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'Rancour and partisanship': Independent review of Wellington City Council announced

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 24 Feb 2021, 4:44pm
Wellington City Council. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Wellington City Council. Photo / Mark Mitchell

'Rancour and partisanship': Independent review of Wellington City Council announced

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 24 Feb 2021, 4:44pm

A Wellington City councillor says it has become intolerable to be on the council while she tries to keep out of the "splatter zone".

Mayor Andy Foster has announced an independent review of the city council's governance.

Today he told councillors at a full Wellington City Council meeting it was apparent they have arrived at a crossroads and a significant change in governance was required.

"The time to do that is now," Foster said.

"A succession of incidents and comments over a period of time has given cause to an environment of public and media speculation and now ministerial comment."

An advisory was sent to media that the mayor would hold a press conference on the issue at 1pm and Wellington City councillors would be in attendance.

But some councillors didn't know about the event until the Herald publicised the fact.

Councillor Nicola Young told the Herald it has become intolerable to be on the council and she has found it very difficult.

"I'm an independent councillor and my first priority is to serve Wellington but there are lots of political agendas and I've just been trying to keep out of the splatter zone.

"But it has been a very uncomfortable time so I just hope the review achieves something because we have to get on and sort out Wellington's problems," Young said.

Foster said the public's belief in their ability as councillors, and as an elected group to govern, has been shaken and eroded.

"I want us all as elected representatives to seize this moment, dispel the current atmosphere of rancour and partisanship and move to a position where can make better decisions and focus on what really matters."

Yesterday, Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta said she hasn't sought advice on whether a commissioner or observer would be appropriate for Wellington City Council - yet.

"I certainly don't want to be the Minister for Local Government commissions and my preference is to ensure that local government and councils have the ability to undertake other avenues to be able to strengthen their governance or seek advice and support.

"They have their own professional entities that can offer that type of advice and I would urge them to look that way first."

Foster said the fact the minister has even formally commented should be of concern to all elected members.

It has been a tumultuous few days for Wellington City Council after deliberations boiled over at a Long Term Plan meeting on Thursday.

Foster has found himself in a very public feud with some councillors over his proposal to sell part of the Central Library building.

Meanwhile, Wellington's local Green Party is convening and set to issue a "please explain" after Deputy Mayor Sarah Free voted against a proposal to triple the cycleway budget.

Foster said the review would undertake face-to-face meetings, observe the governance and practice of the council, and provide a recommended action plan.

A notice of motion was circulated for councillors to sign, but every councillor stood in support of the move.

"I want to ensure Wellington City retains a democratically elected council," Foster said.

Foster has faced frequent speculation about whether commissioners should be called in over the course of what has been a bumpy first term in the top job.

At the weekend, councillor Fleur Fitzsimons wrote to the Auditor-General asking for an investigation into a last-minute proposal to sell part of the Central Library building.

She voiced concerns that recent decision-making over the building isn't consistent with the Local Government Act or in line with good governance.

Councillors react

In response to the announcement today, Fitzsimons said she wholeheartedly welcomed the announcement of a review.

"There are major problems with governance in this council and hopefully the review will get to the bottom of them and resolve it."

But she cautioned the review could not result in elected members and residents further removed from decision-making.

"We need more local democracy, not less."

Councillor Tamatha Paul said "publicly springing" the review on councillors this morning, with no warning, reflected the leadership that led to conflict and public outcry over the Central Library.

"The mayor's review request highlighted two issues – politics and process. But the politics are often a result of a rushed and incoherent process on his part."

Paul believed the issue could have been resolved internally.

Councillor Diane Calvert said the mayor has her full support for the "much needed" review.

Councillor Sean Rush said the council regularly entered into robust debate as democracy required, but from time to time opportunities were taken to advance other agendas.

He said it was time for political parties to leave local body politics and "you can't play for two teams".

"I have every confidence that the independent review will show a very diverse group of good people doing their best for Wellington."

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