Auckland Council may have bestowed more power on local boards, but it’s made sure the pecking order remains intact.
Local boards will now get more say on spending and decision making in their areas, Council Controlled Organisations like Auckland Transport have been told to share more information with them, and in four wards a trial of local rating is being carried out.
This comes after a wide-ranging review presented to the Governing Body meeting yesterday, prompted by complaints residents were losing out when it came to democracy in the mega-city. The changes were approved with little discussion, most having been thrashed out in workshops before-hand.
But Mayor Phil Goff was right when he looked at item gg) (there were so many recommendations they went well past the standard alphabet) and predicted a long discussion.
“It’s symbolic – this thing should not be blown out of proportion – it’s not the most important but it will probably be the most debated.”
The controversy in hand? Should the term ‘councillor’ be used to refer solely to members of the Auckland Council’s Governing Body, with members of local boards referred to as ‘local board members’, or should these 149 second-tier politicians be elevated to a more prestigious rank – that of ‘local councillors’?
The board members themselves thought it a grand idea, 18 of the 21 wards wanting to take the title now they are stepping up the responsibility quota.
However the deputy chair of the body set up to carry out the review, Shale Chambers, said no local board member had come before the governing body to advocate for this – “it shouldn’t be overplayed”. He pointed out this is the first time the Auckland Council has ever discussed naming options, and the current titles were only conventions. “Seven years ago we adopted the previous conventions and took them forward. Local board members are members of the council.”
Other terms, including the old fashioned ‘alderman’ had been looked at, and dismissed as unsuitable.
Dr Greg Sayers thought it would be confusing to promote local board members to councillors, with the ‘local’ tag being dropped quite easily. But – “In the spirit of this entire framework review and in good faith, I think it’s very important that we stand up and support them. They are not asking to be called the same thing, they are asking to be local councillors. I think the public will will be able to tell the difference between our roles and local member roles. This is about co-governance.”
Cathy Casey was vehement that having 169 ‘councillors’ in the city would be 149 too many. Admitting she was “getting very passionate”, Casey spoke of how proud she was at being a ward councillor, and said the idea of giving every elected member the new name was “twaddle”. Failing to rename board members didn’t in any way diminish the respect and mana of their position, she argued, but created confusion, with the public not really aware of what the various terms referred to.
“The term ‘governing body’ doesn’t exist outside this room. It’s local government-speak. It’s just for us.”
Desley Simpson said it wasn’t about titles, it was about respect. “I believe we need to foster the idea that local boards are an integral part of Auckland Council.’ Changing names would add to confusion, and she believed the council should continue with what it had.
“I think people watching this meeting would say ‘why are they spending so much time talking about this?'” said Richard Hills. “And now I’m exacerbating it by talking about it. I think changing the name after seven years would be confusing. Outside of here … after 21 years a lot of people don’t understand what MMP is. Changing things around confuses people more and doesn’t fix anything. We’re not going to change local boards to local councils and change chairs to mayors.”
After 45 minutes of discussion, local board members it remains. The decision has saved the expense of changing 149 sets of business cards.