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Auckland Transport – not secret after all?

In the last couple of weeks I have mentioned a few times my concerns that Auckland Transport was going to continue the “ARTA tradition” of operating in secret – with the general public not having a clue what goes on at their various board meetings. It seems as though that tradition continued into yesterday’s meeting:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown should be well pleased with the first proper meeting of the Auckland Council, which he ran with precision and political skill.

But the shine was taken off his day when, across town, the board of the mega-transport council-controlled organisation met behind closed doors.

In a tersely worded statement, Auckland Transport said it was obliged by law to hold public meetings only twice a year, adding “today’s meeting – the first of the new board – is not open”.

You have to wonder about the mentality behind such an attitude. Does the general public not have a right to know how over half our rates will be spent by this new agency? Do we not have a right to know about the decisions they’re going to make on changes to the public transport system or other stuff that they do?

Fortunately, sanity prevailed at the actual meeting, with the Board themselves opting to – in the future – allow the general public to come along and hear what they’re doing.

The board, under the chairmanship of Mark Ford, later changed its tune and decided it would open its doors to the public in future.

This follows preliminary talks between Mr Brown and the chairs of the seven council controlled organisations (CCOS) about upholding his election promise to open all CCO meetings to public scrutiny.

Sources close to Mr Brown said if the unelected directors of the CCOs do not toe the line, heads could roll.

One of the powers of the Auckland Council is the ability to sack board directors for whatever reason.

It is not an option Mr Brown wants to use, but it is part of his arsenal to keep the CCOs in line.

Good on Len Brown for pushing hard on this. I also imagine that the two councillors on the board – Mike Lee and Christine Fletcher – probably pushed strongly for future meetings to be open to the public. It seems a total no-brainer from my perspective.

While this is certainly good news, it’s only half the battle won. Most people won’t be able to make the meetings, so therefore in order to access information on what the Board is up to it will be necessary for Auckland Transport to publish the agendas and minutes of their Boards’ meeting online – something ARTA never did but the Councils always did with their transport committees.

Looking through the “site map” of Auckland Transport’s website  there is clearly a section of the website dedicated to uploading this material – with Governance having sub-sections for delegations, meetings and “agendas and minutes”. Unfortunately when you click on the pages you’re required to enter a password. So the information is clearly there on the website – they just need to get around to taking away the password protection so that the work the CCO does is transparent, open and accountable.

Update: I have been advised that agendas and minutes will be posted online, including from yesterday’s meeting, within the next few days. I look forward to it.

3 comments to Auckland Transport – not secret after all?

  • Matt L

    I think Len will also be backed up by what is happening in parliament with the perks issue, it has shown that people want transparency and in a situation like this it is probably best to start off that way than try to change the culture later on. It also shows the importance of making sure the council had the ability to sack the board members from day one if needed.

    I imagine that meetings would be during the day which is unfortunate, seeing as I live out that way and the building is pretty much right on top of train station it could be interesting to go along sometimes. I noted elsewhere that Mark Ford has also said that there are times that meetings or parts of them will need to be closed due to commercial sensitivity which I imagine is things like contract discussions, I think that is understandable and providing that is the only times then this should be good.

  • Matt, I think as long as the agendas and minutes are posted online it’s not that essential to physically go along to the meetings. We will know what they’re up to and the decision they made.

    Of course going to a meeting, if possible, is always very interesting. I’ve only ever made it to one council meeting – of the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee when I was presenting Operation Lifesaver – and it was pretty interesting to see how everything worked.

    Not sure if a board meeting would be much different.

  • ingolfson

    I agree – its the fact that someone (press, private people) *could* be there – and that one will have to provide legally relevant agendas and minutes – that will ensure openness. it doesn’t always need to be full house.

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