Published 6 February 2007
Julie Chambers kept her job last Wednesday night as parks & reserves spokesperson for the Auckland City Council’s Hobson community board. But not before lashings of spite & rancour were brought to the surface in the continuing war between Citizens & Ratepayers Now â€“ who used to run the council & the board â€“ and the gang of well-off misfits who so unjustly (that’s the constant message) ousted them in 2004.
I haven’t normally attended community board meetings, but went to this one because I was curious about a local group’s forum presentation on 2 planned developments on Orakei Rd, at the foot of Remuera. The meeting also had a presentation from the advertising industry on the council’s proposed more stringent signs & billboards bylaws.
And down near the end of the agenda was this item, a notice of motion from board chairman David Simpson that Ms Chambers be removed as parks & reserves spokesman, to be replaced by Dr Simpson himself.
Ms Chambers (CitRat) has held the role for about 7 years, so what had she done that was so wrong? Dr Simpson, brother of fellow Action Hobson councillor & board member Richard Simpson, said he was “just trying to keep the board speaking as a board.”
He said Ms Chambers had written a newspaper opinion piece a year ago for which she was chastised. “Then she wrote a letter to the editor of the Herald (about Carlaw Park being the site for the new Auckland stadium, taking in some of the Domain) which was contrary to the opinion of the board. I think that due to abuses of the roleâ€¦. it’s time to remove her from the spokesperson role.”
Ms Chambers fought back: “This isn’t about how I have attended to the role of parks & reserves spokesperson. I have never had such an appalling response from a chairman as from you. You have confused the position of a person on the board with being spokesperson. This is your failingâ€¦.. I actually think you owe me an apology. If you read the delegations register, I was required to report back to the board. You didn’t give me a chance. This is about appalling leadership.”
Judith Bassett (CitRat) said board members “are entitled to have a view”. Taking the role of spokesman away “is not actually addressing the issue. What you’re actually doing is calling into question the ability of people on this board to have their view.”
Kathryn Carter (Action Hobson) said spokesmen should reflect the board consensus in the media. Ms Chambers said the board had never decided its opinion on encroaching into the Domain.
Cllr Christine Caughey (Action Hobson) saw it as a challenge to leadership, and attack as the best form of defence. She said community boards didn’t have a code of conduct unless they went to the trouble of writing one, so where a board member expressed a personal view (against the majority view), removing them was one way of redressing the position.
Cllr Scott Milne, leader of the CitRats on the council this term, said: “What we’ve got here is the lowest of the low in 2 years of shabby leadership of this board.” Cllr Milne said it was an act of petulance by a chairman who didn’t get his own way.
Cllr Richard Simpson said Ms Chambers was “certainly entitled to say whatever she likes in the papers” but she’d abused her role as spokesman.
Colin Leuschke (CitRat) asked: “With the little time (8 & a bit months) you’ve got left on this board, what’s the upside (in removal)?”
Board chairman Dr Simpson said “there’s definitely no attempt to gag Julie, which I don’t think anybody can do”. And then, after all the acrimony â€“ and after what certainly seemed an attempt to reduce her theoretical importance â€“ Dr Simpson said: “I think at this stage I’d just like to let Julie off with a warning. People who deal with the media have to be careful about their own opinion versus that of the board, and where there’s doubt you don’t use the spokesperson role.”
That last sentence is the crux of this little debate: A spokesman represents the position of the majority interest. The alternatives are to cease being spokesman or to make it clear the views expressed are not those of the majority, and therefore not given as spokesman.
Undeterred by this experience, Ms Chambers continued as the mover of the next 2 agenda items, one to make a submission on the city’s urban growth strategy and the other a proposal for a heritage property trust. Both were defeated 5-4.
It’s a mood-swing ward
I imagine this kind of pitiful, petty dispute has occurred frequently throughout this term of office of the Hobson community board, where Action Hobson claimed a 5-4 majority over the CitRats in 2004.
It would be of no consequence were it not such an important ward of the city. The election of 2 Action Hobson councillors there in 2004 stopped the eastern motorway, helped both John Banks out of the mayoralty & the CitRats out of their council majority, and gave the 2 new councillors chairmanships of transport (Cllr Simpson) & environment, heritage & urban form (Cllr Caughey).
Cllr Simpson has moved the council away from an eastern motorway to considering a wide range of localised anti-congestion schemes, yet to come to fruition, and has come up with a number of ideas which demonstrate quite different approaches, and particularly the ability to think outside the square.
Cllr Caughey has buried herself in planning & urban design issues, working closely with City Vision councillor Glenda Fryer (planning & regulatory chairman) & unaffiliated Waiheke Island councillor Faye Storer (planning fixtures chairman) on numerous heritage, signage & consent condition matters.
Throwing these 2 councillors out, or ending the Action Hobson majority on the community board, would mean a reversion to form & less activism.
Also elected to the community board in 2004 was Kathryn Carter, who had campaigned for the retention of the former Paykel house at 42 St Stephens Avenue, Parnell. By contrast, the previous CitRat council had been slower & indecisive on heritage issues.
Fundamental line on property rights, with a bonus
Ms Chambers followed the CitRats fundamental line of protecting individual property rights in her proposal for an Auckland Heritage Property Trust, but in her motion to include various requirements in the council’s urban growth strategy she displayed some of the elements of “defence against developers” that other parties have adopted. And the way it was put was constructive, offering an incentive not to demolish.
Her heritage proposal was that “the board support the establishment of an independent heritage property trust to advocate to central & local government for policies & practices that will protect & advance the rights & responsibilities of Auckland City property owners, and promote the provision of fair compensation, and that the council, from within its current operating budget, provide the proposed independent trust with a $4 million startup fund & administrative support for the first 3 years of its operation”.
Cllr Milne, who’s suggested similar ideas at council committees, said it was worth exploring: “None of us want to see Coolangatta again (demolition of the very grand old villa at 464 Remuera Rd to make way for apartments). Now one of the ways that won’t happen again is when people are fairly compensated for heritage status or change of zone, and a trust may be the way to allow us to do those sorts of things. There will be sticks & carrots, and we are very short on carrots.
“It might be a council-controlled organisation, it may not be a trust. Over time we put our money where our mouth is and when a Coolangatta comes along we buy it.
Cllr Milne mentioned the council’s Property Enterprise Board as a possibility, though he said it wans’t set up for this purpose. “It’s a jam jar, that’s all this is about. Let’s give it a lash,” he said.
Cllr Caughey said it was “fraught with issues of inconsistency” and also duplicated research on funding options for a similar proposal, which was almost completed.
She & Ms Carter said the proposal needed rewriting, but the Action Hobson team rejected Ms Chambers’ request to send it the council for consideration.
Extra strategy conditions wanted before development agreed to
In her proposal for the urban growth strategy, Ms Chambers wanted the board to ask the council to include: “That proposed developments referred to the urban design panel must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the panel & council how they will result in, &/or directly contribute to, environment improvement, wealth generation, amenity advancement & heritage protection, with specific measures.”
Cllr Milne asked how you change the strategy; Cllr Caughey said it was done through a plan change â€“ “It is a very long & very complex process.” While the proposal included 3 of the 4 wellbeings (the basics for council strategy â€“ social, economic, environmental & cultural), she said this was “a naÃ¯ve motion. For example, the urban design panel has no powerâ€¦â€¦ The sentiments are noble but it’s just not compliant with the statutory framework in which we are obliged to participate.”
Cllr Milne, while accepting it might not fit the framework, said there was obviously need for tweaking: “The question is, if this is wrong, what do we do to highlight to council & councillors that we are concerned that there are still developments going ahead that do not align with our growth strategy? It (the motion) is an attempt to raise our concern that we need to do something.”
Mr Leuschke said the district plan “is not in step â€“ a lot of it’s obsolete, it isn’t looking ahead.” As an example, he said the dense blocks of the Scene apartments were “a result of existing town planning. The planning regulations said, â€˜We’re giving you a density that makes your land valuable.'”
Ms Chambers said the strategy was “being gazumped by development” but her proposal wasn’t sent on to the council.
Attribution: Community board meeting, story written by Bob Dey for this website.