Wellingtonian Editorial: Snouts in the trough

Last updated 14:44 07/12/2012

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No matter how you spin it, the voting last week by Wellington city councillors regarding extra income they get for sitting on council-controlled organisations, was not a good look. It fact, it reeked of self-interest.

The issue of councillors receiving extra income for sitting on other committees while wearing their council hat has long been a hot one.

Councillors have fought hard to retain the perk.

That's hardly surprising when you consider that, for example, deputy mayor Ian McKinnon has his already considerable income topped up by an extra $42,094 for being a Wellington International Airport board member.

Most councillors who score a position on a council-controlled organisation (CCO) are raking in an extra $15,000 for duties that are hardly onerous.

John Morrison gets $18,000 for sitting on the Wellington Regional Stadium Trust, though that one, as with the airport, is not a CCO.

In Morrison's defence, he also sits on the Basin Reserve Trust and does not get paid for doing so. He hasn't exactly had to fend off other councillors for that role.

Nine councillors have paid roles on CCO boards (Positively Wellington Venues, Wellington Waterfront, Wellington Museums Trust, Positively Wellington Tourism, Capacity, Wellington Zoo Trust) or external boards. That immediately causes resentment at council level, because that leaves five who haven't.

With that in mind, the vote last week about whether to retain the extra payments was laughably predictable.

All the councillors in attendance who don't get the extra payment voted to dispense with them. All the councillors on the gravy train wanted the payments retained except two, Justin Lester and Paul Eagle, who exhibited a freakish ability to put their city ahead of their own pockets.

The matter was decided on the casting vote of the mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, who opted to dispense with the extra payments.

Even then there was a sting in the tail. The councillors will keep their additional money for the remainder of this triennium, so it's only the next batch of councillors who'll miss out.

It is difficult to justify the extra payments.

Councillors are paid a fulltime salary these days. It's not like 30 years ago, when they received little more than an honorarium.

Many of the councillors would struggle to reach that level of income in the real world.

Given that they are already being so well paid, why should they then receive an extra $15,000 or more merely for sitting on another committee and fulfilling their roles as councillors? That is, in effect, double dipping, and clearly concerns the Remuneration Authority.

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There are other problems, too. For example, McKinnon represents the city council on the airport board, but sometimes the airport will want to do something that doesn't suit the council. What is McKinnon, as an airport board member, to do? It is a conflict of interest.

Other councillors on CCOs must sometimes find themselves in similar positions.

It is questionable whether a councillor must be on each CCO board. If there was proper communication and sharing of information, that would possibly be good enough.

Our city councillors are often accused of greed. Last week's vote provided ammunition for their critics.

- The Wellingtonian

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