A couple of weeks back new mayor Phil Goff announced that he was considering not appointing councillors to the board of Auckland Transport. Under the legislation that established Auckland Council (and Auckland Transport), up to two councillors can be appointed to the Board, although there is no requirement for this appointment to be made. In a post on the issue I noted that this might not be a bad move, as councillors/directors face some challenging conflicts of interest in performing both roles, and not having councillors on the Board may ‘free up’ the council to use its other accountability mechanisms more.
Goff’s decision to re-evaluate the decision in a year’s time seems like a good solution. If it turns out AT start making even stupider decisions then some Councillors could always be added back again. What’s not clear is if the council will then appoint some directors on a one year term to make up the board numbers.
Six years in it feels like now is an appropriate time to shake things up to change how the organisation is run at both a board and management level to ensure we get better outcomes.
Unsurprisingly there has been a mixed reaction to Goff’s announcement, including a number of councillors rightly pointing it out that this is actually a decision for the council as a whole, rather than just the Mayor. A few slightly harsh early lessons about the difference between Central and Local government perhaps?
In any case, a report is going to tomorrow’s Governing Body meeting on the topic, with the Mayor proposing a somewhat interesting compromise of inviting councillors to apply for the vacant board positions and have their applications assessed against all other applicants:
A bit more context is provided in the report, including comments from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG):
The whole approach seems a bit strange, if I’m honest. The whole purpose of having councillors on the AT Board is so that they can ensure AT acts in the interests of the council, its shareholder. The legislation that enables councillors on the AT Board is different to other CCOs, where they are banned, because transport is such a large area of investment for the council and has such massive impacts on all sorts of key outcomes. Obviously it’s also where council elections are won and lost, so clearly elected members have a massive interest in transport – and rightly so. While councillors may have many of the skills required to be good “board directors” the public expectation is that any councillors on the AT Board are there to act in their role as elected councillors and ensure Auckland Transport is acting in a way that’s consistent with the council’s agreed direction.
Goff’s suggested approach seems to continue this ‘muddying of the waters’ where any councillors who end up on the AT Board will continue to have a very unclear idea of whether they should be acting like independent board directors or whether they should be acting in the interests of the council as AT’s shareholder.
It will certainly be an interesting discussion to follow on the council’s livestream.