Not Auckland's Emperor - Just Its Mayor: Phil Goff as Auckland’s emperor, before whom the CCOs haughty CEOs must bend their knees and render full account, is an arresting image. Unfortunately, although the Mayor can ask for full accountability from the CCOs, he cannot compel it. Auckland Transport, like the Ports of Auckland, exists at arm’s length from the Governing Body of the Auckland Council. The city may own it, but it does not run it.
PHIL GOFF has declined to reappoint Councillors Mike Lee and Christine Fletcher to Auckland Transport’s (AT) Board of Directors. Auckland’s new mayor is unconvinced that councillor directors are the solution to the city’s Council Controlled Organisations’ (CCOs) alleged unaccountability. Rather than maintain the current arrangement linking the citizens of Auckland and their elected representatives with the opaque entity responsible for the city’s public transportation services, Goff intends to make AT and all the other CCOs directly answerable to himself.
If only Auckland’s Mayor possessed the legal authority to do such a thing. Goff as Auckland’s emperor, before whom the CCOs haughty CEOs must bend their knees and render full account, is an arresting image. Unfortunately, although the Mayor can ask for full accountability from the CCOs, he cannot compel it. AT, like the Ports of Auckland, exists at arm’s length from the Governing Body of the Auckland Council. The city may own it, but it does not run it.
What the Mayor does possess the power to do is nominate two directors to sit on the AT board. Could he nominate himself? The presence of the Mayor would certainly make AT’s other directors sit up and take notice. It would not, however, deliver as much accountability as one might think. Directors are legally responsible to the company that appoints them – and to no one else. They are also legally bound to accept the decisions of their fellow directors. The confidentiality of the deliberations out of which board decisions arise is also legally enforceable.
In extremis, the Mayor and the Governing Body of Auckland Council could pass a resolution sacking the board of directors of the legal entity responsible for appointing the boards of directors of the CCOs. The replacement board could then, theoretically, purge the CCO boards of any director insufficiently committed to the radical idea that council controlled organisations should be – in fact as well as in name – controlled by the Council.
But even this is doubtful. Faced with a Governing Body of such uncompromising radicalism, it is highly likely that the entity constitutionally located between the Council and the CCOs would send for its lawyers and the whole matter would be taken out of the political arena and placed before the courts. A speedy resolution of the issues in dispute would be … unlikely.
And even if the Mayor and the Governing Body won the right to demand accountability from the CCOs, their problems would not be over. Persons with the legal, commercial and administrative expertise required to oversee an organisation as large and complex as Auckland Transport are few and far between. Persons in possession of the requisite qualifications and who are also willing to offer their services to a council whose “commercially irresponsible” actions have been condemned by practically all of their colleagues would be even harder to find.
The word would go out to every company director in the city that taking the place of any CCO board member sacked by the Council would be a seriously career-limiting move. Solidarity is not a quality reserved exclusively for the working-class. The bourgeoisie has every bit as much reason to stick together as the proletariat – and they’re surprisingly good at it.
They are also surprisingly good at letting politicians know how disappointed they could be should certain individuals be reappointed to certain boards of directors. Someone with Phil Goff’s experience doesn’t need too much in the way of hints to appreciate the political difficulties that could suddenly arise if Mike Lee and Christine Fletcher were to resume their seats at AT’s boardroom table.
But those fine young people from Generation Zero; those indefatigable supporters of the Unitary Plan; just think of the impression appointing people like that would make. A new Mayor clearing the way for new blood. Why, the polls would go through the roof!
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday 26 October 2016.