Rodney responds to NZ Herald

has provided a guest op ed, responding to this NZ Herald editorial:

The Editorial is inaccurate in a number of respects.

“A third and final Super City bill, now before a Select Committee, would do two critical things: Establish the 21 local boards beneath the main and set up the so-called council-controlled organisations to run 80 per cent of the city’s activities.”

Wrong. Local boards were established by the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009.  The relevant Bill went through a Select Committee process last year, and was passed into law in September 2009.  The local boards are not “beneath the main Auckland Council”, they are a governance tier of the main Auckland Council, responsible and democratically accountable for decision making of the Auckland Council as it affects their local board areas.

The third Bill establishes (or directs the establishment of) two council-controlled organisations – Auckland Transport and the Waterfront Development Agency.  The only other council-controlled or council-owned organisation that has been approved by the Government to date is Watercare Services Ltd, which was established under last year’s Local Government (Auckland Council) Act as the provider of integrated water supply and wastewater services to Auckland, in line with a recommendation of the Royal Commission.  That provision went through the Select Committee process, was subject to submissions from the public and the consequent Parliamentary process.

“[The Bill] fails to list the powers for the boards, leaving that to the Auckland transition Agency, which has remained vague about their purpose and responsibilities. No one can be sure, with six months until the election, just what the boards will be expected and allowed to do.  If the boards are to be sounding boards only for the community, a major plank for local-decision-making will have been abandoned.  If their powers are left for the Auckland Council to decide, it would be doubtful that real, tangible authority is delegated voluntarily.”

The legislation that established local boards last year set out a range of powers and responsibilities for local boards.  The most important of these is responsibility for the decision-making of Auckland Council in relation to the non-regulatory activities of the Council that are allocated to local boards in accordance with the principles set out in the Act.  The Act requires that the decision-making responsibility for a non-regulatory activity of the Council should be exercised by its local boards unless the nature of the activity is such that decision making on an Auckland-wide basis will better promote the well-being of Auckland’s communities, for reasons specified in the Act.  Real and tangible authority for local decisions is therefore given to local boards by virtue of the strong principles in the Act, and is not dependent on delegation. Other provisions in the Act allow local boards to exercise delegations from the governing body, but these are separate to the local decision-making powers the boards have in their own right under the legislation.

The Auckland Transition Agency has prepared a detailed initial listing of the local activities for which local boards will have responsibility, applying the principles in the Act.  This is so local boards can be operational from 1 November 2010.  Auckland Council will prepare its own listing, in consultation with its local boards, for inclusion in its first long-term council community plan in 2012.

The ATA’s initial listing was put out for consultation in February this year.  It is a very detailed and specific document that would give any reader a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of local boards.

“While local boards may not pass a bylaw, the bill says unelected members of CCOs will be able to do so –and at arms length from public scrutiny.”

The Bill provides that Auckland Transport has the powers of a local authority to make and enforce bylaws in relation to the Auckland Transport system.  No other CCO is being given the power to make bylaws. The process by which Auckland Transport can make bylaws is not at arms length from public scrutiny – it follows standard local authority procedure.  The Bill requires that any meeting at which Auckland Transport intends to make a bylaw must be a public meeting under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.

“Even the mayor and councillors…cannot require CCOs to act according to Statements of Intent that the Council would have to write for them”.

The governing body (mayor and councillors collectively) are responsible for governance of the Council’s CCOs.  Statements of Intent are required by existing law, and CCOs are required to account to the Council for meeting the objectives set out in their SOI.

“Three CCOs will be set up in such a way that the Auckland Council will not be able to disband them.”

Only Auckland Transport is being set up as a statutory CCO, requiring an Act of Parliament to disband it.  Watercare Services Ltd could be disbanded by  Auckland Council after 2015, and there is no statutory impediment to disestablishing any other CCO that may be created (subject to following a process through the Council’s long-term council community plan in 2012).

“They will not hold public meetings or be obliged to reveal meeting minutes or decisions in a timely manner.”

Under the Local Government Act 2002, all CCOs are subject to Parts 1 to 6 of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987. That means all CCOs in New Zealand, including in Auckland, are required to comply with the LGOIM Act in respect of requests for information held by the CCO, including requests for meeting minutes or decisions.  Auckland’s CCOs are the same as any other Council’s CCOs in relation to both information requests and not being required to hold their meetings in public (except for Auckland Transport, which would have to hold a meeting in public if bylaws were being proposed).

A very nice fisking.

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