11 Nov 2016

Goff passes first political test as mayor

6:25 am on 11 November 2016

Auckland's new mayor Phil Goff has survived one of his first political challenges - ending the appointment of councillors to the board of the city's transport agency.

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Auckland mayor Phil Goff had announced before he was elected that he planned to end the appointment of councillors to Auckland Transport's board. Photo: 123rf.com

The move, announced before he was sworn in, sparked some criticism.

But when it came to a vote at a council meeting yesterday, Mr Goff was opposed by only two of his 20 councillors.

The appointment of two councillor directors had been regarded as a way to keep Auckland Transport (AT) accountable to the public, but Mr Goff said there were better ways to do that.

The two three-year terms for senior councillors Mike Lee and Christine Fletcher lapsed this week, and councillors will now consider new ways to make sure the city's Council-Controlled Organisations (CCOs) stay in step with their political masters.

Mr Goff told councillors one consideration was to ensure all eight directors on Auckland Transport's board were chosen on merit.

"We must ensure that the best qualified directors are appointed to all our CCOs, but these appointments on their own won't significantly increase our ability to control and monitor CCOs , in line with public expectations," he said.

In amalgamating Auckland's eight local bodies in 2010, the government created Auckland Transport as a company operating at arms length from the council, to carry out most of the city's transport functions. In allowing up to two councillors to be appointed to the board, the legislation refected strong public criticism of the company approach.

The councillors have been paid a $50,000 annual fee on top of their $100,000 plus council salaries.

Councillor Mike Lee opposed the ending of the practice.

"Essentially it is to give the public the confidence that there's someone looking after the shop on their behalf, given that most of our rates go into Auckland Transport," he said.

His strongest backer was left-leaning councillor Cathy Casey.

"The public perception of councillors on the board of Auckland Transport is to 'keep the bastards honest'," she told the council meeting.

"That's the job these two have been doing in the public mind - this is a mayor who said we need to increase accountability and transparency."

'Bit of a sham'

Mr Goff favoured other powers, which he said the council has underutilised, to make AT and the other agencies more accountable to the politicians.

Councillor Linda Cooper backed Mr Goff's view that the responsibilities of a councillor were in conflict with their responsibilities as directors of AT.

"That's where the public's perception that you get democracy at the table is not actually true," she said.

"It's not possible, it's a bit of a sham, and a bit of a trick to the public."

Mr Goff maintained he was not dumping the two councillors as the rules determined their time was up after two terms.

He said he was unaware that an independent director, Rabin Rabindran, this year had his two terms extended by a year by the previous council to maintain continuity during the departure of the other two.

"I can't answer that, because I haven't been briefed on that particular person," Mr Goff said.

Directors can have their terms extended in exceptional circumstances, but that would not be occurring with the two councillor positions.

Councillors will next week begin the process of deciding how to fill three director vacancies on the Auckland Transport board, and how to exercise greater control of the activities of the agencies.

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