorrow, for example, even though only seven of 20 councillors support the mayor’s proposed 10-year budget, it is likely to be adopted, because possibly five opponents will look the other way and abstain.

Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett calls this abstaining “a total nonsense” and “a breach of trust with ratepayers”, and I agree.

In a democracy, if the executive can’t get a majority to support its plans, the accepted course is for the rulers to go away and prepare a budget the majority will support.

Exactly.

The Auckland Ratepayers Alliance has said:

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is pledging to hold to account those who support Len Brown’s proposed Auckland Council budget tomorrow, including those who allow it to pass by abstaining. The Alliance, which launched in April, has nearly ten thousand members and is growing every day.

Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesperson, Jo Holmes, says:

“Make no mistake, this is a bottom line for our members and activists. Any councillor that votes for, or abstains tomorrow will be a target in the lead up to next year’s election.”

“We are now confident that the Ratepayers’ Alliance will have enough financial support to conduct a mailout to every Auckland household. We will ensure that all voters know who the guilty Councillors are. There will be billboards, radio ads and even ringtones naming those who allowed Len Brown to hike rates at 99 times the level of inflation.

“Those who fail to vote tomorrow to stop the Mayor’s rates hike will not get away with it.”

The 9.9% rates increase is just an an average. In some low income areas it is as high as 17%!!!

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Herald says Councillors should vote not abstain

June 24th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Fairly or not, politicians are expected to have solid, unambiguous positions on every issue. Not for them the shades of grey that influence the decision-making of most people in everyday life. Consequently, it is unsurprising that the Auckland councillors who are thinking of abstaining to allow the council’s 10-year budget to pass are being strongly criticised. Yesterday, Michael Barnett, of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, added to the pressure by saying taking that course would be “a total nonsense”.

They are elected to govern. If they can’t handle the responsibility, they should resign and allow in someone who can.

But ringing in their ears are the dire warnings of the council’s chief executive and chief finance officer, who have told councillors if the budget is not adopted, the council will not be able to set or collect rates, refinance loans or meet stock exchange requirements.

If they vote down Len’s budget, then Len has to put up an alternate budget which can get a majority. That is how it works.

It would surely not be catastrophic if the budget was not adopted. Any difficulties could be worked through as the budget was modified to meet the concerns of Mr Clow and others. This could see the rates impost reduced significantly through a variety of measures, including staff minimisation, enhanced efficiencies, and the selling down of council assets, such as port and airport shares and carparking buildings.

It is not a choice of Len’s budget or no budget. If they vote down Len’s budget, then a revised budget gets put up.

The issue is too important for any councillor to choose not to choose. They were elected to provide a voice for the citizens of their ward. That should not be lost when they are so adamant about the budget’s shortcomings.

Any Councillor who votes for the 9.9% rates increase budget, or abstains on it, will face a vigorous and effective campaign to stop them being re-elected.

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Abstaining to try and avoid responsibility

June 22nd, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Several Auckland councillors are expected to abstain from a budget vote this week to avoid plunging the Super City into a financial crisis.

Mayor Len Brown looks set to pass his new 10-year, $60 billion budget with less than half the votes of his council at Thursday’s governing body meeting.

He will get there after councillors were told the consequences of not passing the budget by chief executive Stephen Town and chief finance officer Sue Tindall over lunch last Thursday.

Councillors attending the lunch said the consequences were dire.

The council would not be able to strike the rates, refinance loans and meet stock exchange requirements.

Mr Town yesterday would not say what he told councillors, only that various “what if” questions had been posed by councillors and “hypothetically what sort of things might occur”.

This is scaremongering. If they don’t pass Len’s 9.9% rates increase budget, then all that happens if Len has to put forward a budget with less spending which can pass.

The mayor is believed to have the support of only seven of the 19 councillors due to attend Thursday’s meeting.

His position is weakened by the absence of two supporters – deputy mayor Penny Hulse and John Walker.

Six councillors are expected to vote against the budget – they are Cameron Brewer, Chris Fletcher, Denise Krum, Sharon Stewart, George Wood and Dick Quax.

The other five councillors – Cathy Casey, Ross Clow, Mike Lee, Wayne Walker and John Watson – have serious reservations about the budget.

They particularly object to a targeted rate for transport which takes average household rates increases to 9.9 per cent.

But instead of voting against the budget and plunging the council into crisis, most of the five are expected to abstain to allow the budget to pass.

An abstention is the same effectively as voting in favour. They are just trying to avoid responsibility. If they think this will save their jobs, they are wrong. Every Councillor who doesn’t vote against the 9.9% rates increase will be targeted for sacking at the next local body elections. And saying you didn’t vote for or against it won’t save you. This is a tactical abstention designed to allow it to pass, but with their fingerprints missing. Aucklanders are not that stupid.

Labour’s Ross Clow said the budget was too regressive and socked it to households and small businesses.

“I’m not going to vote against it but I certainly don’t support it,” he said.

Well then resign off Council. The job of the Council is to pass a budget – not to abstain. If you vote against a 9.9% increase Budget, then they have to put forward a smaller Budget.

UPDATE: Just been given an example which exposes the falsity of the Councillors claiming they have to abstain, or the Council will stop functioning. At Hamilton City the votes for the Budget were deadlocked. Rather than have Crs abstain (or use Mayor’s casting vote), the Mayor sent the budget back to the staff to redo.

Abstaining will be a mark of cowardice. You either vote for or against.

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Auckland Rates Meeting Wed 10 June

June 4th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Received this release:

Auckland residents Ray Calver and Dick Cuthbert are part of a group of concerned ratepayers organising the Auckland Rates Increases Public Meeting to be held June 10. “There is widespread anger at the imposition of an average 9.9% rates increases across Auckland. It particularly hurts those in poorer parts of Auckland where residents of Mangere face increases of 16.9%.” 

Mr. Calver says “The purpose of this meeting is to give Aucklanders an opportunity to voice their opposition to the increases and also to plan how they would like to make this opposition known. 

The meeting will be addressed by several speakers who have a variety of ideas on how ratepayers can take a stand against the Council’s rates plan.” 

The meeting will be held at Mt. Eden War Memorial Hall 487 Dominion Rd on Wednesday June 10 commencing from 7:30pm. Confirmed speakers are   

  • Stephen Berry – Affordable Auckland Mayoral candidate
  • Cameron Brewer – Orakei Councillor
  • Penny Bright – Mayoral candidate
  • Jo Holmes – Auckland Ratepayer’s Alliance
  • Damien Light – United Future
  • Bill Raynor – Grey Power
  • David Seymour – Act Epsom MP

“Following speeches, there will be time put aside for people to ask questions of the speakers and also voice their concerns about the rates increases. The meeting organisers and I look forward to hearing how those who have attended wish to proceed.” 

I’d encourage people to go along. If the 15 Councillors who voted for a 9.9% rates increase get away with it, then I have no doubt future increases will continue to be at such a high level.

If on the other hand, 18 months of pressure leads to those 15 Councillors being sacked, it will be a great message to both the Auckland Council and all other councils, that ratepayers are not an endless source of funds, and there are consequences to being unable to rein in spending.

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Auckland Council consents

May 29th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Richard Harman blogs at Politik:

MPs today heard a revealing account of antiquated systems within the Auckland Council’s Building Control Department.

The Department — which deals with over 17,000 applications for building consents a year – does most of its work on paper.

Sarah Lineham, Sector Manager, Local Government at the Office of the Auditor General told Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee that the Council used approximately $3.5 million of paper in the building consents department because only a few applications were handled online.

That’s a staggering total.

She was being questioned on a report on the Auckland Council’s handling of Building Consents which said that the reliance on paper within the department meant that staff spent 6000 hours a year simply scanning application documents.

That’s three staff who do nothing but scan documents in!

It said staff at one architectural firm estimated that they used two kilometres of A1-size paper a month, much of it for building consent applications.

The Council should make a priority to have an online tool for consent applications. Not just to save millions of dollars of paper, but actually to simplify and speed up the whole process. Ideally consent applications that conform with the unitary plan should be able to be approved with no human review – just like registering a company – all automated.

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A good start

May 26th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Council is entering a new era of openness by publishing details about the spending of ratepayer money, says chief executive Stephen Town.

He says the first publication of details of contractors and suppliers last month was part of a bid to give ratepayers better information about how the city is run.

“There was a clear mood in the councillors when I was appointed – we need to strive to be as open and transparent as we can.”

The first stab at it had the council list contractors next to the tasks for which they had been contracted, but with a threshold of $100,000 as the only indication of the cost to ratepayers.

With suppliers, the council listed the company and the value of the supply agreement where it was greater than $100,000 – but didn’t list what was being supplied. It shows $383,049,101 of spending.

This is a good start for transparency.

I’d like to see New Zealand do what some US states have done, and have am Armchair Auditor Act that requires all government (central and local) payments (except staff) to be listed online in a searchable database. We’re paying for them, so should be able to see them.

As part of the proactive approach, Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act requests would be published online a few days after the information was provided to the person sought.

Also welcome. All government agencies and local councils should do this.

The move follows Auckland Transport’s decision to publish detailed lists of contracts over $50,000 which include the reason for the contract, who won it and how much it was worth.

Victoria University’s expert on government accountability, associate professor Michael Macaulay, said transparency led to better governance and allowed the public to analyse expensive projects if they wished. “This is public money we’re talking about.”

Exactly.

As I said, good to see Auckland Council leading the way on something positive.

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99 times, not 9 times

May 14th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Bernard Hickey writes:

But why should Auckland ratepayers pay a rates hike nine times greater than inflation …

It’s 99 times the rate of inflation,  not nine times.

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$10 million for a new Council meeting room!

May 12th, 2015 at 9:10 am by David Farrar

One News reported:

Auckland Council is under fire over plans to build a new chamber just half a kilometre from where the old one is.

The move comes in the same week the mayor and a majority of councillors voted for an average rates increase of 9.9% for households.

Auckland Council has just spent $157 million shifting some of its super city workers to new offices in downtown Auckland but ONE News can reveal that the spending doesn’t end there.

Documents leaked to the Auckland Ratepayer Alliance show plans for a new council chamber on site, saving councillors and staff a four minute, 445 metre walk.

Options include a new mezzanine floor extension over a public walkway, glazed walls, a new civic lounge and a catering kitchen – all with the aim of creating “democracy at street level”.

“This is completely surplus to requirements,” councillor Cameron Brewer says. “We’ve got eight existing fit for purpose council chambers in Auckland and to build a ninth one is just frankly crazy.”

The Auckland Ratepayers Alliance claims the cost of the new complex will be between $4.5 and $10 million.

The fiscal incontinence gets worse. How they could even be considering this at a time they’ve put rates up by 9.9% is staggering.

 

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Auckland Council welshing on special housing areas?

May 8th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Housing Minister Nick Smith is reminding Auckland Council of Government’s power to override local government if it does not co-operate on speeding up the supply of affordable housing.

The construction of between 2000 to 3000 homes in northwest Auckland has hit a roadblock after Auckland Council refused consents for three special housing areas.

The council wanted central government to first commit to improving transport infrastructure at the greenfield sites before there was any further growth in the region.

So the Auckland Council wants taxpayers in Dunedin to pay for their local roads in Auckland?

The Council gains significant revenue from new sub-divisions. They get a one off from developer fees (and these have increased massively) and they get rates income from new properties. These fees and rates are to pay for local infrastructure.

If the Auckland Council tries to extort money from the rest of us for their core responsibilities, the Government should tell them where to go.

 

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Auckland Council votes for a 9.9% rates increase!

May 7th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland councillors have voted 15-7 for a 9.9 per cent rates increase for households from July.

Earlier, the Council released the full details of rates rises, showing the overall rates rise for households is 9.9 per cent.

Overall rates will rise by 6.9 per cent, but because of valuations and a move to lower business rates the effect on households is higher.

This is a fiscally incontinent Council that must be sacked. The 15 who voted for a 9.95 increase should be targeted for removal at the next election.

The details show the impact of a flat targeted rate to top up spending on transport will hit the poorest suburbs in Auckland hard.

And from a Council controlled by the left.

Here’s the increase by suburb, in order from biggest to smallest:

  • Mangere-Otahuhu 16.9%
  • Kaipatiki 16.1%
  • Whau 15.7%
  • Albert-Eden 14.9%
  • Maungakiekie-Tamaki 14.9%
  • Puketepapa 14.5%
  • Otara-Papatoetoe 12.2%
  • Henderson-Massey 11.6%
  • Howick 9.9%
  • Upper Harbour 9.9%
  • Manurewa 9.5%
  • Orakei 8.5%
  • Devonport-Takapuna 7.9%
  • Waitemata 7.7%
  • Hibiscus and Bays 6.3%
  • Waitakere Ranges 5.4%
  • Franklin 4.4%
  • Papakura 3.3%
  • Rodney -1.4%
  • Waiheke -2.8%
  • Great Barrier -13%

So Mangere and Otahuhu up 17%, Otara up 12%. And this comes from the people who cry about struggling families and poverty. This is a Council chaired by a Labour Party member, that has just hit the poorest residents with a 17% rates increase.

Shameful.

UPDATE: The guilty Councillors are:

  • Len Brown
  • Penny Hulse
  • Penny Webster
  • Arthur Anae
  • Cathy Casey
  • Bill Cashmore
  • Linda Cooper
  • Chris Darby
  • Alf Filipaina
  • Chris Fletcher
  • Mike Lee
  • Calum Penrose
  • Wayne Walker
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Auckland households to pay 9.5% more

May 6th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland households are facing a steep rates rise of about 9.5 per cent to pay for Mayor Len Brown’s latest budget plan.

The mayor has released some details of the plan he outlined last Thursday, which included a general rates increase of 2.5 per cent and a targeted rate of about 4 per cent to top up spending on transport.

But because of new valuations and a lowering of business rates, it has emerged the combined impact of the general and targeted rate on households will be in the region of 9.5 per cent. This is a steep increase from an earlier 5.6 per cent average rates rise for households.

At a time when inflation is just 0.1%. Disgraceful.

The $99 flat charge for the targeted rate will have a bigger impact on poorer suburbs, where rates will rise by 11.5 per cent for houses valued at $500,000 – well below the average sales price of $804,282 recorded by Barfoot & Thompson last month.

And this is a Council controlled by the caring left.

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Auditor-General on Auckland Council consents

May 3rd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting report by the Auditor-General into Auckland Council consents:

Although Building Control has various ways of communicating and interacting with its customers, I am concerned that communication is not as good as it should be. Surveys show that customers are not satisfied with how Building Control communicates. The fact that 70% of consent applications lodged go “on hold” pending further information suggests that there is a large gap between what Building Control expects and what customers believe is expected of them. Architectural and building firms told us that Building Control does not always communicate well or in a consistent way. Auckland Council recently commissioned a large audit focused on customers, which found that communication is one of the areas where improvements can be made.

In an ideal world, the Council would have an online process that can verify it has the necessary information, so there is no having to go back for more.

Auckland Council is technically meeting the statutory deadline for processing most building applications, complying with statutory time frames 98.5% of the time in 2013/14. The average time to process applications is 9-10 working days, much less than the statutory time limit of 20 working days. But the statutory time frame allows all territorial authorities to exclude the days that the application is put on hold.

When the total elapsed time from lodging the application to issuing the consent is considered, Auckland Council processes 80% of applications within 40 working days. However, in exceptional circumstances, some applications can take more than 100 days to process. This includes the time it takes customers to provide the additional material requested.

Five months is a very long time to wait for a consent.

Note these are working days. So 40 working days is two months.

The process of approving consent applications is largely paper-based. Relatively straightforward consent applications require a lot of paper. This is inefficient and costly for Auckland Council and applicants. Auckland Council is planning to introduce electronic lodgement of consent applications, and the forecast efficiency gains seem compelling. In my view, the electronic system should be introduced sooner than planned.

Yes.

However, I noted that the average cost of a sample of actual consent fees in Auckland was significantly higher than the fees shown on Auckland Council’s website. This suggests that more time was needed to process the consent applications than was expected. The differences from other local authorities provide an opportunity for Auckland Council, and all local authorities, to discuss how to get costs into line or to make comparisons easier.

I believe we should have competition between consenting authorities. If you think one consenting authority is too slow or expensive, then you should be able to go to another.

It would be a great opportunity for some of the more efficient Councils to provide consenting for other areas of NZ.

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Auckland rates up 6.5%

May 1st, 2015 at 12:19 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The average Auckland family will have to find an extra $200 a year from July to pay for Mayor Len Brown’s latest budget plan.

Mr Brown sprang a surprise on councillors yesterday by announcing a special “transport levy” that equates to an extra 4 per cent on rates from July. The levy is $99 for households and $159 for businesses.

It is on top of an overall rates increase of 2.5 per cent, which is down from the previous figure of 3.5 per cent.

So a 6.5% increase in rates, when inflation is just 0.1%.

That’s what happens when a Council can’t control its spending.

How many households will have a salary increase of 6.5%? Almost none. So this means a drop is disposable income.

I’d hate to be an incumbent Councillor who votes for this at the 2016 elections.

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Business groups have received $28.5 million from Auckland Council and predecessors

April 22nd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance has released:

Auckland Council has spent $8.5 million of ratepayers money on grants to business groups since November 2010 – and that doesn’t include the $20 million given to the failed Heart of the City group.

Business groups should be funded by business with an idea to keep the Council on its toes. Instead the Super City has turned them into Council cheerleaders thanks to this generous slush fund. We uncovered that a grant was even made for augmented reality wayfinding technology – whatever that is!

Ratepayers deserve answers from the Council as to why this is the best use of $8.5 million, rather than frontline services and core infrastructure. It’s little wonder that rates have increased when the Council takes over a function that has always been the role of the local Chamber of Commerce.

45 separate business groups have received $8.5 million since November 2010. They should be funded by local businesses, if they deem them of value, not by ratepayers.

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The Taniwha Tax Report

April 16th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The latest report or paper from the Taxpayers’ Union is on Auckland’s Taniwha Tax. And before people cry our racism, I’d remind people the first and most prominent critic of it was Shane Jones. Some key points:

  • The provisions may affect the value of perhaps 18,000 properties, costing them up to $4.000 each
  • The Archaeological Association says what Auckland Council is doing is not even necessary to protect heritage because it is already covered under specific legislation
  • The Auckland Council has declared 3,600 sites as being of value to Mana Whenua without even establishing whether all the sites are genuine, still exist, or are ‘of value’ to iwi.
  • The Mana Whenua provisions make cultural impact assessments (CIAs) compulsory for certain resource consents
  • Where there is doubt, the Council will rely on the Mana Whenua groups to determine whether a CIA is required. That alone creates a vested interest, with CIAs likely to create a significant income stream to iwi, who are also able to determine to what extent they are required.
  • The extents of the Sites and Places of Value to Mana Whenua have been defined by drawing an arbitrary 200m diameter circle around the centre point of all sites, and then requiring an additional 50m buffer around those circles, with which the rules are applies (i.e. a diameter of 300m, affecting an area of 7ha)
  • The number of mana whenua sites of value could grow from 3,600 to 183,000
  • A Cultural Assessment Impact report for a submarine cable in Waitemata Harbour took over four months and delayed the cable project significantly
  • Sir Bob Jones has written of a building owner that had to consult 13 different Iwi to get permission to put a shop window in his building

The provisions should be scrapped.  There are existing laws to protect sites of heritage, without this regime.

 

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And a third panelist goes

March 26th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A disability advocate recognised in the New Years Honours list has quit an Auckland Council panel, saying it’s no longer independent.

Huhana Hickey is the third member of the council’s community advisory panels to step down over concerns they are ineffectual.

Last week Ali said he did not feel comfortable getting paid $500 a meeting to chair a panel that had no legal mandate to give advice that made any difference.

A council the size of Auckland had enough competency and expertise to openly engage with the various communities without setting up “token” panels, he said.

Exactly. You don’t need a token panel costing $150,000 or so.

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Another panelist quits

March 25th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Another member of the Auckland Council Ethnic People’s Advisory Panel has resigned, and the Herald understands at least two of the nine remaining panellists are on the verge of quitting.

Kafeba Pergoleze Alvis Mundele, one of only two on the panel who also served in the previous term, tendered his resignation at the weekend.

His resignation follows that of panel chairman Feroz Ali, who quit last week saying the panel was a “token” body, had no real status and that he was unhappy about what it was costing ratepayers.

Excellent. If they all quit, then easy to abolish the costly panels.

“As a pastor and someone who works with the refugees, he was very concerned about how much money the council was wasting on running this panel … which is pretty much just a joke, really.”

Abolish the panel, and split the money saved 50/50 into rates reduction and a community project.

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Auckland Council panel chair says they are a waste of time

March 23rd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

One News reported:

The chairman of Auckland Council’s ethnic people’s advisory panel has quit, saying he can’t keep claiming his $500 meeting fee in good conscience.

Feroz Ali says he has resigned after nine months chairing the panel because he doesn’t feel like his advice was making a difference to the council’s policy decisions.

“I could go on ticking the boxes, attending the dinners and collect $500 but I have ethics and I can’t do that.”

Good on him.

Each panel costs around $150,000. They should abolish pretty much all of them.

Council could invest more in getting its 9300 staff to consult with community leaders themselves, he says.

Exactly – you don’t need a panel to consult. In fact having an in house panel can undermine proper consultation because staff then think that talking to the panel is the same as consulting the community.

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The other side of the kauri tree issue

March 20th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Whale blogged an e-mail from an Auckland Council manager which gives us a lot of information that we never got through the media:

From: Julie Bevan
Sent: Monday, 16 March 2015 5:02 p.m.
To: GRP AC Resource Consenting – All Resource Consenting
Subject: Information about kauri tree issue last week

Dear all

 Most of you will have seen or read the media coverage on the issue of the kauri tree at Paturoa Rd in Titirangi last week, in which the decision to give consent to fell the tree to clear a building platform was hotly debated. As always, a lot of context and accurate information was missing. Here’s a summary of what happened:

Two resource consents were granted by Independent Commissioners for the construction of two houses on adjoining sites in Titirangi. The sites are bush-clad and are zoned Bush  Living – which is a residential zoning in the Waitakere section of the District Plan.  It is also a Significant Ecological Area under the Unitary Plan and the removal of vegetation and trees for an access way and building platform is provided for within this overlay.

When the consent application involving the section with the kauri tree was processed, the council had communication with the local board and received the opinion of two separate arborists, ecologists, a landscape architect and an engineer. The applicant contacted iwi. Careful consideration was given to a range of options for locating the building platform that would cause the least impact on the bush, and ensuring the shortest driveway to minimise effects, etc.  

The final proposal placed the house close to the road, leaving a large area of trees and bush undisturbed at the rear of the section, allowing a “green corridor”along the rear of a number of properties which preserved the habitat of birds and fauna. However, that did mean that a kauri tree closer to the front of the section would need to be cut down. This kauri tree is estimated by several arborists to be approximately 150-200 years old. There is no evidence to support the claim that the tree is 500 years old. There was a thorough assessment of options to retain the tree, but it has a lean on it and if it was left, it would be susceptible to wind effects, and would be so close to the house it would be considered hazardous. 

There are two larger kauri trees at the road berm which will be retained, as well as other trees at the rear of the section, including an old Puriri tree.

After having considered all options, council presented its recommendation to an independent commissioner for a decision. The independent commissioner agreed with the council recommendation and the consent was granted subject to strict conditions around construction, including intensive monitoring during the building process. 

Another story appeared suggesting that a council staff member presented a report with a different recommendation – the reality is that an initial report, based on limited information presented by the applicant, did have a different recommendation. However, when our landscape architect assessed the comprehensive information given during the consenting process, the recommendation was changed. This recommendation was confirmed by the commissioner.

On Thursday last week, the Auckland Development Committee debated the issue and decided to have an independent review of the process. They wanted to make very clear this was not a revisitation of the decision, but rather a review of the communication process with iwi and Local Boards. The Mayor Len Brown, the Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, our COO Dean Kimpton and various councillors explicitly expressed their support of staff and acknowledged that balancing issues of development and environment is frequently challenging.

I would also like to express my support of staff at the Western office, especially our arborist Natalie Marsden, team leaders Matthew Wright and Lee ah Ken, business coordinator Michelle Tomkins and the unit manager David Oakhill. David has spent long hours last week in meetings, media briefings and councillor sessions discussing this consent. He has remained clear, calm and resilient in the face of significant pressure.

Our work often involves challenges and situations where there are differences of view and position. Our role is to carefully work through the relevant plans, processes and procedures in a professional and ethical way.

I thank you all for doing your job and for doing it well.

We will keep you informed as the review gets underway and I know if asked you will assist in any way.

Kind regards

Julie

So who suddenly decided the tree was 500 years old?

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Ratepayers funded an image consultant for accounts staff

March 20th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

One News reported last week:

Auckland Council has apologised to ratepayers for spending several thousand dollars teaching staff how to dress better.

ONE News has learned the council paid for an image consultant to teach accounts staff how to apply makeup and choose colours that suited them.

The council spent over $3500 on two sessions with an image consultant at the council buildings on Albert Street with a view to lifting dress standards of the 150-strong accounts team.

Incredible. Were they told fewer cardigans? :-)

“Ironically these are the very staff that are supposed to be keeping a lid on the costs at the council, instead they’re off getting makeup and hair advice funded by ratepayers,” Jordan Williams from the Taxpayers’ Union says.

This story was exposed by the Taxpayers’ Union. This is one of the reasons I helped fund the Taxpayers’ Union. Both central and local government take a much more cavalier approach to spending our money than we would take. The NZTU is almost the only organisation out there dedicated to exposing such waste, and keeping spending down. All the other lobby groups want more spending.

It may only be $3,500 – but it is the attitude that it is okay which is really costly.

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$120,000 for a panel!

March 17th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An Auckland Council committee will consider establishing a ‘Rainbow Community Advisory Panel’ on Wednesday at an annual unbudgeted cost of $116,880.

Community development and safety committee chairwoman Cathy Casey said the creation of the panel will provide an important voice for the community in the same way other communities are represented.

Communities can have voices without panels.

The council already has disability, Pacific, ethnic, youth, rural and seniors advisory panels.

There’s some cost savings to be made! Instead they are cutting library hours!

Council officers have estimated a one-off cost of $35,000 to recruit members to the panel and an annual cost of $116,880 to operate the panel.

The chair of the panel would be paid $3180 to attend six meetings and 12 members $1500 each.

Why pay panelists? If people want to represent their community to the Council, I’m sure they’ll do it happily for free.

The panel would have a discretionary fund of $20,000, $9000 to hold a community summit, plus mileage and catering costs.

The panel would mean the council hiring an additional democracy adviser at a cost of $65,000.

A full time staff member just for one panel that meets six times a year!!!

How about no fees for panelists, no new staff member, no $20,000 slush fund and say just $9,000 for a community summit plus say $1,000 for mileage and catering costs? That’s $10,000 a year instead of $116,880.

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Brian Edwards saves the day

March 9th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

On the 5th of March Brian Edwards blogged:

Brian and Judy think Ken is a great guy. Their haircuts are testimony to the fact that he is a brilliant hairdresser. So are all his staff.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago Ken had an unexpected visit from a a representative of the ACBDD, the Auckland City Business Discouragement Department.

Ken was cutting a nun’s hair at the time. (No, this is not a joke!)

Now no self-respecting hairdresser will abandon a client in the middle of a cut. And certainly not a nun, God forbid. So Ken continued with his work, while the ACBDD official talked to the back of his head. Ken was in serious breach of a local body by-law.  

Drugs? Pornography? Sly grog? Dodgy Massage? No, the small table and two small chairs which you can see in the photograph just outside Ponsonby Hair . Ken must remove them from the footpath immediately or face the consequences, which could include shutting up shop. …

A day or so later the agent returned with reinforcements in the form of a second high-vis-jacket-toting colleague. Ken had three days to comply. If he did not, his officers would forcibly remove the small table and two small chairs and charge him for their trouble and subsequent cost of storage.

This is a great example of the petty bureaucracy that people hate. Any local body that has a culture that allows this, needs a radical culture change.

Luckily Brian’s blog had an impact, and the Council backed down:

Following yesterday’s post “Shock! Horror! Local Hairdresser breaks law with small table and chairs!” Ponsonby hairdresser and all round good guy Ken Beguely,  owner of Ponsonby Hair, this morning received a gracious apology from an Auckland Council manager, an assurance that no further action would be taken to compel him to remove the small table and two chairs outside his salon, and an invitation to contact the manager at any time if he had further problems.

A small victory for the little guy. We need more of them.

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