OPINION: The arguments put forward by self-interested Wellington city councillors who wish to retain the lucrative income they receive from council-controlled organisations are nothing short of laughable.
It will not have escaped the notice of ratepayers that only two of the seven councillors appointed to CCOs - Paul Eagle and Justin Lester - voted to axe the $15,000 a year paid for the positions when the matter went to the full council last week. Nor will it have escaped notice that the knife-edge vote to end the stipends will not take effect till after the present council term.
One of the main arguments put forward by those who wanted to keep the payments was that not remunerating councillors for sitting on CCOs would create "two-tier directorships", in which some board members were paid and others were not. The claim that the influence wielded by board members depends on how much they are paid is preposterous. As Mr Lester noted during Thursday's meeting: "Leadership is about responsibility - it's not then about asking ‘can I have more money to do it, please'."
In fact, it could be argued that councillors on CCOs exercise far more power than other board members because of their positions on the council which funds and ultimately controls the organisations. Whether they are being paid extra on top of their council salaries is immaterial.
Paying councillors to sit on CCO boards also creates an unfortunate impression of double-dipping. As Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has noted, councillors are appointed to the boards to represent the council, so there is a strong case for arguing that the work should fall under the responsibilities for which they are already being paid - and handsomely, at that.
She referred to Remuneration Authority concerns about the payments coming on top of councillors' salaries at a time when they are being paid on the basis of their positions being fulltime. Few, other than Ms Wade-Brown, will be devoting 40 hours a week to their council business, and the CCO appointments hardly carry onerous workloads.
An independent review of councillor appointments to CCOs, which was undertaken at the council's request, raised similar issues about the potential for double-dipping when it reported in September. More importantly, the Plimmer Consulting review highlighted the inherent conflict of interest that flows from councillors sitting on CCOs.
It pointed out that board members have a duty to act in the best interests of the organisation, whereas councillors have a duty to act in the best interests of the city. There will be times when those interests are not aligned, compromising the position of councillors sitting on the CCOs involved.
The review said councillors did not need to sit on CCOs for there to be an effective flow of information between the organisations and the parent body, and its preferred position was for the appointments to end. Alternatively, if they were to continue, then councillors should no longer be paid for the work.
The council has chosen second best.
- © Fairfax NZ News