Council obsession with secrecy and charging must go
Now, more than ever, it's time for councils to start doing their job.
This week, the three biggest councils - Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch - refused to identify at least 158 buildings, and possibly 218 more, caught in a nationwide building safety review prompted by the Christchurch CTV building's deadly collapse.
These buildings were built between 1982 and 1995 and have similar columns to ill-fated CTV - which pancaked and caught fire in the February 2011 earthquake, killing 115 people.
Wellington and Christchurch councils, known for staging feel-good "free "public events, like festivals and flower shows, own some CTV-like buildings but won't identify them.
Christchurch council's solitary building is a red-zoned car park and none of the city's six buildings fingered in the review by government-appointed engineering firm Aurecon are occupied. But it stubbornly refuses to say which one it is.
Wellington, meanwhile, will not even say how many of their buildings are of concern - just "several" - or disclose if the CTV-like buildings are publicly accessible.
Labour's Lianne Dalziel has called for rogue building owners to be named and it may offer some comfort that the newly-formed Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has a four-month, name-and-shame deadline for owners who do not comply with a request for a fresh structural assessment.
But what about councils' responsibilities? Particularly involving buildings they own on behalf of ratepayers?
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Auckland's Len Brown are happy to spend ratepayers' money on Chinese trade missions, but an office worker isn't allowed to know, withiout paying a search fee, if the building in which they work is a potential death-trap.
Aurecon, the government-appointed engineering firm leading the nationwide review, excoriated councils for the lack of information in their property files, singling out Auckland Council as the worst offender.
Earlier this year, Auckland Council refused to give up its secret earthquake risk list - although members of the public could pay to find out.
Something's wrong here. This is the worst type of secrecy, involving a known potential danger.
The government is right. Councils have lost sight of their core functions. Ballooning debt, V8 races and wearable art festivals are one side of the argument. The other is public safety, possibly involving buildings containing thousands of people.