Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown is famous for his straight to the bone style of communication, but Thursday’s budget announcement upped the ante even for him as he called out four councillors for daring to vote against him on the upcoming decision on whether to sell the airport shares.
Brown named Mike Lee, Christine Fletcher, Wayne Walker and John Watson and called on them to support his bid for a total selldown.
“Watson, Walker, Lee, Fletcher,” he said, singling them out as having signed the Ratepayer Protection Pledge last year but now being uncertain about a full asset sale. “We know who you are – we’ve named you. I’m expecting you to honour your pledge.”
However, Fletcher never signed the pledge, and Lee said he’d also signed a pledge promising not to sell public assets.
Brown’s comments haven’t ingratiated him to the councillors.
Lee said Brown kept his “asset-stripping propensities” secret until after the election, saying he had no moral mandate to call for a total selldown.
“The ‘calling out’ of individual councillors on election pledges at the embarrassing circus this morning is really a mark of his desperation,” he said. “He is in a hole and he has no one to blame but himself. This will not ‘fix’ Auckland, more the opposite. That being said we need to work together on a solution that does not disinherit future generations from this strategic asset.”
Whether or not Brown has found himself in a hole will only be confirmed next Thursday when the votes come in for the airport selldown.
Reports from The New Zealand Herald last week had nine votes to the Mayor and 11 against. If the voting blocs remain static, Brown will find himself unable to move forward with the resolution to sell.
Lee said it was interesting the mayor had targeted councillors who supported him through his “difficult and uncertain start”, part of which was the full disclosure of the council’s budget shortfall post-election.
Lee said he had a growing suspicion that the shortfall crisis had been hyped, “in order to stampede councillors into selling the airport shares which if retained will provide hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends as an alternative to rates over the next 10 years.”
His suspicions remain unallayed by the refusal of council senior finance management to provide alternative options or contestable advice for the elected members.
“The lobbying to sell by management has now become almost frantic with the employment of $70,000 per month consultants from Melbourne, Flagstaff, who yesterday spent two hours haranguing the councillors into selling,” he said. “There are ways to resolve this deficit without asset stripping the people of Auckland but disappointingly the mayor remains determined to press on in the face of clear public opposition.”
Christine Fletcher was less keen to get into the appropriateness of Brown calling out his individual councillors, but said the public discourse around the asset sale had been too binary, with many people either vying for a full selldown or none at all.
“I’m hoping that people don’t get too locked in and entrenched in their position, I see with the Mayor at the moment he’s looking a bit strained and he’s going to sell all the shares or nothing,” she said. “I think we really just need to have a breath, take a pause and look at what is going to be the right outcome for Auckland.”
She said preventing rates increases was a top priority for her, but still felt there were unexplored solutions involving only a partial sale of the shares.
“Somewhere there’s a sweet spot and a sense of balance where we can meet multiple objectives,” she said. “I think if we continue to remain open-minded and continue to act civil to one another and act professionally I hope we can be respectful to the past of what have been celebrated assets.”
She said there were other ideas that successive mayors had been unwilling to explore, such as a targeted rate to the airport precinct that could then be fed back into transport options for the area.
She planned to reach out to her fellow councillors this week and encourage them to explore all of the options.
“It’s definitely been a crazy hand of poker,” she said. “But where I think the outcomes will be more enduring is if they can be nuanced and if we take care with how we handle this.”
It comes along with The Spinoff’s report yesterday that the mayor had forwarded a series of emails out to the councillors following his budget announcement, some of which crudely condemned councillors voting against him.