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On Sunday we suggested that New Zealanders should be given the ability to recall their representatives after the latest of a series of scandals involving Auckland Mayor Len Brown was revealed. The NZ Herald picked up our suggestion:
'Secret room' spending shows need for recall elections
A lobby group says revelations Auckland Council spent $30,000 on "secret rooms" for Len Brown show New Zealand needs recall elections to dismiss politicians before their terms expire.
The Council spent the money building a private bathroom and dressing room hidden behind a bookcase in the Auckland mayor's new office, the Herald on Sunday reported.
The Taxpayers' Union today said the Government should give local communities the ability to petition for recall elections.
"Councillors have already censured Len Brown for misusing funds but clearly the line in the sand is being ignored," said Jordan Williams, Taxpayers' Union executive director.
"A recall option would enable ratepayers to petition for a vote to fire a shameless [politician] who lacks any respect for those who pay the bills." Read more.
Voter recall options are gaining popularity overseas and it's time New Zealand had the conversation. Though often associated with the United States, where they have a long history and are used at both the state and local leve, recall mechanisms also exist in British Columbia, several Swiss cantons, the Philippines and Venezuela.
Recently the UK Government introduced the Recall of MPs Bill to the House of Commons on 11 September 2014, after pledging to the public to go so upon election in 2010. Many UK MPs, led by backbencher Zac Goldsmith, think the Government’s proposed threshold of recall only after a committee of MPs has found the representative to have been engaged in “serious wrongdoing” is too high.
Based on the swamp of emails we've been getting, many Auckland's think the threshold to censure a Mayor seems to be pretty high too!
We think that it's time the Government gave ratepayers a voice between elections. A recall option would enable ratepayers to petition for a vote to fire a shameless politicians who lacks any respect for those who pay the bills. New Zealanders need a mechanism to replace elected representatives if they fail to perform or bring their office into serious disrepute.
As Zac Goldsmith recently said:
“What is at stake is a matter of principle – do we trust out voters to hold us to account or not?”
It’s time to have the recall conversation.
That’s right – the Auckland Council’s CEO has a secretary that is advertising for a secretary.
We have all heard about stories of politicians looking to empire build courtesy of the taxpayers’ pocket, but this really takes the cake.
No wonder Auckland Council now has more bureaucrats on living off ratepayers than all of the councils it replaced combined.
“Your day will involve providing administrative support as and where required, this includes anything from managing correspondence, records management to diary management. This role is vital to ensuring that items are actioned, recorded and accurate.”
If that’s the role of the secretary’s secretary, what’s left for the secretary to do?
At a time when the Council needs to find savings of $860 per ratepayer, empire building in Council offices should not be tolerated.
With nearly 6,000 bureaucrats on the pay-roll, 811 of which are earning over $100,000 a year, Len Brown and his CEO ought to be out trimming the fat rather than increasing the burden on ratepayers even further.
Auckland Ratepayers “Wake Up” at last
Bernard Orsman's analysis last week of Auckland Council's financial trouble got right to the heart of the matter. The section headed "Hey Big Spender you’re in a deep financial hole" accurately nails the central issue facing Auckland’s overtaxed ratepayers. With a new 2015-2025 long term plan gearing up, Auckland Council's control of its expenditure long based on borrow and spend, at long last will now be put under the microscope.
The best place to start with the analysis is the new purposes of local government post the 2012 changes to the Local Government Act. Section 10 (requiring "cost- effective infrastructure expenditure") and section 11 (which lists the "core" activities) suggests that the Council is now staying well outside the typical activities we associate with councils.
Of course, Auckland Council has been quick to run to Wellington for funding of its plans, but I think Central Government should withhold any consideration of tolls, regional sales taxes (or other alternatives) until Auckland Council can produce solid evidence of its adoption of a principled "cost effective" "core" services-based budget. At present it is anything but.
In his regular blog this week, Joel Cayford, Reflections on Auckland Planning makes some telling and useful points with his advice directed straight at Auckland Councillors. These include the suggestion that in place of existing assumptions - that ratepayers should foot the bill for the city’s growth-infrastructure, affordability to ratepayers must become the central issue:
“Under the Council's present policy settings, ratepayers can't afford the Auckland Plan, and it's not equitable to require ratepayers to subsidise Auckland's economic growth. It's not that urban growth is a bad thing ... it becomes a bad thing, an unaffordable thing for existing ratepayers ... that does not justify overloading existing Auckland ratepayers with growth infrastructure costs”
Other worthwhile suggestions he makes for Auckland Councillors to consider ... “while they are at it’ are all matters that echo sentiments true of many other New Zealand Councils. These include:
Joel concludes by taking a swing at the vexed Housing Affordability conundrum, not merely an Auckland issue. He presents it in this way:
My biggest policy concern with the growth pathway Auckland is headed down is the assumption that existing ratepayers will subsidise costs of growth infrastructure needed to accommodate new ratepayers ..., then the true costs of new accommodation will not be paid by those buying into that part of Auckland's property market. This inbuilt subsidy is already causing property market failure. The craziness of Auckland's property market is partly driven by Auckland Council growth policies.
Let’s hope that this time, Auckland Councillors do two things:
First: They must be persuaded of the importance of achieving what was hoped when the former Auckland councils were amalgamated in the first place. It was supposed to be driven by excellent performance management and reporting, high standards of accountability and value for money and
Secondly: They should take up the enlightened constructive suggestions of Joel and other commentators - in the interests of their long-suffering ratepayers.
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction - the Devonport Flagstaff reports:
$100,000 curtain raiser for Devenport
A $100,000 budget has been set aside for a space-dividing, silk curtain in Devonport’s new library.
But the public art piece will be mostly invisible during the day.
Creator of the curtain, Judy Millar, was selected from 85 artists to design an object ofpublic art for the new building and bring a unique energy to its interior.
Auckland Council project manager David Thomas said the curtain will be three metres high and made out ofdouble-sided silk. It comes with its own dry-cleaning schedule and a ten-year maintenance or replacement budget 0f$30,000. “We expect that people will want to touch it,” Thomas says. A large part of the project’s total $100,000 budget is going into the tracking, railing and security system to hang the curtain, as well as the printing and sewing ofthe piece, he said.
The curtain will be visible from the street after business hours, when it will be used to divide off and secure the facility’s main area from the community room that remains open to the public.During library opening hours the curtain will be stored next to the new fireplace, where it will also be shaded from being bleached by the sun, Thomas says. It will also need to be treated with non-flammable chemicals, he says. Read more.
This is an inexcusable waste of ratepayer money. Does Auckland Council have no respect for those who pay its bills?
The culture of big spending in Auckland Council needs to stop. As our Ratepayers' Report shows Auckland already has eye watering debt, the highest in New Zealand on a per ratepayer basis, even before the big infrastructure projects have started.
Yesterday afternoon we received a tipoff that Auckland Council recently funded a one day conference to explore the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved, also known as polyamory.
Last month the gaynz.com website reported that among the first recipients of Auckland Council’s first ever 'Rainbow Door Fund’ was 'Poly Panel, Discussions around Queer Polyamory’, a one day event exploring a framework of ethical, healthy polyamory relationships.
We think that Auckland ratepayers will be horrified that it appears their rates are being used to promote alternative lifestyles.
This is just as concerning as it would be were Auckland Council funding conservative lobby group conferences such as for Family First.
Earlier this year the Rainbow Door Fund was established to provide grants for glbti people. We think it is questionable for Auckland Council to fund community groups based on the sexual preferences of their members. Conferences such as these should be funded by the interest groups themselves, not from money meant for roads and core services.
Given the spiralling levels of Auckland Council debt, the Council should be focused on value for money, not throwing funding at favoured groups.
Our Executive Director joined Larry Williams' Drive show on the revolution that Len Brown now has more staff in his office than the Prime Minister.
Audio on Demand - NewstalkZB 31 January 2014
Pressure builds on Len Brown Newstalk ZB - 20/1/2014
As widely covered by media over the weekend, the EY report into suspected misuse of Auckland Council resources by Len Brown is deeply concerning. In addition to the undeclared freebies (including undeclared gifts from Skycity - at the same time as publicly championing the convention centre deal) the report fails to deal with the concerns raised by the Taxpayers' Union in relation to the Mayor's trip to China in January 2013.
We still don't know for example:
Today we called on Mr Brown to pay back the money for both his personal expenses and undeclared gift listed in the EY report. Without the offer to pay the money back, we think the apology made by Mr Brown today to ratepayers is meaningless.
16 DECEMBER 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Taxpayers’ Union is calling on Auckland Mayor Len Brown to pay back the amount owed to Auckland ratepayers for his personal expenses and undeclared gifts listed in the EY report released on Friday.
“Len Brown’s apology is meaningless without an offer to pay the money back,” saysTaxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams.
“Mayor Brown hasn’t addressed whether he will be paying back the $2,898 EY calculated were the costs of personal calls borne by ratepayers. While the nearly $40,000 worth of gifts Mayor Brown received were mostly services in kind, his failure to disclose them puts a moral obligation on Mayor Brown to pay for them.”
"Mayor Brown is one of the few senior Labour Party figures to publicly back the SkyCity Convention Centre deal. That we now know he was secretly receiving gifts of SkyCity raises serious questions. At the very least he should pay the money back," concludes Williams.
Brown thinks Aucklanders just want Council to get on with work Newstalk ZB - 14/12/2013
He may have been officially cleared, but the Taxpayers' Union believes Len Brown still has questions to answer.An Ernst and Young review has revealed the Auckland Mayor failed to declare tens of thousands of dollars worth of complimentary hotel rooms and upgrades.It also shows ten percent of texts and calls on a cellphone the ratepayers funded, were to his mistress.Taxpayers Union spokesman Jordan Williams doesn't buy the idea the report puts the Mayor in the clear.
Len Brown is hoping Aucklanders will consider his conduct, including extensive personal use of a council cellphone, in context.The Mayor thinks he's done nothing wrong, and says the rules aren't clear.
Len Brown says an overhaul of the issues will make the rules more clear.
Report doesn't address secret trip to China - Taxpayers' Union Yahoo! New Zealand - 13/12/2013
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