22 May 2009

Top Auckland boss to lead Transition Agency

10:07 pm on 22 May 2009

The Government has named top Auckland local government manager Mark Ford to preside over the merging of the region's eight local bodies into a single council.

Mr Ford has been named executive chairperson of the Auckland Transition Agency. It will establish the structure of the super-council, which will be in charge of assets worth $28 billion.

On Friday, Mr Ford had few answers to questions about the transition, including when and how many council staff will lose their jobs.

However, he says there will be redundancies, which will be handled in a dignified way and include consultation.

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide describes council merger as the most demanding corporate assignment in New Zealand, and the job carries a salary to match.

Mr Ford will quit his roles as chief executive of regional water company Watercare and chairman of the Auckland Regional Transport Authority.

He is taking a pay cut to earn $540,000, including bonuses, in his role with the Transition Agency.

Other members are businessmen John Waller and Wayne Walden, former Rodney district mayor John Law and Miriam Bean, QC.

The Rodney District Council is fighting to be excluded from any future super-city, but Mr Law says his appointment is not a sop to the district, nor because of any political or personal affiliation with Mr Hide. Mr Law says he will put his personal views regarding the district council aside.

Reaction to appointments

Labour Party leader Phil Goff says the appointments are another step in the Government's steamroller approach to Auckland governance.

Mr Goff says simple decisions made by councils will now bottleneck under the watch of an agency that has not been democratically elected.

He says although some people suspect the agency will privatise Auckland's assets, it has no mandate for that.

Manukau Mayor Len Brown says he is disappointed that the Government did not talk with councils about preferred candidates for the agency.

But Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey says the announcement will be a relief for contractors and staff needing executive decisions.

Business focus too great, say Pacific leaders

Pacific Island community leaders say the Transition Agency members' skills are more closely related to business rather than community interests.

The chairperson of the northern branch of the Pacifica women's group says the National-led Government has appointed an agency dominated by white businessmen.

Josephine Bartley says many Pacific Islanders will be annoyed, given National made a huge play about community involvement before last year's general election.

Ms Bartley says affluent Europeans do not have a monopoly on business skills, infrastructure or change management, and there are Pacific Islanders who can do the job.

Pacific Islands Board chairperson Bruce McCarthy says the agency needs more diversity and to be informed by more than a bottom-line mentality.

The board represents Pacific people living in the Auckland City Council's area.

Super-city legislation

Legislation enabling the formation of the Transition Agency, the Local Government (Tamaki Makaurau Reorganisation) Bill, was passed by 64 votes to 52 under urgency last week.

A second bill setting out the detail of the super-council has been referred to a select committee for consideration.

The committee must report back by 4 September so the structure can be put in place in time for local body elections in 2010.