Wellingtonians unimpressed by fractured city council

10:00 am on 23 February 2021

Wellingtonians are urging their elected councillors to quit the infighting, and get on with the job.

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Photo: 123rf

On Sunday, one councillor reported the capital's mayor to the Auditor-General, requesting an investigation into his proposal to sell part of the Wellington City Library building.

In response, Mayor Andy Foster came out swinging, describing the call for an investigation as without substance and nothing more than a delaying tactic.

"Fractured," is how one Wellington resident, Eimear described it, "and it's not a good look."

The fallout from one of the council's biggest meetings of the year, held last Thursday, is still ongoing.

A blitz of last-minute amendments from the mayor led to one councillor, Fleur Fitzsimons, reporting him to the Auditor-General.

One amendment was particularly galling to her, the idea of selling off part of the central library to a private company, which would then split the cost of earthquake strengthening the currently-closed building.

That sparked a crossfire of media statements.

First, Foster accused Fitzsimons of wanting to delay the library strengthening, of wanting to hide a $400 million deficit in social housing and to borrow an unsustainable amount of money. Fitzsimons said none of that was true.

Following that, councillors leapt to the defence of either side.

Councillor Jill Day and a number of others accused the mayor of being unprofessional, and using language not befitting of his office. Councillor Tamatha Paul said he was acting like a lone wolf rather than a leader.

On the other side, however, councillors Diane Calvert and Sean Rush stood up for the mayor. Rush said he was the best person for the job, while Calvert said he just wanted the other councillors to get behind the mayor.

A Wellington resident, who wished to remain anonymous, had been unimpressed by it all: "I think it's poor governance. I think they should probably get down to some basics, get down to what they're supposed to do, and work constructively."

"They should be focussing on why they got elected, what the roles of councillors are - to make decisions that are good for the short-term, medium-term and long-term standards of living in Wellington."

Matt , another Wellingtonian, said he understands the conflict, but only to a point.

"Sometimes it's going to happen, I suppose. I think for a city with issues as complex as ours there's going to be inevitably some kind of conflict."

But he added that councillors are clearly getting sidetracked away from the important issues.

"While it might seem relevant to them, I certainly don't regard that sort of infighting and the time wasted inevitably, to be of more importance than all those issues that would make me characterise the city as being a bit creaky."

Scaffolding by the metal nikau sculptures of the Wellington Central Library building.

Wellington's central library was closed after the Kaikōura earthquake. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Wellington's city council wants to spend over $2 billion on water pipe infrastructure, as well as a big chunk of $6 billion to improve traffic and mobility around streets.

Karori Residents' Association chair Andrea Skews said public confidence in the city's ability to plan and execute is slipping.

"We need all of the parties to operate professionally, and deliver value for money in Wellington city.

"We're a pretty important city, and we don't feel that they're operating at a level that gives anyone confidence at the moment."

President of the city's chamber of commerce Jo Healey, said the councillors need to play less politics and get on with making good decisions.

"At the end of the day, what the chamber - what our members and I believe, what the city businesses want, is for the council to work in the very best interests of Wellington."

Amid the rancour, council business will continue.

It will sit for its next full meeting on Wednesday.

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