Saturday, October 18, 2008

Borough's End

On the 17th of August, 1927, an angry Mayor of Avondale denounced the then-Borough as “the dirtiest suburb of all Auckland’s suburbs, the most bankrupt due to muddle on the part of past administrations. The engineer has admitted that he has never been allowed to complete any work. For five years I have fought their battles to get efficient administration. Some of the residents here have my deepest respect; others I would not touch with a forty-foot pole.”

At that Avondale Borough Council meeting the Mayor, Herbert Tiarks and three councillors resigned, leaving Avondale in an administrative crisis.

The issue was that of Avondale’s amalgamation with Auckland City, something which had been looked at since the start of the “Greater Auckland” concept earlier that century. In 1912, when it was proposed to abolish Road Boards, the Avondale Road Board declined to sign a protest petition, and instead wrote to Auckland’s Mayor Christopher Parr asking that he come to address Avondale’s ratepayers on the question of incorporation with the City. (Parr responded that he would give the matter thought, and asked for a copy of the Board’s last balance sheet. There, the matter rested.) In 1914, the Avondale Board started organising a petition to be sent to the Governor for Avondale to be constituted a borough. At the inquiry before a Royal Commission in 1915, 21 out of 30 ratepayers who attended opposed the borough proposal, and so the petition was declined. One of those chosen as a spokesperson for the opposition was Mr Edward E. Copsey, who was to feature prominently later in the 1920s.

In 1921, Avondale ratepayers petitioned Auckland City for amalgamation, but were turned down, the city council deciding that conditions were “too disproportionate” for such a union. In April 1922, Avondale was appointed a borough, and calls for amalgamation died down to a simmer. Auckland City’s decision was based not only on the fact that Avondale was a largely rural district, with areas without proper water reticulation, formed roads and footpaths, and a low rates base, but also because a surge in urbanisation was expected, and did happen to Avondale. For contrast: the Avondale in 1905, when W J Tait began his public service record in the district on the Roads Board, had a population of 500. This had swelled to 5000 by 1927 when he retired from office as Mayor.

Herbert Tiarks started his campaigns in 1922 against “financial mismanagement” on the part of the administrations of Avondale Mayors J. W Kinniburgh (1922-1923) and W. J Tait (1923-1927) and was a councillor from 1925. By April 1927, with Mayor Tait stepping down from office, dissatisfaction among ratepayers to do with road and footpath conditions, and alleged “irregularities” concerning tenders, Tiarks won the mayoral election by a majority of 714 votes over fellow councillor Paul Richardson. He told voters during his campaign that “he would give no promises with the exception of putting the financial affairs of the borough in order.”

Out-going Mayor Tait said in a newspaper interview prior to the election that amalgamation with Greater Auckland was “inevitable”, due to the newly concreted Great North Road, and easier access to the city. Indeed, almost immediately after the April poll Edward Copsey wrote to Auckland Mayor George Baildon asking if, in the mayor’s opinion, a majority of the council would be in favour of Avondale joining the city. The response Copsey received by the end of May was a “yes”, provided there was application by the Avondale Borough Council.

In June, the Tamaki Road Board and their ratepayers agreed to join Auckland City, and the Auckland Star reported Mayor Baildon as saying that “a number of ratepayers in the Avondale district had expressed a wish to join the city,” adding that “the matter has as yet been but briefly discussed, and it would be more fully gone into later on.” Things now became heated, despite the winter, in Avondale. In July, Mayor Tiarks complained about “scurrilous comments” made against him in the local News publication. By the 13th of July, over 800 residents had signed a petition started by the Citizen’s Amalgamation Committee (also known as Concerned Citizens Committee) and authored by Copsey, and at a borough council meeting on 20th July the by then 1151 signature petition was presented to the council. The date for the amalgamation poll was set for Saturday, 13 August.

A public meeting was held on 4 August at the Avondale Town Hall, where Tiarks and Councillor Pendlebury denounced Auckland City as having “failed to provide adequate transport …[and] proved incapable of handling the system. It had made the mistake of placing down a strip of concrete in the centre of the road from the Mental Hospital to Henderson, thus leaving no provision for future tramways extension.” Tiarks claimed that the City had mismanaged their affairs, avoiding bankruptcy only because it was a municipal corporation, and described the back streets of Pt. Chevalier, the latest of the amalgamations, as reminding him of “a clean shirt on a dirty back.” Auckland’s Mayor Baildon remarked on the comments that “I think the whole thing is very undignified, and the less notice we take of it the better.”

According to the wording of a petition presented to Council in 1933 by the Avondale Development Association, Mayor Baildon and city councillors visited Avondale to speak to the ratepayers. This may have been at a reported meeting on 10 August. They presented the affirmative case for incorporation with Auckland, promising proper footpaths along roads and streets leading to Rosebank Road, and attention to the shoulders of Rosebank Road. Copsey made a speech promoting amalgamation, and earned hearty applause.

A letter to the editor of the Star summarised the situation which had led to the formation of the Copsey’s Citizen’s Amalgamation Committee: Tiarks had promised a reduction in the cost of borough administration, but instead increased the consolidated rate by 2d in the £, doubling the rates from what they were in 1924. Ratepayers in Waterview and Blockhouse Bay claimed they didn’t receive a fair proportion of street improvements, pointing to the central area as being looked after first.

On 13 August 1927, by a margin of 707 votes, in the largest poll undertaken to that date in Avondale, the ratepayers chose to amalgamate with Auckland City. Avondale was to join Auckland on 31 March 1928. However, events were speeded up rapidly by what happened next.

Rumours swept the district that something sensational was going to happen at the next borough council meeting, and so the chamber at the Town Hall was packed on 17 August. The rumours were correct. Mayor Tiarks and councillors Pendlebury, Reisterer and Edmiston resigned from the Council, plunging Avondale into an administrative crisis. With only six councillors remaining and no mayor, with one councillor overseas and another in hospital with pneumonia, the Borough Council had no quorum and could not function. Even staff wages were at risk, with the remaining councillors having to give their personal bond to the bank until the account could be passed. The New Zealand Herald described the actions of those who had resigned as “childish” and “an expression of personal pique”.

Tiarks had declared that the poll result had been “a decided vote of no-confidence in the ability of the council” to manage the borough’s affairs, and “I have come to the conclusion that I cannot possibly retain the mayoral chair and my self-respect at the same time. As the one is a matter of indifference to me and the other is of paramount importance, I am tendering my resignation.” Accusing the Amalgamation committee of lack of courtesy and consideration to the council, he said that he felt the amalgamation could have been achieved at the end of the financial year (by this, I take it that he would have preferred a poll to have happened after April 1928). Yet Tiarks in another report is said to have stated he expected it would have been better if amalgamation hadn’t taken place until after April 1929. Councillor Reisterer claimed that the Council hadn’t had a fair chance, but was still keen to go for election as Mayor; Councillor Edmiston accused the other councillors of disloyalty to Tiarks (there was mention at the meeting of a “gentleman’s agreement” which apparently wasn’t honoured, possibly for all of the council to resign with Tiarks); and Councillor Pendlebury waved a pamphlet (apparently distributed by the Amalgamation Committee) in his hand, claiming that was a “deliberate lie”, and announced his loyalty to Tiarks “to the very end.”

A scandal emerged the next day, when the borough engineer reported that Tiarks and Pendlebury had authorised work on the formation and blinding of Gilfillan Street on July 29, after the date for the poll had been announced, instructing the engineer not to report this work to the rest of the borough councillors. Only £200 had been raised in loans for the work, but Tiarks and Pendlebury authorised the full cost of £600. Gilfillan Street was near the home address for Mayor Tiarks. The four councillors remaining ordered a stop to the work, as the road was in a “reasonably passable condition.”

The remaining members of the council were faced with a dilemma. With no quorum, a bi-election for the vacancies seemed inevitable. They appealed to Auckland to bring the date of amalgamation forward to 1 October or earlier, then realised that amalgamation needed to be by 1 September to avoid an election. After one failed meeting at the Auckland Hospital, the councillors finally met around the bedside of Councillor Manning on 23 August, and again on the 24th, nominating Edward Copsey as Mayor, along with P Turner, P Adams and G. R. Desmond (members of the Amalgamation Committee) as councillors. A formal petition to the Governor-General for amalgamation was signed by Councillor Manning from his sickbed. The Governor-General confirmed the appointments of Copsey and the three others to the Avondale Borough Council, and so Edward Copsey became (for a few days), the last Mayor of Avondale. The last meeting took place on 31 August, and on 1 September the amalgamation came into effect.

Edward Copsey, H Potter and J W Kealy were appointed as City Councillors, serving until April 1929. Paul Richardson, who was defeated by Tiarks in the last borough election for mayor, went on to be president of the Avondale Development Association in the early 1930s, a group which lobbied Auckland City for more works to be done in the district. Nothing further is known about Herbert Tiarks after his resignation as Mayor of Avondale, but he did for a time have offices in the Ferry Building in the city, and donated a baptismal font to St Saviour's Church in Blockhouse Bay, in memory of his daughter Dorothy.

Sources: Auckland Star, NZ Herald, Avondale Borough Council minutes, Auckland City Council archives, and Decently and in Order by GWA Bush (1971).

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