Last week I was talking to someone who mentioned “Robbie of Auckland”, how much the city had changed, and not for the better.
Robbie was in fact Sir Dove-Myer Robinson, Auckland’s oldest serving Mayor. I had the good fortune to serve with Robbie and several later Mayors during my 15 years as a City Councillor. I won a seat on the council in the 1970s when the council was still run by businessmen and women. Those were the good old days when we were paid the princely sum of $2.50 a meeting, with a maximum of one meeting a day, regardless of how many meetings you attended. It cost my business a bucket lot of money through my absence I now reflect.
What is the average salary of each councillor now? (over $100K). Most of them I believe are there for the money, a serious income for anyone and not by any stretch of the imagination in anyway philanthropic. The Super City was dreamed up courtesy of Rodney Hide, with nil experience of how a city council works but a mistaken belief that combining councils into one big council would be the answer to a maiden’s prayer. Rodney thought it would reduce staff, improve services and operations and make for a streamlined organisation. Oh boy did he get that wrong.
My time in Council was in the days when the council kept finances under tight control and rates increased at 2 to 3 % maximum. We owned the Zoo, a big chunk of Auckland International Airport, we had our own traffic department. In those days you could probably sneak through the suburbs a tad over the speed limit and get away with it, until you crossed into Auckland with its efficient traffic patrol system; those days have well and truly gone.
You could walk into the multi-storey Auckland City Council Building, catch a lift to the 15th floor, and knock on the mayor’s door. Have you tried to get past the entrance foyer in the new ex ASB Super City Council building? Security doors, few seats to sit and wait, no privacy to discuss matters of concern and you certainly will not get a face to face with any of the department heads without considerable difficulty. When discussions got drawn out in meetings I can remember gazing distractedly out the 15th floor committee room windows of the old council Civic square building, the sweeping views of Auckland and the harbour. Those were the times when savouries were served for morning tea, that was until Cath Tizard became Mayor and changed morning tea to carrot sticks and celery, something I traditionally lamented with my “violin” at annual budget meetings.
How things have changed. The Government in Mayor Tizard’s time closed down the ACC Traffic department, giving the job to the Ministry of Transport, a bureaucratic organisation doomed to finally disappear and be taken over by the police. Frankly you would have to be extremely unlucky to get caught speeding by a policeman in Auckland in 2020, but the revenue collection by AT parking meter staff city wide is quite something else, far surpassing many larger overseas cities for revenue take and totally out of control of the council apparently.
Auckland had its own, very efficient works department which I chaired for a number of years. A couple of weeks prior to the Works Committee monthly meeting I would drive around Auckland with the Director of Works, sort out footpaths needing repair, roads, drainage etc and have the director put the items requiring attention on my recommendations paper for the committee. Then I would recommend the expenditure at the monthly council meeting as a “category C” immediate action item.
Now the city contracts out all its works engineering roads and functions, but that’s for a future column. Auckland City had its own Planning department, not my favourite organisation I confess, I made the front page of the Auckland Star once with a headline “Councillor Rogers says Planners should all be smothered at birth“. This was after a particularly difficult meeting with the Director of Planning (a migrant from UK) who had changed the name of the department from Planning Department, to Planning and Objections Department. A total contradiction in English! He finally gave up and returned to the UK: the only regret I had was that he went back to teach at a boys’ school (I felt sorry for the boys).
I remember visiting the Town Clerk not long after I became a councillor. How many cars does the council have I asked. I don’t know said Duncan Maclean, I will find out. Some days later I was told the number was 70 odd. Where do we park them I asked? Staff take them home I discovered. Really! Very few staff were provided with a car as part of their salary package, so as a result we got rid of 40 cars including the luxury one provided for the head of the traffic department who certainly wasn’t entitled to a city car. He could be taken home in one of his traffic cars if required. I had really stirred the pot - the Town Clerk loved it and so did Robbie! So how about Auckland City now!
In the past when Franklin was an independent council it took the position of looking after small business in Pukekohe by keeping the rates lower. It was important for the region and this was very successful. Auckland Council came along, swallowed Franklin whole and advised “we don’t have different rates for commercial, they are all rated the same throughout Auckland”. So up went the rates, small businesses suffered and now with rates at Queen Street levels and the end of many leases this year, Pukekohe’s main-street and many small businesses are in deep trouble and moving out. This election will reveal the direction Auckland will go.
Until next month.
Trevor Rogers is a former Member of Parliament, serving two terms from 1990 to 1996.