Wellington mayor Tory Whanau: Some councillors question ability to stay in role

4:14 pm on 30 November 2023
Tory Whanau

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau (file image). Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Some councillors have questioned whether Wellington mayor Tory Whanau should remain in the role since admitting having a drinking problem, while others at a meeting expressed support.

Following questions by RNZ about an incident at a Wellington bar this month, the mayor said she was "embarrassed" to discover she had been filmed, and was getting professional help.

Whanau has Covid-19, and attended a meeting on Thursday morning of the Environment and Infrastructure Committee meeting via Zoom.

She told RNZ today she had received a lot of support since the latest revelation about her.

Committee chairperson Tim Brown opened the meeting by offering the mayor his personal support.

"I'd just like to wish Tory kia kaha and you've got my personal support. I think we're looking forward to you being back fully on board, Tory, and we hope you go through these challenges and come out stronger, which I'm sure you will."

However, others told RNZ they did not have confidence in the mayor, who swore off drinking in public earlier this year after an incident in which she left a restaurant without paying.

Councillor Nicola Young said the mayor should resign.

"She needs to focus on her health problems 100 percent and we need a mayor who's focusing on the city 100 percent, so I think it's time for her to step aside, stand down so we can have strong leadership, because people are really concerned about the future of Wellington, and Wellington is more important than one individual."

Young claimed she and other councillors had barely seen the mayor since she was elected 14 months ago, as she usually attended meetings online, if at all.

Councillor Rebecca Matthews said that was "completely inaccurate".

"Most councillors attend online sometimes, including Cr Young, and the mayor has a busier diary than anyone else with community events. Even taking that into account, mayor Whanau has a good attendance record and has repeatedly offered all councillors one on one meetings.

"I understand Cr Young was also the only councillor not to take up a one on one meeting with the mayor to talk about their priorities for the Long-term Plan."

Young also noted Whanau had taken a code of conduct against a third of her councillors for alleged misbehaviour. "If we're talking of misbehaviour, she's totally aced it."

Whanau in October sent official warnings to five councillors - including Diane Calvert, Ray Chung, Tony Randle and Nicola Young - for breaching confidentiality over their public comments on the city's financial woes.

Chung, another critic of the mayor, said it was hard for him to see how Whanau could stay in the job.

"It's going to be really difficult for her, she needs professional help so she needs to take time off and she won't be able to do that with the pressure we're under here.

"We're pushing 60 or 70 hours a week here and she won't be able to keep that up if she gets treatment."

The city was facing huge problems and budget shortfalls, and the council needed everyone on the job, Chung said.

A council meeting two weeks ago barely had a quorum because "councillors weren't turning up".

This latest incident with the mayor was part of a pattern, in his view.

"I think that a lot of us thought it would resolve itself, she would maybe realise she has a very responsible job to do, she needs to put Wellington first and not her own situation, but sadly that hasn't happened."

Other councillors were standing by Whanau.

Matthews said she was "dismayed" to see some of her colleagues "kicking someone when she's down".

"I think it's really brave of Tory to come out and be honest about her struggles, I wish more people would do that. And I just really support her to get a little bit of help and continue to do a good job in the mayoralty."

She had never seen the mayor's drinking affect her work, she said.

Motukairangi/Eastern Ward councillor Sarah Free was also supportive of the mayor, though unwilling to say whether she should remain in the job.

"It's come as a bit of a shock obviously, and I've had a talk to a few of my colleagues but most of us, I'm fairly sure, want to support Tory and want to work together to continue to do the really good work we are doing for the city."

When asked whether she thought Whanau could stay on as mayor, she said that was not for her to say.

"I'm not the one to make that judgement call but I'll certainly be doing everything I can to support her now."

Whanau receives support after admitting to alcohol problem

Whanau said she has received hundreds of messages of support after admitting to having a drinking problem.

She told RNZ today she was deeply thankful for the support and was looking forward to getting stuck back into the mahi.

She hoped others who might be struggling with alcohol issues could see that there was support out there also.

People were able to seek help and still commit to their passions, work, family, friends in a way that was meaningful.

"We are complex, layered people and deserving of love. I am here for all of us."

Wellington City Council chief executive Barbara McKerrow said she would support the mayor.

"I care for her wellbeing and will be working with her office to ensure that she gets the care that she needs."

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