Wellington Scoop

Hostage taking, and a lost opportunity

by Ian Apperley
No further movement so far this week in the paralysis that has been visited on the Wellington City Council by the former mayor and the six hostage-taking councillors who have set themselves against the new mayor and all other councillors.

It’s a disgraceful situation given that, while they are grandstanding and thinking only of themselves and the political parties they represent, a major opportunity for debate has gone sliding past – the Airport declaring its plan to massively expand its operations.

In the light of the so-called “climate emergency”, the council should have immediately responded to the announcement and made a statement on the expansion plans, specially given that residents are generally up in arms, very concerned about the impact on the city, and asking questions.

Once again, out East, the councillors weredeathly silent on the issue, with some locals asking whey they bothered to elect Sarah, Teri, and Sean when they are invisible.

Justin Lester needs to act or get off the pot, putting it nicely. Delaying a decision on whether to go for a recount or not is keeping the city in a state of stasis with no one able to plan or act. Interestingly, Kiwiblog has been doing some research, and it’s not as cut and dried as to whether an application for recount would even be accepted:

An interesting decision from the District Court in 2016 when it was asked to do a recount in the Dunstan constituency of theOtago Regional Council by the candidate who just missed out by 5 votes. Judge Kellar turned down the application, as he ruled there merely being a close result is not grounds enough. The applicant has to have reasons as to why the result may be incorrect.

Now, Justin’s rhetoric has changed in the past few days from one of considering a recount based on a narrow margin to one of challenging the process.

“A lot of mistakes were made, and the process has been flawed,” he said. “We’ve seen countless stories already coming out where people didn’t receive voting papers, they posted them and may not have been received in time through the postal ballot… You have got to uphold the integrity of the election.”

That signals to me that he is probably taking time to gather evidence and make a case. Either way, it’s holding everything up and suits the six mutineers in the Council who appear to be loyal to the old mayor.

The mood around the city toward the six councillors who are holding the city hostage is changing.

Generally, most of the commentary is now painting them as sore losers and a roadblock to progress. Each day that goes by is further damaging their political credibility as the city perceives them in an increasingly negative light.

Regardless of what happens, Pannett, Fitzsimons, Free, O’Neill, Matthews, and Day are starting their triennium in the political red with a resident base unhappy with what they have done around the deputy mayoralty, the tunnel commentary, and the airport ownership. Another hit to the overall trust and transparency of the Council. Any new mayor should be very, very cautious about assigning any portfolios of importance to them.

Frankly, they need to apologise to the city, the residents, and the mayor for their behaviour and pledge they are going to put Wellington first rather than whatever it is they are doing now. Of course, they’ve all gone silent in the last couple of days.

Between the recount and the Hostage Taking Six, a major opportunity went begging this week for the Council to answer some tough questions about the airport’s planned expansion over the next decade.

The airport plans to take half of the Miramar golf course and turn it into a giant concrete slab, to massively increase traffic movements to and from the city, and probably to cut off through access to residents (my opinion). It also wants to buy the old Miramar South School land, which will no doubt also be concreted and see the death of many houses in the vicinity.

It’s a devastating blow from, in my opinion, a bad neighbour which has consistently ignored the wishes of the community in preference to monopolistic profit-taking.

In a time when we have a housing crisis, need more social housing, have epic traffic issues to Eastern Suburbs, have declared a climate emergency, and are fighting for community rights, this plan goes against everything the city voted for.

It removes housing, it removes social housing, it increases congestion, it sees pollution increased significantly, destroys the community at the end of Broadway crossing into Miramar, and reduces access for residents.

And we, the Council, own a third of it. Butdespite Fleur Fitzsimons’ claims of the new mayor grandstanding over the possible sale of the airport shares and her belief that sitting on the board of WIAL can give us influence, she is utterly wrong.

And shame on the Hostage Taking Six for creating a situation where rather than working together, they have managed to silence the Council at a time when it needs to have a voice on an incredibly important topic.

A special mention for both Sarah Free and Teri O’Neill who know exactly how the community feels about this. And yet they have been silent. Shame. You’re there to ask questions and represent the community, and you’ve let slide a massive issue because you’re off playing politics. (I’m pretty sure I know where Sean’s allegiances lie, so you expect him to be quiet.)

Never mind a recount. Can we vote again now that some of these so-called elected officials, who work for us, have shown their true colours within days of getting on the Council? What a mess. All because of one or two players who have managed to gather a minority group of mutineers in the name of party allegiance and personal power-mongering.

First published on Inside Wellington


  1. Conor, 24. October 2019, 8:54

    It’s more like 13 or 14 against Andy, it’s likely almost none of the councillors voted for him. Diane Calvert kicked this off by coming out publicly asking for the Deputy Mayoralty, and she is tied to the National Party. She has a wee faction of three, with Simon Woolf and Sean Rush.
    Also, Andy knew all about the airport, he was putting these plans together as a Director!

  2. Meredith, 24. October 2019, 10:06

    Both Andy, and Justin as mayor, would have known about the airport plans but failed in the campaign to address any matters related to the airport including the extension which both have supported.

    As for the mutineers – I would describe their actions as politically naive……including Diane Calvert. We elected them to serve the city, not themselves…

  3. Curtis Nixon, 24. October 2019, 10:09

    Wellington Airport company seems to be wed to the same old capitalist philosophy of ‘grow or die’. That’s why Fonterra and Zespri went down the path of off-shore development when their local business was maxed out. Look where it got Fonterra. When is sustainability going to become the dominant approach? When is sensibly managing the existing, home-based economy going to be given precedent over ever-increasing growth?

  4. The Cut, 24. October 2019, 10:24

    I’m not so sure your take is correct Ian… these councillers have been voted in fairly based on the principles & politics they represented during the campaign. The fact they’re Green/Labour was surely obvious to all who voted for them, & the fact we now have a Mayor aligned to the right presents a fairly obvious clas h… my view is that it’s the responsibility of the MAYOR to make this team work.
    One could argue that Foster & Lester have both been handed councils that don’t necessarily align with their own politics/agendas. It doesn’t bode well for major progress does it, but this is the result that Wellington has fairly & squarely voted for. Maybe we could have an article encouraging common ground.

  5. CC, 24. October 2019, 10:57

    In the past, Ian Apperley’s comments have been worthy of consideration and generally not too far from the mark. However, it seems he has lost the plot a bit this time. The statement “… paralysis that has been visited on the Wellington City Council by the former mayor and the six hostage-taking councillors …” is banal. As yet, the Council is still in its formative stages with plenty to do other than agree to unquestionably sing from the same libretto. Conor’s comment seems more nuanced and has more than a germ of reality. The release of the airport’s plans is very timely for Andy Foster as it appears to be a ploy to scare ratepayers into backing the sale of their share in the airport. The nature and timing of this release raises a question, did the board member blindside his Council colleagues by withholding knowledge of WIAL’s plans and the proposed release date?
    As an aside, Andy Foster, who has been waving a sabre over Shelly Bay, has a history of being very supportive of another developer who has acquired a swathe of the waterfront with even less transparent deals with the Council.

  6. michael, 24. October 2019, 11:06

    Can we have a vote of no confidence in the councillors and vote again? . . . . . . just saying!!

  7. Ian Apperley, 24. October 2019, 11:49

    Thanks for the feedback so far. Yes, this missive of mine is slightly off tune and reminds me very much of my early writing of a decade ago. I do try to be balanced, but I’m not a journalist, so every now and again am overcome with emotive rhetoric! Some of the nuances that you’ve pointed out certainly ring true. I guess the key message is that we need the kids to shake hands, agree on how to play, what to play, and get on with it, rather than forming tribes and throwing stones, regardless of where they lie on the political spectrum.

    It’s all certainly far from over, if you read the Dom Post this morning then you’ll see it’s still rumbling along.

  8. Lest-er We Forget, 24. October 2019, 12:48

    I find the whole Andy is right wing thing laughable. I’d say he’s to the left of Lester. Lester being of the neo-liberal/rogernomic left and Andy more traditional conservative nz views which are more old school left.

    While Lester was talking about being predator free Andy was out setting and baiting traps. While Lester was accepting developers donations and waiting to cut the ribbon on their developments Andy was questioning their suitability. Lester wanted to double Wellington’s debt while Andy could see how that would make rates unaffordable for Wellingtonians.

    Andy was fairly elected and throwing your toys out the cot because people were too daft/lazy to get their votes in on time or fill them in correctly is a waste of time.

    Andy should have announced Calvert as deputy on day one and let these councillors gnash their teeth. They clearly don’t intend to support him as they don’t accept the outcome of the election so why try placate them. Lester lost, deal with it.

    And for the record Ian is bang on with his sentiments. His insights and blogs about local politics put most journalists to shame.

  9. michael, 24. October 2019, 13:13

    Perhaps we should all move to the Hutt as they look like a happy and supportive bunch who are going to get cracking. And, the Hutt has a new young mayor, so why not give the Deputy Mayor’s job to one of our new councillors. I bet they will be more concerned about doing what’s right for Wellington than the “Hostage Taking Six”.

  10. Mike Mellor, 24. October 2019, 13:17

    Agreed that the kids need to shake hands and get on with it – but that’s a bit difficult when it’s unclear who the kids will be, so Justin needs to make up his mind pronto. (Kiwiblog has a relevant take on this – WCC uses the same vote-counting company.)

    Notwithstanding that, the chief kid is the mayor, so it’s over to him. I would expect him to be taking very close and careful soundings of the councillors, given that he has to take most of them with him if he’s to fulfill his promises: he has just one vote around the table. It’s an initial test of the ability to compromise and build a team, skills that will certainly be needed over the next three years.

    A bit of a technical point, but it appears from the DomPost piece that Ian refers to in his 11:49 response that when Andy was withdrawn from the ward count his voters’ second and subsequent preferences were not distributed to the other candidates. If that’s so, it’s bizarre – an FPP hangover denying the benefits of STV to people who put Andy first and denying votes to the other candidates. Is that the case?

  11. Henry Filth, 24. October 2019, 14:06

    “Never mind a recount. Can we vote again. . . “ No. No you can’t. Many expensive lawyers will be working far into the night for many weeks to come to ensure that the result is decided when, how, and where it should be. And in the meantime, a new, more reliable, electorate has been ordered.
    Delivery date February.

  12. TrevorH, 24. October 2019, 15:37

    Great column Ian. The airport’s plans will cause further large scale environmental degradation out East. They must be challenged and overturned. Furthermore the airport’s ambitions indicate it is located in the wrong place. It needs to be moved up the coast, towards the end of the new Otaki Expressway. This would provide room to grow and solve much of our dreadful congestion that Labour and the Greens refuse to address sensibly.

  13. Conor, 24. October 2019, 16:06

    Ian, in your campaign coverage you seemed to be pro me and pro Andy, and particularly anti Labour and uninterested in covering National’s meddling. Andy was always going to be mayor of a progressive council. How he would do this given his lack of experience leading people would have been a useful focus pre-election, but again nobody seemed to think it was relevant. It was and is.

  14. Ms Green, 24. October 2019, 16:16

    I’ve got the answer: they could each have “turns” at being deputy mayor just like at Kindy. But gold stars only for those who behave.
    The mayor would be the final arbiter but no one would dare step out of line. Tunnel vision? Maybe!

  15. Georgina Campbell, 24. October 2019, 17:07

    Wee scoop here – after reporting Sarah Free was a front runner for the deputy mayor gig this morning, it’s now understood Andy Foster is dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s for the move, via @nzherald by twitter

  16. Stephen Todd, 25. October 2019, 14:42

    @Mike Mellor: “[…] that when Andy was withdrawn from the ward count his voters’ second and subsequent preferences were not distributed to the other candidates. […]. Is that the case?”
    No, it’s not. Andy Foster’s votes *were* distributed to the other candidates, at the outset; we just don’t know who got how many of each of the unknown number of votes given for him.

    If you go to the Final STV Result Report at the council’s website, you will see, for Wharangi/Onslow-Western, that there were 15,382 valid votes (initial quota of 3,845.50 × 4), and that, of the votes given for Foster, 241 of them were non-transferable (at the first iteration), because they showed a unique first-preference for him. This gives a total of 15,623 valid votes cast.

    At the electionz.com website, we see that 15,586 ordinary votes were received from Onslow-Western (47.51%), as at 7.34 a.m. on Monday 14 October. That figure is likely to include all 24 informal votes cast in that ward, meaning there were 61 (valid) special votes.

  17. Concerned Wellingtonian, 25. October 2019, 16:22

    The Ward in question has been returned and there is no appeal against the declared result.
    Firstly, does that mean that it should stand?
    Secondly, I imagine that most of the votes transferred from Andy would have gone to Diane or Simon rather than Labour.
    Reversing this is more likely to put Simon’s election in doubt than the newcomer’s.
    Surely, Justin Lester would have taken this into account before having his Labour colleague’s election put into any danger?

  18. greenwelly, 25. October 2019, 17:04

    @Stephen, although won’t there also be issues of preferences flowing TO Foster?? As Foster was “withdrawn”, those votes would have then cascaded down… but if he was a valid candidate some of them may have been retained if Foster needed them to make the quota.
    All in all it creates a real mess for Onslow-Wastern, and potentially freezes the council until it’s decided.
    (Are any of the votes cast by Foster, Calvert, Woolf, or Matthews subject to review if they are subsequently found to not be elected????)

  19. Marion Leader, 26. October 2019, 7:34

    Very usefully, WCC CEO Kevin Lavery is saying: “Any decisions that are made after the swearing-in and before the outcome of the potential recount will be lawful regardless of the court’s decision”.
    This is as an answer to greenwelly’s question: “Are any of the votes cast by Foster, Calvert, Woolf, or Matthews subject to review if they are subsequently found to not be elected?”
    If the CEO is correct, then greenwelly can be reassured that Sarah Free will get her pay as Deputy Mayor for at least a few weeks.

  20. Ruz, 26. October 2019, 10:11

    Two points. Lester does have a reason for seeking a recount. And this is that some votes may have been wrongly disallowed even though the voters’ intention was clear. The 2nd point is that local body politics is different from party politics. Most local politicians are independent and are under no obligation to fall in behind all mayoral policies. This can mean that some council business can become become stuck on controversial issues but isn’t this one of the cons of democracy. The new mayor and his supporters need to understand that we do not live in a dictatorship.

  21. Andrew, 26. October 2019, 14:01

    Deciding on a per vote basis if the voter’s intention was clear or not sounds subjective and extremely time consuming. There is a reason why one has to fill out the document correctly to be valid.

  22. TrevorH, 26. October 2019, 21:41

    Interpreting intention is unacceptably subjective.

  23. Stephen Todd, 27. October 2019, 16:57

    “[…] but if he was a valid candidate some of them may have been retained if Foster needed them to make the quota.”

    @greenwelly: In 2016 (7 candidates), 15,882 valid votes were cast in Onslow-Western. Andy received 5,608 of them. The initial quota was 3,970.50, meaning Andy received 1.41 quotas of votes on the count of first preferences.

    In 2013 (12 candidates), 14,172 valid votes were cast, of which Andy received 4,381. The initial quota was 3,543.00, meaning Andy received 1.24 quotas of votes on the count of first preferences.

    In 2010 (7 candidates), 13,356 valid votes were cast, of which Andy received 4,350. The initial quota was 3,339.00, meaning Andy received 1.30 quotas of votes on the count of first preferences. You get the picture.

    Were Andy to lose the mayoralty on a recount (which is 100% *not* going to happen), at the subsequent recounting of the votes in Onslow-Western (with Andy in the count), the initial quota would be 3,905.75 (15,623 / 4). It is almost 100% certain that Andy would again have comfortably attained that number of votes on the count of first preferences.

    Were a recount to take place in Onslow-Western, the elected candidates would be Andy Foster, Diane Calvert, and Simon Woolf. Rebecca Matthews would become the runner-up candidate, in place of Richard McIntosh.