This Auckland Council rant article was originally published in THE HOBSON, Issue 45, January/ February 2018. THE HOBSON is a community magazine servicing Remuera, Parnell and Orakei.
I have decided once and for all, the bureaucracy that is Auckland Council is essentially incompetent and we should secede from the Super City and become the Borough of Mt Hobson. Not because the Auckland ‘regionwide’ concept is not a good one, not because we are concerned about rates, but because the Council is generally incompetent and it becomes more and more apparent as time goes by. In short, we are not getting value for money, and less so as we each pay more than twice the average rates of an Auckland region dwelling.
Where will the children play?
Let me start local, and work myself to a crescendo at regional level. At the end of my street is a large grassy park. It has been mown by the incumbent Council on a regular intervals since the Scarborough’s sold the homestead to the city. Not any more. At the time of writing, the grass was knee high and has not been mowed since who knows when. Having walked through these meadows, I have paused to wonder why. Was it too wet? No. Had it been too wet? No. Had someone forgotten? Probably not. Have services been cut back and rates increased? Yes.
But I thought deeper. I realised there must be a more cunning plan than decay by neglect. And there is was right in front of me! Council has decided to increase revenue by growing hay. Hay they will harvest and sell to the horsey folk in Karaka. Genius, and how silly of me to doubt their abilities!
I am sure the Council communications team will tell us it’s about biological diversity. The appropriate consultation was undertaken, but all i can hear is Cat Stevens singing; “Where will the children play?” In the greater scheme, the grass is a small issue. But it is symbolic of the level of service we are now seeing and why there is such a low opinion of the Council and their delivery of servis. Really? How hard is it to mow a park on a regular basis? “Cut back services and increase costs” could be the new Council moto.
TAB are good at taking my money, why can’t AT?
Next on my list is Auckland Transport. I go to top up my HOP card and the website tells me it can take 72 hours for the money to register on the card. 72 hours! Did Auckland Transport sign up this system when now-convicted former managers were in charge? Or did the French company who put the system in see a fool a mile away? When I top of my TAB account, they confirm and update my account in seconds. I have the Auckland Transport excuse ready: “I wasn’t here when that policy was put in place”.
Really AT, you purchased an outdated system with our money and the best you can do is make us wait up to 72 hours before the money registers. Where does it go in the interim. As it sure isn’t in my account? It’s 2017, not 1977. We are not waiting for the cheque to clear.
I am just getting warmed up, ladies and gentlemen.
Where’s the productivity and accountability with Council?
Recently it was made public that there has been a big rise in Council of salaries $200k-plus. Over 2,300 of the 11,800 greater Council staff earn over $100k. Mike Lee, our local Waitemata ward Councillor, summed this up neatly when he said: “Council senior staff have always been diligent in budgeting very generous pay increases for themselves”. Figures aside. Lets take a moment and abide by the notion that to gt good staff, you must pay them well. What I want is productivity (output) and accountability (fixing things as soon as they go wrong). Try and get a Council officer to return your email or phone call. At my planning consultancy, we have been resorting to CC’ing managers in emails.
There’s a sign at the front counter of the planning department at Council: “Abuse will not be tolerated”. While the sign is right, and the front of house staff are doing the best they an to direct the traffic, it is only human nature to be angry with incompetence that occurs behind the scenes. If your building consent is three months late and they’ve lost the paperwork for the second time (true story), you’re not going to be whistling “Dixie”, are you?
Consenting made hard
Remember ‘Consenting made easy”? You may have heard of this now-failed project. Launched by Council some four years ago, they acknowledged that consenting could be better. They embarked on seconding staff to have a talk and action fest. I got provide critical comment. Council staff were surprised when I said that I felt absolute relief wen we finally got approvals. I said their concept was great in theory, but would be let down because the wrong staff are in place. And guest what? The Consenting Made Easy project has been quietly dropped. Consenting made hard continues.
It feels like the private sector, and you and me the ratepayers, are from Mars, and Auckland Council is from Venus. Such is the difference in approach and delivery. It is time to shine the spotlight on all of these issues (and I am sure you have more) in the strongest way possible. I think many of us see problems or issues as an opportunity to grow or change; to get positive growth out of a negative situation. Alas, that does not appear to be the case within Council.
Valuing the right people
I must caveat this with noting there are good people who work hard at Council. One is Rob Abbott, who recently stepped down as the manager of Liquor Licencing. Rob communicated with the industry, updating us on changes to policy in a clear and concise way. I sent him an email on his last day thanking him for guiding us through the legislative change and providing sound management and guidance. He came back and appreciated my comments but advised that he got little praise in his job. Classic. Council do not praise those doing a good job, nor correct those doing a sub-par job. As such, the good ones leave and the less than satisfactory know it is a place to get away with doing a sub-standard job.
We are coming to an end, the wine bottle is low and the clock is high. If we broke away from the current Council beast and halved our rates, we would get the same service as we get now. To celebrate the new boroughs conception, in envisage our first mayor be Desley Simpson, our esteemed Orakei ward councillor. The Borough of Mt Hobson may not be the best name, but it is a market. Next year we will have our first vote on what the name of our new entity will be.
Think about it as you enjoy food, family and a bit of down time this summer!