Simple Super City

This is the submission of Hamish Keith to the Parliamentary Select Committee on the proposed Auckland "Super City".

Submission To The Parliamentary Select Committee:
Local Government (Auckland Council) Bill

Honourable Members

My name is Hamish Keith I am a writer and a ratepayer and resident of Auckland City.

I wish to make a submission on the two tier structure for a Unitary Authority and ward councils or boards, proposed for the local governance of Auckland.

Beyond the sectional objections and objections to various details there is, I believe, a general consensus to a single body governing Auckland. It is significant that one local poll has a slim majority against the proposal there is in that same poll 31% respondents that claim themselves neutral. I believe that would translate into a substantial vote for the proposal if what is proposed is seen to be fair, equitable and representative.

For more than a century local governance of the regional has been incoherent, dysfunctional and fractious. The region’s growth has been inhibited and hampered by a multiplicity of plans and district schemes often in conflict with each other. The few overall plans that have been made have generally been frustrated by local rather than regional interests. Narrow parochialism has often been a negative substitute for political leadership.

There is no doubt that the Auckland region will not prosper either economically or civically without a single, coherent regional vision and a unitary view of infrastructure, services and transport. It is equally true that the failures of Auckland local governance can and do have a negative impact on the national economy. Regardless of provincial assumptions Auckland positive contributions to the economy as a whole are substantial and essential. It would be remarkable if one third on the country’s entire population did any less.

I believe that the low electoral turnouts – some below 40% - are a singular result of the current incoherence of local government. Those governed simply feel detached from and indifferent to those who govern them. They, wrongly, see national politics as having a greater impact on how they live and how they are governed. Yet most studies would suggest that substantial national movements have neighbourhood origins. The neighbourhood is where things are discussed and most impacts are felt. The health of any democracy is directly related to how immediately people feel they relate to governance and how relevant they feel that governance to be.

A Democratic And Representative Structure Of Auckland Governance

The City Council

A single city is the only way forward for Auckland and it should be governed by a council of twenty two city councillors and an executive mayor.

The mayor should be elected at large and by the whole region. His or her mandate should be to articulate a single vision for the region unencumbered by local faction or local interest. The Mayor should be empowered to appoint various chairs from the city councillors and should also be empowered to select and employ an executive and a chief executive to advise him on and manage the business of the council’s bureaucracy.

While incumbents of these executive positions are employees of the council they should be employed on contracts which expire with the term of the mayor. Most Auckland citizens would agree that many of the problems of Auckland local governance stem from perpetuating bureaucracies who often seem to be governing at odds with their councils. Worse there is a considerable want of transparency in this system

A contracted tier of Senior Executives could be seen to be transparent and answerable to the same mandate as the Executive Mayor.

The 22 city councillors are elected from the city’s twenty two wards each being the highest polling candidate in their ward council election. Should there be a tie in the voting the ward councillor should be decided by the drawing of lots.

The City Council would be responsible for all regional planning and all regional plans. It would be responsible for transport, infrastructure, services, water, waste management, civil defence, regional heritage and regional assets. (including the major cultural and social assets, the Museum, Art Gallery, Central Library, regional parks, conservation zones and major stadia). In time some of these major assets may evolve into regional services involving similar community assets, but this processes should evolve over time rather than be imposed

It would develop a political infrastructure that coherently related to central government and, as envisaged by the Royal Commission, evolve relationships with central government agencies which support the appropriate delivery of central services and central planning to the Auckland region. The Commission envisaged some arrangement of hybrid structures which should at least be explored.

It should be noted that not all the failures of local governance in Auckland have their origins in Auckland Local Governance. Transport planning being not the least of them.

The Ward Councils.

Auckland is already divided up into electoral units – the twenty general electorates and two Maori electorates. The Electoral Commission reviews these post any general elections and sets the boundaries according to populations and shift in communities of interest.

These electorate boundaries serve the purposes of Parliamentary democracy well and there is no compelling reasons why they would serve the purposes of democratic regional government any less well.

They would provide regional government which, at the level of the Unitary Authority, would represent all the region and not just some of it.

Each electorate would elect a ward council of say eight members, one of whom, the highest polling of their number, would then be elevated to the Auckland Council. That member would attend ward council meetings but would take no part in its business. In the event of a tie in the voting a decision would be made by the drawing of lots.

This system of election would ensure that any citizen aspiring to serve as a city councillor must first establish a mandate within the community and prove that mandate at the ballot box.

At ward level the ward councils would manage community assets such as libraries, local museums, art centres and galleries, swimming pools, community centres and halls, playing fields, heritage sites etc and in the case of the two Maori wards urban marae, kohanga reo, Maori wardens and wahi tapu. (There are future opportunities here for productive relationships between wards and community policing.)

Where there are social services maintained by local government, citizen advice bureaus and the like they too would continue to be maintained and managed by the ward councils.

Over time some community assets might become a part of a larger regional structure but at the outset existing community assets would remain under the control of each ward.

Prior to the first ward election each ward would be audited and its community assets inventoried and a budget struck for their maintenance and management. That budget would become the base funding of the ward.

Wards councils would also take on the responsibility for local amenity – footpaths, waste collection, graffiti, dog control and the like - and would have such responsibilities delegated and funded from the Auckland Council. The Ward would also have a major input into local traffic controls such as crossings, local speed limits and traffic calming

The ward council would maintain a ward office which would also become the primary contact point for the Auckland Council and would also provide an office for the ward city councillor.

The ward councils would have no planning or policy functions other than to report through its ward councillor on the impacts of such policies on that ward and to make general submissions as to policies proposed.

I believe that such a system would be fair, effective and representative.
Over time it would offer opportunities to develop and nurture effective local body governance and political skills. Being electorate based it will also come to be seen as connected with central governance and thus more relevant and responsive to New Zealand’s system of representative parliamentary democratic government.

Being electorate based it will also reflect changes in the electorate’s political views and subject to capture neither by faction nor neighbourhood.

At the same such a system would allow neighbourhood, community and faction a voice, allow for a coherent and effective larger vision to be implemented, and provide a genuine sense of connection between both tiers of the system.

It would also provide for a great transparency in local politics. There is no reason why mainstream or any other political party should continue to contest local elections under coy pseudonyms.

Between them the wards and councils would have a proportion of one representative to 7386 citizens which is roughly the same ratio as Paris and some UK cities of equivalent size.

Summary

A single unitary authority of 22 members elected from 22 wards based on the twenty general electorates and the two Maori electorates.

An executive mayor elected at large and empowered to appoint committee chairs from the unitary council and a senior executive on contracts which expire with mayor’s term.

The Unitary Authority is responsible for all regional planning and the management of all regional infrastructure, services and assets.

Twenty two ward councils of say eight members and elected from the twenty general and two Maori electorates.

The highest polling ward councillor becomes the ward’s councillor and while continuing to attend ward council meetings takes no part in ward business. In the event of a tie decision to be by the drawing of lots.

The ward councils manage and maintain community assets and are funded to do so.

The ward councils maintain neighbourhood amenity and are funded to do so.

The ward councils have no planning or policy functions but through their ward councillor report on neighbourhood or community impacts of regional policy and may make generals submissions on proposed regional policies.

I would like to be heard by the Committee on these submissions.