‘The environment has changed’: Preferred international candidate to be Auckland Transport’s boss says thanks, but no thanks

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The preferred candidate for Auckland Transport’s top job has now turned down the role. Photo / Alex Burton

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An international and preferred candidate to be Auckland Transport’s top boss has rebuffed the role after “the environment has changed” with the arrival of a new council and mayor.

Auckland Transport (AT) acting board chair Wayne Donnelly said the person, who has not been named, was selected as a preferred candidate for the agency’s chief executive role in July.

However, the candidate has now rejected the opportunity to head the council-controlled organisation.

“The appointee was an international candidate and had to go through an immigration process, which concluded at the time of the Auckland Council elections,” Donnelly said today in a statement.

“With the arrival of the new Auckland Council, and the changes to the AT board, the environment has changed. The preferred candidate has now informed the board that they will not be taking up the role of CEO.”

Just a day after being elected Auckland mayor in October, Wayne Brown called on the entire AT board to resign. Brown fired scathing criticism towards AT during his mayoralty campaign and said there is no council agency which is so important to Aucklanders about which they are angrier.

Three members of the AT board have quit, including the chair Adrienne Young-Cooper, who resigned immediately after Brown’s demand.

Donnelly said while it was “disappointing” the preferred chief executive candidate had now rejected the role, “we wholly respect their decision.”

“It is important that we protect the privacy of the previous candidate, so no further details will be provided. This part of the process has now concluded,” he said.

AT’ board is now considering its recruitment process options and has also extended the interim CEO role for Mark Lambert, who will remain in this position until the end of March 2023, or a new CEO is appointed.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mark Lambert for his ongoing commitment and leadership of AT during this time, and our executive team for their support,” Donnelly said.

After Young-Cooper resigned fellow AT board member Tommy Parker also resigned last month. He is the chief executive of the Auckland Light Rail project.

And just earlier this week, Dr Jim Mather resigned from the board and said his approach to governance “is not well aligned with some of the new leadership of Auckland Council.”

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has been heavily critical of Auckland Transport. Photo / Michael Craig
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has been heavily critical of Auckland Transport. Photo / Michael Craig

Mayor Brown has told AT he wants to see a “complete change in approach” and in a written directive to Donnelly in October said: “You appear to have been focused on changing how Aucklanders live, using transport policy and services as a tool.

“Instead, AT must seek to deeply understand how Aucklanders actually live now, how they want to live in the future, and deliver transport services that support those aspirations.”

AT has been plagued by a lack of workers and maintenance delaying and cancelling services. There is a nationwide shortage of 800 bus drivers, including 500 in Auckland.

Lambert earlier said AT has been advocating for changes to the Government’s immigration setting to make it possible for skilled drivers from overseas to quickly fill vacancies.

Statistics reported by the Herald last month also revealed, to that date, almost 270,000 scheduled bus trips have been cancelled in 2022. The cancellations were a significant increase on previous years and made up 8.6 per cent of the total scheduled bus services, just over three million, in the first nine months of the year.

Brown has also been unimpressed with what he calls KiwiRail’s “badly planned” line maintenance project.

The $330 million upgrades to the entire Auckland rail network will cause multiple lines and stations to temporarily close. The network rebuild will pave the way for more commuter trains when the CRL opens, some time from 2025.

Brown said Aucklanders should not accept years of rail disruptions and called on AT, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, the Ministry of Transport, KiwiRail and the Transport and Immigration Minister to move to an “emergency footing” to maintain services.

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