Wellington Scoop

We can’t get much satisfaction

by Lindsay Shelton
The Wellington City Council has a problem that it hasn’t been able to solve – less than a third of residents are satisfied with how it makes its decisions.

Georgina Campbell, who uncovered the lack of satisfaction and reported it last week in the NZ Herald, tells us that councillors say the situation is “appalling” and of “major concern”.

Which is strange, as the council has been advertising the claim that its communications and engagement team is producing “world class creative solutions.” With such an ability, how could they have failed to find a solution, world class or otherwise, to ensure that residents are more satisfied with the council’s decision making systems?

Georgina Campbell has been digging through the council’s latest annual report, which reveals the satisfaction figure has dropped from 34 per cent in 2018/19 to 29.7 per cent in 2019/20.

Deputy mayor Sarah Free told the Herald the result was appalling and it was the responsibility of all elected members to improve it. “I’m shocked by it and I don’t think it’s at all good enough”, she said. Free said the target of 45 per cent needed to be higher and she intended to speak with the council’s chief executive about the measure. “Nobody really wants to think that’s the best we can do.”

As well as speaking with the chief executive, she also needs to speak to the communications and engagement team and get them to turn their attentions (how many of them are there?) to finding a solution to the dissatisfaction. The solution doesn’t even have to be world class. As long as it works here in Wellington.

Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons told the Herald that the low satisfaction figure coupled with low voter turnout and historic failures to invest in core infrastructure showed local government needed to radically change to rebuild public confidence and legitimacy. “The figure is of major concern. It shows that the council has a long way to go before Wellingtonians have confidence and trust in it.”

Councillor Nicola Young said the council needed to narrow its focus to get work done around infrastructure, city vitality, and rates. “At a time when the city most wants strong leadership, people don’t have confidence in the council decision-making process and I don’t blame them. All our consultation requirements are kind of mad because we consult to the point of exhaustion. We had consultations going on until late in the evening last year and yet, people aren’t convinced it makes any difference to our views.”

It took Georgina Campbell’s research to uncover the low satisfaction rating – the council communicators failed to tell us about it. Therein may be part of the problem. They’re only communicating the good news? Yet here’s how they see themselves, in the words of a recent council advertisement describing the council’s “award winning creative team:”

Working across council services, and collaboratively within the communication and engagement team, we produce world-class creative solutions to boldly tell the story of the Council …

Have they been too bold in telling the story of how the council makes its decisions? Rather, I fear, they have failed to tell us the story at all. Do councillors need to work more conscientiously in their decision making processes? Or more visibly? Will we remain unsatisfied till the communication and engagement team has explained things to us? Do council communicators accept that part of their job is to ensure that citizens are well informed, and well satisfied? Many questions to be answered as staff return to work for the new year.

When I wrote about this ten days ago, I asked for a list of the world-class creative solutions that the council’s creative team has achieved. I’m still waiting for the list. (Perhaps they’re still on holiday.) But I’m ready to be impressed, as soon as they’ve had time to prepare their world-class list.


  1. Claire, 12. January 2021, 9:51

    A problem is the lack of reach to the public. People have still not heard of the Draft Spatial Plan! WCC please advertise digitally, and in the paper a full page, and on Wellington.Scoop, that these very important issues are taking place. Engage people, yes you can be creative about that. And revise your methodology for submissions. Let’s not have the skewed questions anymore. Or the disdain that has crept into councillor reaction to disagreement with their own views. Ie on twitter, or facial expressions at oral submissions. It is no wonder dissatisfaction is growing. Please don’t pretend that you are surprised or shocked. Have you been reading Wellington.Scoop comments and articles? Instead of a creative storyteller, you need an engagement team.

  2. Michael Gibson, 12. January 2021, 10:06

    Good on Georgina Campbell for studying the WCC’s latest Annual Report. Yesterday the WCC CEO emailed me that it was still being finalised. I had told her that I was particularly interested in receiving a hard copy which includes the Auditor’s Report, since this was missing from the material published in the Order Paper for the last Council Meeting of 2020. I also asked her to give me details of any exchanges involving Sarah Free’s reported request as mentioned above. It seems pretty weird to have to wait so long to see an Annual Report which was “approved” by the Council.

  3. Alan, 12. January 2021, 10:16

    Why the need for the communications and engagement team to find out the low level of dissatisfaction. If Council just did better at what they are currently doing (or conversely not doing) their satisfaction level would rise. Surely that’s called Council 101!

  4. Truckers Arm, 12. January 2021, 11:01

    It doesn’t take a genius to work out why the level is so low. Going against what the majority of the population voted for with Shelly Bay including flipping positions by some councillors. Tinkering around with irrelevant or niche minority ideas, as Ray points out, like rainbow advisory groups, while the streets erupt with sewage. The combative attitudes around the spatial plan as mentioned by other commentators. Cycleway construction that drags on forever and goes over budget, in fact everything goes over budget. Annual rate increases to support all of the above ineptitude. I’m surprised the rating isn’t even lower.

  5. Claire, 12. January 2021, 11:10

    Alan the more people who are engaged with the issues or voting at local elections, the better. Even 3000 submissions is not enough to make such large changes to the urban landscape, as the DSP suggests. The council needs to work out how to engage more people. Less people will be dissatisfied if engaged in a productive and respectful way.

  6. michael, 12. January 2021, 12:17

    The only way the council can engage the public is by co-design. That is, openly engaging the public at the beginning of a process instead of at the end after council officers have spent months/years making a decision or determining what options the public can “vote” on. Then, the public are presented with “creative” council summaries of information (often skewed towards the results the council wants) and only given a few weeks to consider the proposal. Little wonder the public are losing interested in engaging, as most of them see it as a waste of their time and energy.

  7. Ray Chung, 12. January 2021, 12:35

    We (ORCA) present submissions whenever the council advises us but often these come with very short notice. Our ORCA committee meet once a month and we need to come to an agreement to submit a submission under the ORCA name and this is the only way we should do this as we’re representing the views of the community. Where we are unable to reach a consensus, we (ORCA) decline writing a submission but individual members are free to submit a personal one. Recent examples are the Bottle-O proposal in Ganges Road last year and the Cemetery and Burial consultation where it was considered not in ORCA’s remit so I completed a personal submission. But I definitely agree with Claire, the way some questions are asked is biased, for example Planning for Growth where Option Four had the question: would you like to see Greenfield sites developed even though it’s going to cost a lot of money to develop, will necessitate raising carbon emissions by commuting, require more public transport etc etc. Implying that if you tick this as a preference, you’ll be responsible for adding to Global Warming!

    Contributing to this low approval rating is the dysfunctional council where at least eight councillors vote in a bloc to oppose anything Foster presents, regardless of its value to ratepayers. But do they care what ratepayers think of their behaviour? My view is they don’t give a hoot! They can come out and say, oh, this is terrible and we must do something about it but words are just that and actions another thing again! So will they change their behaviour? I live in hope but consider that there’s more chance of seeing flying pigs!

  8. Toni, 12. January 2021, 16:17

    Ray, surely the dysfunctional behaviour we are seeing from the councillors is a very good reason for appointing commissioners to sort everything out.

  9. Truckers Arm, 12. January 2021, 16:47

    Ray, you make a good point regarding the voting bloc of councillors. They pretty much control the way the council runs now, voting things down or approving what they like, making the remaining councillors and mayor redundant. One imagines they have a fevered WhatsApp discussion prior to each vote making sure they’re all onboard and congratulating each other for their awesome ideas. Anyone who dares cross them is subjected to a Twitter lynching until they are guilted into reprogramming, as we saw with Sean Rush and the infamous waiata.

  10. D'Esterre, 12. January 2021, 17:05

    In this household, we’ve noted with approval Georgina Campbell’s reportage about the WCC. We’re struggling to recall the last substantive piece published by a DomPost journalist. That’s not to say there’s been none, but the meatiest stuff in recent times has come from Campbell. Her reportage covers issues about which we the citizens need to be informed. All power to her!

  11. John, 12. January 2021, 17:09

    With respect to the elected representations failure – yes a Commissioner is the next step needed for our Council but also a Statutory Manager who will be required to sort the efficaciousness of Managers providing the information. It seems to this reader there is a deeper issue here than we want to acknowledge.

  12. TrevorH, 12. January 2021, 17:30

    So who are the “satisfied” 29.7 percent, other than family members and certain developers? Clearly not ratepayers.

  13. Ray Chung, 12. January 2021, 17:47

    Hi Toni and Truckers Arm. It’s interesting that you should mention this WhatsApp group as this is what I was told too as councillors’ email is recorded on the WCC server but WhatsApp messages are encrypted and can’t be accessed in the event of an investigation.
    It’s also curious that Rebecca Matthews who’s the Community Engagement Portfolio Leader in Council has been silent. Perhaps she’s still on holiday or waiting for her PR team to provide a script?

  14. D'Esterre, 12. January 2021, 17:51

    Ray: “We (ORCA) present submissions whenever the council advises us but often these come with very short notice.” Indeed. The short notice for submissions is not good enough. It tells us everything we need to know about the value Council staff place on ratepayers’ submissions.

    “….at least eight councillors vote in a bloc to oppose anything Foster presents, regardless of its value to ratepayers.” It’s impossible not to notice this happening. This is where party politics obstructs the democratic process in local government. Those councillors need to be reminded that Council meetings aren’t the parliamentary debating chamber. Don’t pull stunts of that sort, if you entertain hopes of being re-elected. I don’t think they see anything wrong with what they’re doing. But they need to be called out for it. Or voted out: my preferred option.

  15. Claire, 12. January 2021, 18:56

    Ray I am not in the Newtown Association but we worked with them to arrange a public meeting. And I and a few others instigated a box drop to the whole of Newtown about the spatial plan. The associations don’t necessarily have the reach into the community. And have a limited amount of people making a submission on behalf of a suburb. More people need to know and become engaged on the issues as they can go through without people knowing. That’s why the WCC needs very wide engagement and advertising.

  16. Ray Chung, 12. January 2021, 20:42

    Hi Claire, no one can question your dedication and tenacity in addressing local government issues and I’m not implying that belonging to a residents association is the only way of addressing these issues. When we became aware of the council’s preference to simply adopt the NPS-UD (National Policy Statement on Urban Development), Rebecca Matthews made a press statement in the DomPost that it was a done-deal and we just had to accept it. Not one iota of consideration for Wellingtonians and ratepayers. Even worse, Rebecca has the portfolio for Community Engagement! If we can’t count on councillors to look out for us, what is their function and purpose in the council? We at ORCA were incensed at this attitude so arranged an information night at the Cashmere School Hall. Despite being an absolutely horrid night, we had a great turnout, so much that the people who attended this told their friends and neighbours and arranged another meeting a few nights later at the Presbyterian Church in Ganges Road where again, there was only standing room. But you’re absolutely correct, was this the job of Residents Associations to advise people of the implications of this Spatial Plan or should the council have organised this and where was the Community Engagement councillor?

  17. Claire, 12. January 2021, 22:42

    Ray it sounds like you and others do a dedicated job at Orca. It’s great that you try and impart information to a wide range of people.

  18. Michael Gibson, 13. January 2021, 7:49

    Ray – your comments about “Community Engagement” make me record what happened when Iona Pannett spoke on the Draft Spatial Plan to U3A (University of the Third Age) where the twice-weekly meetings are normally attended by 250-350 members. She only spoke for ten of the allotted 45 minutes and began answers to most questions by saying: “That is a very good question” and not otherwise answering. She was the least informative speaker we have ever had. She said afterwards that she mainly wanted to get feedback from members.

  19. Julienz, 13. January 2021, 9:13

    The WCC emails or posts rates demands to every ratepayer every quarter. I appreciate many residents are not ratepayers but a great many are; I was appalled that there was no notice about the DSP consultation communicated when rates demands were sent out only days before the consultation commenced.

  20. D'Esterre, 13. January 2021, 11:04

    Ray: “…WhatsApp messages are encrypted and can’t be accessed in the event of an investigation.” Oh crikey. Not being a WhatsApp user, I hadn’t known that. Doesn’t that run counter to requirements that the proceedings of Council meetings are discoverable?

    “….council’s preference to simply adopt the NPS-UD (National Policy Statement on Urban Development), Rebecca Matthews made a press statement…..that it was a done-deal and we just had to accept it.” Yes. So different from the ChCh City Council, which made no bones about going in to bat for its residents and ratepayers. The contrast is stark.

    Claire, we here are extremely fortunate to have ORCA. It does a sterling job: we’re very grateful to those who work tirelessly to advocate for the interests of ratepayers.

  21. Local, 13. January 2021, 11:32

    I believe WhatsApp is now sharing data with Facebook. I am no expert but from an IT expert.

  22. Ray Chung, 13. January 2021, 12:11

    Hi Claire, Michael and D’Esterre, many thanks for your comments. I get a huge sense of satisfaction when someone brings us an issue or problem at ORCA and we’re able to resolve it. An elderly lady still thanks us for getting the GWRC to install a new bus stop at the top of Kanpur Road as she’s now much more mobile and catches the bus. She previously had to drive whenever she went out and approached the WCC, GWRC and councillors but none of these avenues achieved anything although Ian McKinnon who was a GWRC councillor was always willing to help and I miss him being on council.
    D’Esterre, yes, all official minutes and emails on the council address and conversations on council-supplied phones and even text messages are recorded but WhatsApp messages are encrypted so the council can’t see them.
    I think that most suburbs have a Residents Association and we have coordination meetings with Johnsonville, Ngaio & Crofton Downs, Wadestown, Creswick Valley, Brooklyn and Karori from time to time to discuss common issues. Yes, being on these committees does take time and money but we all get a buzz out of helping people so well worth it.
    Michael, I’m disappointed to hear that about Iona. I’ve always considered her to be community minded and a tireless worker. I think that now that she’s working at a full-time job, she might have less time to devote to council business? But I agree councillors should be imparting information in addition to gathering it and as you know, there are councillors who won’t even do this because they have closed minds and ideologies that they follow.

  23. Fleur Fitzsimons, 14. January 2021, 9:51

    I know Council is not always flavour of the month but the responsiveness to residents on social media and through the Fixit app is world class imho. [via twitter]

  24. Marion Leader, 14. January 2021, 13:10

    Fleur, who has been giving the “responsiveness to residents”?

  25. Andrew, 14. January 2021, 18:19

    Fleur, the Fixit app is normally good. Until you raise an issue that is too thorny for the WCC, in which case your report disappears down a black hole.

  26. John, 15. January 2021, 12:17

    Fleur, saying it is world class needs to be supported with evidence. A satisfaction rating of less than 30% seems to suggest the opposite. Can you provide evidence to support this?

  27. Ray Chung, 15. January 2021, 20:24

    Hi Fleur, I’m afraid that you’re believing your own propaganda regarding “World Class!”

    Three years ago, we reported a leak in Nalanda Crescent in Broadmeadows but despite people coming to look at it, it still leaks. We also reported graffiti painted on the bus shelter in Kanpur Road on Monday and that still remains to be cleaned.

  28. M, 16. January 2021, 10:21

    Firstly – thank you to georgina/herald and Wellington.Scoop for reporting and keeping us in the loop of Wellington news. We really don’t know how lucky we are. WCC – appreciate the challenges you must face everyday and the workload and the pressures from government … but please there needs to be a more transparent and improved consultation process. Stop the tick box approach. It should not be a YES or NO approach but the best ideas from the YES and NO’s (compromise ..have we forgotten this word?:)) Some issues should not be rushed through and bigger issues need community involvement before the consultation process.
    In regards to appointing commissioners for the WCC. If it was in a mediation role, maybe but could this make it worse?? After all, some of wellington’s issues are coming from government pushed down through political parties’ alliances.
    The NPS-UD is the classic example. Is a commissioner really going to ensure that the NPS-UD is adapted in Wellington’s draft plan for the best fit for Wellington? Even Grant Robertson had concerns; why else would he ensure there was a clause to allow protection of character in our city. If councils can do better than the NPS-UD, then let them.

  29. Conor, 16. January 2021, 12:58

    Ray – the council (and all councils) does have to adopt the measures outlined in the NPS-UD. They don’t have a choice in that, though some of the definitions may be debatable.

  30. Claire, 16. January 2021, 16:13

    Actually Conor until the RMA is dismantled and ratified into a new document, it rules the NPS. This has been stated a few times by other commenters ie Felicity Wong and Helen Ritchie. The NPS has not even been to a select committee.

  31. M, 16. January 2021, 17:35

    We have seen changes to laws which have been rushed through and then tweaked to fix oversights and ambiguous wording etc, therefore who better to push for change than local government. Conor: the city council can do a better interpretation of the policy as it affects Wellington, without losing the coolest little capital …. we are one of many cities but we do not need to be acting as if our solution is to fix all of NZ.

  32. Ray Chung, 17. January 2021, 6:40

    Good morning Conor, I’m wondering, have you read this NPS-UD? We, the infrastructure and housing subcommittee at ORCA, went through this and discussed the implications to formulate our responses. Rebecca Matthews also came out with a statement saying that it’s a done deal and the Council has no option but to accept it. This simply isn’t correct and that’s just blindly following the ideology that because it comes from the Labour Party, not even the last coalition government, that it’s mandatory. Conor, do you live in the ORCA catchment area of Khandallah, Broadmeadows or Kaiwharawhara? It would be great to catch up for a chat sometime and get you onto our committee.

  33. D'Esterre, 18. January 2021, 14:50

    Claire: “The NPS has not even been to a select committee.” Exactly. We didn’t find this out until, before the last election, we went to a candidates’ meeting in our area. Those candidates who were at that time MPs told us this. One said that they had no idea of the implications of the NPS-UD until they saw the DSP for Wellington.

    Democratic it surely ain’t. No wonder citizens have responded as they have.