Departing local board member disillusioned

Vicki Watson

After one term on the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board, member Vicki Watson is counting down the meetings until she can leave.

Elected in 2016, Vicki decided not to stand again this year, saying she has found her time in local government frustrating.

“In three years I’ve seen things go from bad to worse,” Vicki says.

Local board members are paid a part-time salary but Vicki, who has a business and finance background, says when she was elected she initially thought it was a voluntary position.

“I was approached to stand, and I thought maybe I could offer something to the community,” she says.

“I was pretty disillusioned in the first 6-12 months as all the budgets are already set and any big decisions are made centrally.”

She says Auckland Council’s current structure, with an overarching governing body, local boards and Council Controlled organisations (CCOs) such as Auckland Transport, ATEED, Panuku and Watercare, doesn’t work at local level.

“The CCOs need to be more accountable to the local boards and Council. The reports we get from the CCOs are token gestures. We rarely see ATEED. And I wonder whether Panuku understands the difference between revenue and capital. They are busy selling off property that brings in an income, which makes no sense. The sole exception is Watercare, which has been enthusiastic and thorough. If all the CCOs were like them, we would be a lot better served.”

She suggests a better structure would be to have more councillors for each area, say four or five instead of the current two and no local board.

“That way you go directly to Council and there would be a better understanding of who is responsible for any issue. It would also be cheaper and more productive. As it is now, if you look at the productivity of council, as opposed to private business, it would be woeful.”

“I also think support staff should be streamlined. I have no idea why five staff attend local board meetings. Surely a Minute taker and one person as an information funnel would be enough?”

Vicki, as well as several local board members, combine serving on the board with full time or part time jobs. Vicki says she found it hard to fit the work required for the local board into the time she was being paid for.

“The sheer volume of reports that Council produces is mind blowing,” she says. “Not much is summarised and you might have 200-400 pages to read and understand before every weekly workshop. Also, by making it a part-time position, local boards limit the people who can stand, whereas ideally you need people from all walks of life.”

Vicki says she is strongly supportive of allowing the public and media to attend local board workshops, which are currently held in confidence.

“The public should see the process of deliberations at workshops. They say we don’t make decisions at the workshops, but really it’s all finalised and rubber stamped at the business meeting.”

“I was passionate about contributing to the local board in the first couple of years, but in the past year I’ve realised very little was achieved and with that in mind I could not in good conscience stand again.”

Nominations for Auckland Council and the local board closed last week, on August 16. Only one of the Hibiscus Coast’s four local board members, Janet Fitzgerald, is standing for a further term. Vicki Watson, Mike Williamson and Caitlin Watson, all elected in 2016, are not standing again.


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