Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The new Auckland, Part 2

The Government has announced its plan for Auckland: A single unified city, as the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance suggested. However, they’re also making some important changes, including some very good ones.

The position of mayor is largely the same as proposed by the Royal Commission. The sole difference is that the mayor will be elected for three years, not four as recommended.

The Auckland Council will consist of 20 members, not 23. Eight will be elected at-large, and 12 will be elected from single-member wards (the original proposal was 10 elected at large and 10 from wards). There will be no specific Māori seats, but the Auckland Council can establish them later, pursuant to the Local Government Act 2001, if there’s community support for them. This seems reasonable, rather than having them imposed. Councillors will also be elected for three years, not four.

Instead of the proposed six Local Councils, the Government will set up 20 to 30 local boards with a total of 125-150 members (the Local Councils would have had 82 under the Royal Commission proposal, while current community boards have 145 elected representatives; the number of boards and boundaries will be determined by the Local Government Commission). The boards will be similar to the Local Council proposal in that they won’t be able to levy rates and will have responsibility for purely local issues, but they “will not replicate the service delivery structures that will be managed by the Auckland Council.”

The Government says, “Unclear accountability and allocation of functions across the two tiers of governance are the main reasons the Government decided not to accept the Royal Commission’s proposal of six local councils. Another reason for this decision was that the proposed councils were too large to provide for effective grassroots community representation.” They’re absolutely right about that, as I said in my previous post.

The boards will “advocate for their local community and have input into the Auckland Council’s plans”, which is at least partly an advisory role. They’ll also “develop local operational policies for local issues, for example dog control, liquor licensing and graffiti control”. While the boards will be able to “influence the Auckland Council by petitioning for extra services that their community wants,” they won’t be able to levy rates for those projects and instead will seek funds from the Auckland Council, including possible targeted rates rises.

The Government has addressed my main criticism of the Royal Commission proposal, namely, the need for more democratic representation. In that respect at least, the Government’s proposed structure is an improvement, but I would’ve preferred no at-large members of the Auckland Council or, at most, four.

What surprised me the most about this is timing: The Royal Commission planned to have the Mayor and Council elected in the October 2010 elections, but the full integration of council functions and the 6,000 staff employed by them was to take four years. The Government proposes to have everything completed by October 2010 “to minimise uncertainty and disruption for council staff and the public.” That’s a great goal, but it’s a huge challenge, especially given the resistance and even obstructionism by some local politicians.

However, after a process lasting a year and a half, and problems stretching back much longer, it’s good to get things moving. Now that the course has been set, it’s important to get things completed in a timely and orderly manner. Then, it’s time to move on.

Later, this all could be happening for Wellington, too.

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