Compete or collaborate


    Since Auckland’s [second] amalgamation in 2010, the council has normalised bad financial behaviour, former Auckland mayor and Citizens and Ratepayers leader Christine Fletcher told the New Zealand Herald earlier this month.

    This resulted in reckless council spending  and the sale of assets – on what could be called “quite unsatisfactory terms” –  while increasing rates well above the rate of inflation, said the long-time Auckland councillor.

    Her constituents knew the council was abusing its citizens; treating them like a public  ATM and assuming ratepayers could always be forced to cough up rates increases, she said. “This inevitably harms ratepayers’ ability to pay for essentials – food, power, gas, petrol, water rates, education and family related costs.

    “Auckland Council in its current state is not financially sustainable. Unless commissioners are to be appointed, things must change.”

    As ratepayers, we are now half way through the submission period (in council-speak:  “Auckland Have Your Say”) on mayor Wayne Brown’s proposal to establish ‘The Auckland Future Fund’ which includes massive and controversial asset sales and almost no public spending on ratepayer priorities for the next 10 years.

    It would include granting a long term lease to run the city’s port and a sell down of the rest of its airport shares to create the new and  nebulous “regional wealth fund” to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff for future natural disasters.

    Waiheke islanders will remember that the first half of the controversial airport shares sale (including Waiheke’s legacy nest-egg) disappeared pretty much without trace late last year and now this hag-ridden council is proposing to liquidate the rest to feed its monstrous head count and sclerotic, risk-averse culture.

    No wonder that Councillor Mike Lee, Waiheke’s representative at the current council’s high table, doesn’t rate very highly the chances that the mayor’s safeguards for the proposed Auckland Future Fund would escape the fate of the $400 million in international stocks, bonds and cash looted in 2018 from the ARC after the 2010 amalgamation.

    Initially under good management, it made a return of 18 percent per annum but in 2018, Auckland Council finance managers, with the acquiescence of the then mayor and majority of the councillors (including Christine Fletcher), grabbed it and – within months – had flogged off the stocks and bonds and spent the lot.

    That portfolio was also meant to be managed professionally, says Lee, who, as ARC chairman in 2005, was also largely responsible for buying back the privatised 25 percent of the port company and has also been credited, more than any other local politician in recent times, with spearheading the renaissance of rail in the region.

    Lee warns that council is already watering down public consultation obligations under the Local Government Statutory Act for citizen input for this new and unprecedented scale of asset sales. Although a legal ‘special consultative procedure’ relating to strategic assets, the plan will not include the traditional right for citizens to present in a formal hearing.

    Instead, there  will be hearings for selected “regional stakeholders”, he said.

    These incongruous, barefaced tales told by invisible idiots, full of sound and finger wagging, signifying nothing, are taking what can only be described as a deliberate toll on Aucklanders.

    I was in town on a grey Saturday morning recently and Aotea Square was a seethe of  runners, heads in cellphones, bleak expressions, eye contact almost non-existent.

    It’s the only part of Queen Street that isn’t a later-day Gotham or littered with cones but I was shocked that no one was smiling, talking or even animated. Lots of lycra; no conversation. By time I was at the Te Wero Bridge along the waterfront, I had given up even trying to catch eyes or smiles.

    Past the events centre, it was another scene.

    Intricately moored stern to a generous network of pontoons, under a cloud of masts, flags and  gleaming sweeps of varnish, the Classic Yacht Association’s inaugural wooden boat festival was free to all. Crews and skippers were infinitely hospitable. Smiles were a mile wide everywhere.

    The Wynyard Wharf bars and cafés were no longer the only bright spot in an expanse of sullen water and a few rusty trawlers. Instead, they found their natural vibe, dwarfed by the extraordinary fleet of restored kauri classic racing yachts, the vivid legacy of a younger Auckland blessed with the world’s finest boatbuilding timber and hundreds of different but often unique fleets of wooden cruising and racing yachts and launches going back into the 19th century.

    Aucklanders have barely seen them in such numbers or up so close  in decades.

    We are tribal beings with all the need for festivals and shared endeavours and craftsmanship and we have let our shared  history be clawed away in service to grim, unsought ‘economic powerhouse’ politics. The  City of Sails brand was once of inestimable value for Auckland and the inaugural wooden boat festival just may have given the city a brief glimpse of how a well run city for the people looks.• Liz Waters

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