by Lindsay Shelton
My favourite wellington.scoop headline last year was the one in December when we said there were 120,000 reasons for bringing parking services back to the council.
The reason I like it so much – five days later, councillors agreed, and voted to end their parking services contract and to revert to directly employing the staff.
The situation with the parking contractor was dire – over a three month period, it had sent out personal details from 120,000 parking tickets. Names, addresses, registration numbers. The lot. An extraordinary privacy breach, for which chief executive Kevin Lavery unreservedly apologised.
There were other organisational changes, too, in the last weeks of the council’s year. But none of the other decisions was taken so quickly.
The one that took the longest was the decision to close the council-owned waterfront company. It has taken 15 years.
Public concern about the waterfront company (which was set up in 1987) began in 1995 when its huge and ugly (and ultimately unsuccessful) retail centre and events centre were built on Queens Wharf. Concern grew in 1996, when the company wanted to build a casino on Taranaki Wharf. In the same year, Alastair Thompson (yes, the same one) reported in City Voice that the company was planning to convert the open space at Chaffers into a carpark. City Voice also revealed some local asset sales that no one had known about – the company had sold all the city-owned leasehold land, a block back from the waterfront. And it it had spent the proceeds. And it had a debt of $18m. The chief executive resigned before the end of the year.
Mayor Blumsky led the first efforts to get rid of it in February of 1998, He said it was no longer appropriate for the city’s waterfront to be run by a property company. An Evening Post editorial supported him and said the company was “exposed to public odium. Its legacy is debt, a marina, and an ugly ablution block monument to retail indifference which blights Queens Wharf.” But the mayor’s plan was narrowly defeated – 9 councillors voted for closing it, 10 for keeping it. After which (City Voice reported) the council agreed to pay $7.5m of the company’s debts and to lend it a further $10m. There was a second debate about closing the company in February, 2000. Andy Foster was one of a group of councillors who questioned whether it had a future. But that future proved to be a long one. It survived till last month. Here’s how the council announced its decision on December 7:
Mayor Wade-Brown says bringing Wellington Waterfront Ltd into the main Council will simplify design and consent issues. “It’s the right time to bring it in-house. The work on the waterfront can now be handled from within the main Council organisation, at less cost, including the Site 10 proposal.
The merger will save money by getting rid of the board, and presumably moving out of waterfront office space and shutting down the website. But the mayor is indicating that all staff are to be retained. She says
“WWL staff expertise can … be used in other Council urban development projects,”
Will it be the same approach with the merger of Positively Wellington Tourism and Positively Wellington Venues? The merger of these two council companies was also announced on December 7. Their two governing boards will disappear and presumably they won’t need to keep their two separate offices. But what will the newly-merged organisation be doing when it inherits two chief executives – each on salaries of more than $250,000. The mayor, again, is insisting (this time via twitter) that no one will lose their jobs:
Slimming CCOs [is] about fewer directors not job losses
In the real world of business – outside the council walls – staff cuts are an automatic (and expected) result of mergers. But we’ll have to wait till later in the new year to discover whether the council will come to this conclusion. The mayor says it’s too early to discuss details of the new merged organisation. For ratepayers, of course, it’s never too early to learn if the council is seriously planning to save some of their money.