The Dominion Post

Review lays bare trouble at council

- Damian George

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.

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