The Dominion Post
Review lays bare trouble at council
Mayor Andy Foster has failed to be a ‘‘champion and chief advocate’’ for Wellington, but councillor behaviour and a lack of direction are also criticised in an independent review.
An independent report into dysfunction at Wellington City Council has found problems with Foster’s effectiveness, “political point-making” among councillors, and an unsustainable committee and portfolio structure.
The draft report, completed by former Local Government New Zealand and Auckland Regional Council chief executive Peter Winder, made 12 recommendations for the council to improve its governance, including scrapping councillor portfolios and providing training for elected members.
The report comes after a tumultuous first 18 months for the current council, which has been highlighted by tensions and disagreements, and allegations of political point-scoring.
Winder found Foster, who called for the review in February, had failed to act as a “champion and chief advocate” for the city, which was “naturally one of the key roles of the mayor”, but that this failure was partly because of the daily grind of council tasks.
“Enabling the mayor to step out of the midst of day-to-day administration and spend more time being Wellington’s chief advocate would make a real difference, supporting the council to secure better outcomes for Wellington,” Winder said.
The report found the council needed a “circuit-breaker” to enable better political decision-making, and encourage “collaboration not division”. That included scrapping “overlapping and ambiguous” councillor portfolios, and resetting the “inadequate” committee structure which focused all the council’s core business through one committee.
That would mean Foster would lose his transport and urban development portfolios, with a new governance system encompassing four committees to be established instead. Those would cover finance and administration, planning strategy and policy, infrastructure, and community services.
Other councillors with major portfolios include Diane Calvert (economic development), Jill Day (Ma¯ ori partnerships), deputy mayor Sarah Free (governance), Tamatha Paul (climate change), and Fleur Fitzsimons
(community wellbeing – including social housing).
Winder said the council’s current practice of running two meetings a week to discuss the same agenda – the first of those usually behind closed doors – contributed to division and provided ‘‘a platform for political pointmaking by targeting the advice provided by staff’’.
‘‘This reinforces a ‘them and us’ view [between councillors and council staff], and contributes to division, rather than building a sense of collective responsibility,’’ he said.
Winder also found councillors’ behaviour during debates was ‘‘undermining public trust and confidence’’, and there was evidence of poor governance caused by ‘‘no clear sense of direction or overall strategy’’.
‘‘This severely limits the council’s ability to provide direction to staff, or to work coherently with external partners’’.
Winder said resolving internal politics within the council was ultimately in the hands of councillors.
‘‘Unless the elected representatives want to change, and are prepared to invest their time and effort in making change, things will carry on as they have been.’’
However, Winder did not believe ministerial intervention was required, and said the council was continuing to make decisions despite the challenges and problems highlighted in the report.
Other recommendations included establishing a council vision, using councillor-only time to build collaboration and consensus, and allowing committee chairs and deputy chairs to be the spokespeople for council policies and decisions.
The report will be made public on Monday and discussed by councillors at a meeting next Thursday.