Auckland mayor Phil Goff has torn a strip off Auckland Transport for not fronting up at a public meeting in St Heliers last night, telling them they are not a dictatorship, but accountable to people.
AT chief executive Shane Ellison turned down an invitation to attend the meeting and explain proposed safety improvements for the seaside village, partly out of fear for the safety of staff and talk of the crowd being "hostile".
More than 600 locals, many of them elderly, overflowed from two meeting rooms at the St Heliers Community Centre and booed when they heard AT had turned down the invitation.
Last night's meeting overwhelmingly opposed AT's plans to increase the number of raised zebra pedestrian crossings in the seaside suburb from three to 15, build a new traffic island, widen part of Tamaki Drive and remove 40 car parks to improve safety.
Goff said it was politicians' job to front up to public meetings with hostile crowds, citing unpopular issues like a new water treatment plant at Oratia and a new town square for Takapuna he and councillors had fronted.
AT, who under legislation make decisions separate from the council, are not a "dictatorship", said Goff.
"They are accountable to the people as we are. They need to show that they have listened to what the people are saying. If people are not agreeing with them either they haven't got their message right or they are doing the wrong thing," he said.
Goff said the feedback he receives is AT and some of the other council-controlled organisations are arrogant because they are not elected.
The mayor was speaking during a discussion on AT's Statement of Intent at council's finance and performance meeting today.
The meeting passed several recommendations from Orakei councillor Desley Simpson to beef up AT's current approach to engagement with Aucklanders and elected representatives, including AT having to attend public meetings if requested by councillors or local boards.
"I don't think Aucklanders have a lot of confidence in Auckland Transport and it is our job to help them get that confidence back," Simpson said.
Councillor Mike Lee, a former director of AT, said when the managers, chief executive, chairman and directors of AT declined to go to the meeting in St Heliers because they are frightened for their physical safety, "we have a real problem".
"All of the blame should not go on the CCO, which is not performing as it should, but we also have to lift our own game in terms of our oversight of AT and what it is doing in Auckland," Lee said.
The Herald is seeking comment from Ellison and AT chairman Lester Levy.