25 Feb 2021

Wellington City Council review receives backing, but importance of communication highlighted

8:57 pm on 25 February 2021

Former Wellington mayors are backing the imcumbent's decision to hold an independent investigation into council dysfunction and governance.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster announced the independent review yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Mayor Andy Foster announced the independent review yesterday after months of tensions within council boiled over following his 11th hour amendments to the long-term plan.

Last week just 36 hours before the council was due to meet to make major 10-year decisions on the city's future, Foster sent out an email to councillors with a series of amendments.

Today, councillor Jill Day wrote to Foster saying he did not have the power to call a review into council governance.

It has to go through an all-of council committee, she said, and suggested asking Local Government New Zealand to commission or undertake the review.

Despite that, this afternoon Foster announced he had appointed Peter Winder to lead the investigation.

Winder was part of the inquiry into the dysfunctional Tauranga City Council before it was taken over by a commissioner.

Former Porirua mayor and Wellington mayoral candidate Nick Leggett said there was a failure of leadership, and systemic problems, at Wellington City Council.

Wellington mayoral candidate Nick Leggett

Nick Leggett says the way in which the review was announced was wrong. Photo: RNZ / Nina Fowler

He said Foster was right to try to fix the problems, but the way he went about announcing the review was wrong.

"There [were] no details about [the terms of reference] it, I think he should have fully fleshed that out.

"My understanding is that no staff of the council were aware of what he was planning, so he had no advice.

"And then he chose to tell only half the council [ahead of time].

"This is a really good example of the problem that Andy's leadership faces, not communicating, not being clear, not understanding what it is he wants to deliver."

Former three-term Wellington mayor Dame Kerry Prendergast said it took great courage for Foster to instigate the review.

She said it was time to shed light on what was going on in council.

"There will be issues about his leadership, but it's not just his leadership - I think there are a number of political agendas that are making it worse."

Dame Kerry said the public's perception that the council was in disarray mattered.

"It's not a good look, and I imagine that there is a risk of us losing good staff at the city council.

"And of course businesses choosing not to relocate here because of the risk around both the infrastructure and the leadership."

Porirua Mayor Anita Baker said to get the council working together, Foster needed to make the time to communicate with all the councillors.

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Porirua Mayor Anita Baker says meeting with councillors often helps build the team. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

She said she met individually with all her councillors once a week and they ate together often which helped to pull them together as a team.

Baker said Wellington City Council needed to stop wasting time with in-fighting that was desperately needed to be spent tackling the massive issues facing the region.

"We need the council to all be getting on and moving forward in the region, because if Wellington's not doing well, the rest of us aren't because we actually are one region."

Foster said the local government minister has, for now, ruled out appointing a Crown Commissioner.

But Leggett said if the council did not get its act together soon, this could change.

"The risk for Wellington is that the minister may come along ... and say 'look, there needs to be amalgamation, we need to put these regional assets like water and transport into a council controlled organisation' - effectively a corporate structure - and those assets, and the decisions around them, become even more distant from the communities that own them."

Meanwhile, the Wellington Chinese Garden Society has asked the Auditor-General to look into last minute changes Foster made to the council's long-term plan that could see funding stripped for a waterfront garden project.

Over the weekend, councillor Fleur Fitzsimons also wrote to the watchdog asking for an investigation into the mayor's 11th hour changes.

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