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2014 brings lots of challenges

George Wood is a North Shore ward councillor on the Auckland Council. The former three-term mayor of North Shore City lives in Forrest Hill with wife Myra.

It was a strange ending to the 2013 year at Auckland Council.  Obviously the issues swirling around relating to Mayor Len Brown took centre stage.  Coupled with the Brown affair another major happening occurred with the conclusion of the contract of the first Chief Executive of Auckland Council Mr Doug McKay and the employment of Mr Stephen Town as the new CE.

Doug McKay had given the council a good lead in time of his intention to relinquish the CE role making the search for a replacement a process that could be managed between the first Auckland Council and this new council.  So during 2013 the Governing Body of the council was able to determine what we were seeking in the attributes of the new CE appointment.  The outgoing council actually got to the stage of shortlisting four candidates with the intention that the new council would make the final decision.
Under the Auckland council’s empowering act the CE is the only actual employee of the Governing Body. This is how most large corporate bodies now operate. In the case of a council a CE must have an extremely wide range of skills and knowledge as to what is required to handle the job. After the candidates had been interviewed and evaluated it was finally decided by the governing body that Mr Town would be selected and appointed.
Stephen Town was educated and trained in business in Wellington and worked in Wanganui. He holds a Masters of Business Administration and his first CE role was with the Wanganui Polytechnic.  He then moved to the CE position at the former Franklin District council before roles as CE with Tauranga City Council and more recently has been the Auckland and Northland director of the New Zealand Transport Agency. Stephen therefore brings a wealth of local and central government experience to his new role at the helm of large organisations.
It is my view that Auckland Council needs to get into a strict holding pattern with our finances over the next few years.  Very strict discipline will be required in relation to any new spending programmes. We have a long term plan which still has eight years to run albeit the plan must be reviewed by 1 July 2015.  Rate rises are in the vicinity of 4.8% increases over the next eight years whilst Mayor Brown is advocating increases in the vicinity of 2.5%.  The mayor is also saying he wants to review the capital spending programme meaning that many of the current capital projects will have to be either pushed out to later years or abandoned completely.  Finding which projects must be eliminated is a difficult task as removing pet projects that have been promised is never easy.  These hard decisions must however be taken as far as the budget stands at this time.
So this year will see the usual round of public consultation.  First up is the Proposed Unitary Plan which is currently out for submissions.  These submissions must be received by 28 February.   The Governing Body and the local boards will be working on the 2014/2015 annual plan.  It is important that community groups seeking funding from Auckland Council have direct contact with their local boards and make their cases for funding in the strongest possible terms.
I appreciate that it is never easy trying to put together cases that will enable council to change direction from what is already set out in long term plans.  It is, however, important that organisations get their relationships with the local boards on a sound footing.  The local boards are the eyes and ears of the Auckland Council at the community level and it is their role to advocate for and articulate the needs of their communities.
I wish you all the best for 2014.


by George Wood