Sunday, March 3, 2024

Auckland Council quits Local Government NZ

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Auckland mayor Wayne Brown. File photo supplied
  • Laura Kvigstad, Auckland Council reporter, Funded by New Zealand on Air

Auckland Council has resigned from Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) after Mayor Wayne Brown cited local board members getting “pissed” at conferences.

At the Governing Body meeting on March 23, councillors were split down the middle in the vote to resign from LGNZ with 10 voting in favour and 10 against. Mayor Wayne Brown cast the deciding vote to resign.

LGNZ advocates for local democracy, promotes networking across councils and facilitates mentorship for elected members.

Brown proposed the idea to resign with his sights set on saving the $640,000 annual costs associated with the membership.

He said he had watched “800 members of local boards… all getting completely pissed, dancing all night long for no benefit whatsoever to the ratepayers”.

He also believed that Auckland would be better positioned for consultation with central government on its own rather than as a group.

“LGNZ fulfils the function of making it really easy for the Minister of Local Government to dispense with consultation by going to a meeting of Mayors in Wellington and making a one-hour speech.”

“The fact of the matter is that by staying on your own we force them to come and see us.”

“Local Government New Zealand members have voted against things which the previous council had (opposing) views on such as Three Waters.”

By leaving LGNZ, council also made a decision on behalf of local boards who would no longer be guaranteed membership.

Governance Services manager Rose Leonard said council could advocate for an associate membership being available to local boards but the membership would have no voting rights.

“The associate membership has not really been designed for local boards; however I think we could work with LGNZ to ask if a category could be created for local boards,” Leonard said.

Local boards were asked to provide feedback on the LGNZ membership and 15 of 18 supported continuing the membership.

Cr Andy Baker said it was rare for local boards to be so tight in their agreement of an issue.

“I see a lot of unhappiness stems from some of the decisions in terms of what LGNZ may or may not have done in terms of Three Waters. LGNZ is a democratically elected body if we are unhappy with it then exercise our democratic right,” Baker said.

“We won’t change it from the outside, we can only change it from the insid You won’t be able to do it sitting from the outside and going ‘coming back next year’.”

“Auckland is a very, very important cog in a very, very large machine that is local government New Zealand. If you take that cog out we actually expose ourselves and we expose other councils,” Baker said.

Cr Mike Lee said he likely had the most experience with LGNZ at the table, being a member of LGNZ’s regional affairs committee for six years.

“(LGNZ) has evolved to be another layer of the national bureaucracy. It has become a part of the elitist Wellington beltway power structure,” Lee said.

“Conferences for elected members and staff are all very nice but I do not think we can justify half a million dollars year on year for that privilege.”

Lee said it was time to cut out the “expensive bureaucratic middleman” when consulting with government.

Several councillors spoke of their time at LGNZ conferences disputing Mayor Brown’s framing that they were just a chance for elected members to get drunk.

Cr Julie Fairey attended one conference and said she does not drink.

“I certainly was not one of the people getting drunk on the ratepayer dime, which seems to be the implication of all that happens at the conferences,” Fairey said.

Fairey said she had made enduring connections with elected members around the country.

A sub-committee of the National Council of LGNZ, Te Maruata, looks to enhance Maori participation in local government.

Cr Kerrin Leoni, who is the first wahine Maori councillor to be elected to the super city, said Te Maruata was a part of the reason she was sitting at the Governing Body table.

“I am the first wahine Maori here as a councillor. That has come through the support of Te Maruata…we do not have anything within Auckland Council that actually grows that leadership and grows that support,” Leoni said.

Cr Andy Baker voted against resigning from LGNZ while Cr Wayne Walker, John Watson, Mike Lee, Sharon Stewart, Maurice Williamson and Greg Sayers were among those who voted in favour.

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