I agree with the Mayors

Good to see the Mayors getting some sense about the Auckland Super City.

They seem to have stopped trying to protect their old job, by demanding the proposed six local Councils be retained. The model of 20 – 30 community boards is far better for local representation than six huge local Councils with no community boards.

What they are now focusing on is having all the Auckland Council seats done through wards, instead of 12 wards and 8 at large. On this issue I support them.

The Royal Commission proposed 10 at large seats (the Govt reduced this to eight), and proponents of at large seats have noble intentions. They want Councillors who will put the entire Region first, not their ward. I can understand the rationale for at large seats.

Having said that, I don’t think Councillors get too influenced by their ward. On Wellington City Council you rarely get people voting on ward lines – it is almost always on ideological grounds. And I don’t think Auckland Regional Council has a lot of divisions based on current wards.

There is some risk in not having at large seats, as the new Auckland Council will be very powerful, if all the Councillors do get tribal and try to represent the old cities. But having ward boundaries that are very different to the old cities and districts are a way around this.

So why do I think at large seats are a bad idea, even if well intentioned? The main issue for me is that you will not get well informed voting. Having to pick 8 or 10 Councillors out of what maybe 30 – 50 candidates will be a simple game in name recognition at best. It will not lead to good governance.

Picking one Mayor out of 10 candidates will be okay, as that race gets lots of publicity, and you probably will know enough about your preferred candidate to make an informed choice.

Likewise a ward election will mean picking one (maybe two) Councillor only – few enough to be an informed choice.

The other issue is cost of campaigning across the whole region.

Sending one letter to the region’s 500,000 ratepayers will cost a candidate $250,000 in postage alone.

Spending limits should be high enough to allow a direct mail letter to every voter and $250,000 while suitable for the Mayoralty will be too much to expect people to raise just for a City Council spot. You could get away with spending under $50,000 on a ward spot, which is about right.

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