16 Jun 2016

What to do about Wellington's leaks?

12:35 pm on 16 June 2016

Independent investigators are just one of the options being proposed by the capital's mayoral contenders wanting to bring councillors back into line.

Wellington City Council - yellow sticker (earthquake risk)

Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie

In the latest round of misbehaviour at Wellington's civic offices, a councillor accused the city's chief executive, Kevin Lavery, of leaking details to media.

Staff say the same person circulated a photo showing Mr Lavery surrounded by cameras but he was actually making an in-house video.

Earlier this year, councillors leaked confidential documents on the Town Hall strengthening timeline and cost, the Convention Centre, and a deal with Singapore Airlines.

They have been barred from dealing directly with staff and were locked out of most parts of the civic building; they have had their private space cleared out, and told to go dumpster diving if they want the documents back; and there have been allegations of councillors bullying staff and rifling through papers on staff desks.

So, what do the six mayoral candidates propose to do?

Nicola Young - wants Kate Sheppard lights to stay

Nicola Young. Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie

Councillor Nicola Young wanted to make sure officers were not afraid of giving confidential information to any councillor.

"The first thing I would do is have an independent authority come in to, first of all to brief councillors about their responsibilities," she said.

"If there was a leak they would be brought in to find out who the culprit was. This is really not acceptable, we're governors of the city.

"The first consequence would be naming and shaming," she said.

Keith Johnson, Wellington mayoral candidate.

Keith Johnson. Photo: SUPPLIED/Keith Johnson

Keith Johnson, a contender from Island Bay, said councillors should not be dealing with confidential or commercially sensitive documents anyway - everything should be out in the open.

"There wouldn't be any confidential, commercial information under my mayoralty - everything would be transparent," he said.

"I wouldn't have a situation where we're going behind the public's back to negotiate with Singapore Airlines, for example. Private companies would know they were negotiating with a public entity where transparency and accountability and probity were high priorities."

Porirua mayor Nick Leggett

Nick Leggett. Photo: RNZ / Adriana Weber

Nick Leggett, Porirua's mayor who was running in Wellington, said he has never had to talk about the code of conduct in Porirua.

He said the lack of leadership and vision in the capital has left some councillors disenfranchised.

"It's about the atmosphere of the place," he said.

"I'm the mayor of a city at the moment, we haven't used the code of conduct - nobody's referred to it once in the six years I've been mayor.

"When you resort to the code of conduct you know you're on slippery ground," he said.

"It's about being open and inclusive, and about listening to people and actually accepting that differences of opinion are okay - they don't have to all become World War Three."

Mayoral candidate Jo Coughlan says her top priority is to improve Wellington's infrastructure.

Jo Coughlan. Photo: Supplied

Councillor Jo Coughlan hoped to build a strong team from day one.

"We'd have to be looking at what people's roles and responsibilities are, an obvious consequence would be to strip people of their roles and responsibilities if the breaches are deemed to be significant and warrant that kind of response," she said.

"It's important that we remember that we're there to do what's best for Wellington and that's got to be our focus."

Justin Lester says he is committed to economic growth in Wellington.

Justin Lester. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

Deputy Mayor Justin Lester said he wanted all of his councillors to hold a portfolio, but that privilege would not be guaranteed.

"Where a councillor is found to leak information, I would first investigate - we could take a forensic analysis, for example, of computers - and I would stand them down," he said.

But Mr Lester conceded forensic analysis might not be necessary.

"What tends to happen around the council table, you almost always know who's leaked a specific item. It's almost always, more often than not, pretty obvious. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work it out," he said.

Via text, the incumbent, Celia Wade-Brown, said most elected members were very responsible and honest, but leaks were notoriously difficult to prove.

She wanted regular performance reviews for every elected member in the next term, herself included.

Nominations for local body elections are still open, and the vote will be counted in October.

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