Wellington Scoop

Changing governance for an elected council

Statement from Mayor Andy Foster
It has become apparent we have arrived at a crossroad that requires us to make a significant change in our governance. The time to do that is now.

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

Their belief in our ability as Councillors, as an elected group to govern, has been shaken and eroded.

It is in my capacity as Mayor and my responsibility to set the direction for what happens next. We need to listen to the voices of our community in its call for the infighting to stop.

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 we can make better decisions and focus on what really matters.

Our historic Long Term Plan promises to renew our city’s core infrastructure, resolve sludge and landfill issues, rejuvenate Te Ngakau Civic Square, new library, make future focused decisions on our transport system, respond to Climate Change, find a sustainable future for our social housing, plan for a growing City, and much more.

We face great challenges. We have great opportunities to make a real difference. That is our privilege – not to be wasted.

This should be a time when we use good governance to lay historic foundations for future generations. To do this we need a framework of behavioural integrity to ensure a productive, collective and collaborative council.

Yesterday the Minister of Local Government headlined as ruling out appointing a Crown Commissioner for Wellington City Council – as yet. The fact that she has even formally commented on this should be of concern to all elected members. The Minister went on to say her 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.

This fits exactly with my thinking about these matters. We need to find a way forward together and for that we need a new set of tools.

Therefore, today I am commencing the process for an Independent Review. I want to ensure Wellington City retains a democratically elected Council. The scope for the Independent Review – that includes me as Mayor.

It is clear to me that we cannot keep working the way we are. Our City deserves better.

This is not a formal vote, but I am asking all of you to stand now and show your support for this action.

This was mayor Foster’s statement to today’s council meeting – his proposal was supported, without a formal vote being taken.


  1. Helene Ritchie, 25. February 2021, 10:57

    Nothing will be achieved by this independent review called for by the mayor on his personal initiative. It is simply costly navel gazing at a time when such distraction is highly undesirable with Council and Wellington facing crucial and fundamental issues which need focus and careful deliberation. The mayor has once again used his ‘specialty’ i.e. last minute surprise action in a knee jerk way to isolate half the Council by not properly informing them of this latest surprise. His ‘independent’ review he says will concentrate on ‘behaviour’. There exist already governance tools to guide (control) ‘behaviour’ – Council’s standing orders (rules) for council meetings, a code of behaviour conduct, legislation to control corruption/pecuniary interest and open government and local government itself. The mayor’s without-notice proposed review antagonises and alienates, when he says that he alone will set the terms of reference.

    Critical and central to good democratic governance, deliberation and decisions, is the availability to every councillor of free, frank, timely and formal (written) officer advice.

    I believe that most councillors do their best and in sometimes very trying circumstances. Some wear their values openly on their sleeves when elected, some do not. All have values, life experience and all are ‘political’ i.e. elected as part of our democratic local government.

    There is no need for this review. We the public will do the review at the next election. I am not surprised that the mayor cannot see where the problem lies.

  2. Andrew, 25. February 2021, 11:36

    I’m assuming this review is going to be another cost burden on the already tapped out citizens of Wellington. More consultants and fewer fixed pipes. BAU for this council.

  3. Ray Chung, 25. February 2021, 13:38

    Hi Helene. Good comments but do you think this is the most polarising, dysfunctional council that you’ve ever seen? I’m unconvinced that meeting with the whole council to brief them on this call for an independent review would have achieved any consensus, as the Greens and Labour faction would want to set their own agenda as they’ve been doing since this council was elected last year. You said you don’t believe that a review will achieve anything so what would you suggest should happen to get this council to focus on the most important issues instead of blindly following their own ideology? Do you think now that we’re halfway though this triennium, there’ll be any improvement before the election next year?

  4. Jax, 25. February 2021, 14:20

    @Helene – We can’t wait until the next election. This council is dysfunctional and stuck in a quagmire of tit for tat attacks instead of looking to the best for our city. If a review won’t work what will? That’s a genuine question to someone who I know has a lot of experience in council.

  5. PCGM, 25. February 2021, 14:56

    In my view this is a last-ditch rearguard action from Mayor Foster to try and forestall the Minister appointing a Commissioner. The dysfunction around the council table and the leadership failures are alarmingly apparent, so Mayor Foster has to do something – anything! – to try and prove the council is taking the issues seriously and has a get-well plan. And this is the smartest idea he can manage.

    The problem is, the people who are tasked with solving the problem are the same people who have created the problem. So the odds of them behaving in a slightly more grown-up way and acting in the best interests of the city as a whole instead of continually banging their various ideological drums are poor.

    As a result, I see the Minister running out of patience with the whole charade in about 6 months time when the finger-pointing and name-calling will have reached epic proportions. At that point she will probably have to bow to the inevitable, acknowledge the capital can’t function like this, and finally appoint a Commissioner to sort the mess out.

  6. Dave B, 25. February 2021, 15:01

    I would like people here to consider that the main reason the council can’t agree on things is because it is representing a wider electorate that also has disparate views on many things. “Just make a decision!” people keep saying of LGWM, but what decision? Half the people want more motorways and half want better public transport. What is LGWM supposed to do? Half the people want the Library fixed quickly, doing the minimum needed, half want a major new rebuild. What is the council supposed to do (though it would be helpful if certain members didn’t bury reports and fudge figures to mess with the debate).
    Half the people want cycleways, half don’t. Half support the Convention Centre and a Chinese garden on the waterfront, half don’t. I think the “dysfunctional” council is doing a really good job of reflecting a divided population, and until the wider populace can come to agreement on certain things, the council should stay dysfunctional. At least everyone agrees that the pipes need fixing.

  7. Helene Ritchie, 25. February 2021, 15:50

    Ray thanks. There are longstanding dysfunctional structural and other issues on the Wellington City Council. They could maybe one day be the subject of a major review. But a kneejerk last minute proposal without notice from the mayor is not going to achieve that or anything much and is highly distracting at a crucial time for Wellington.

    Reluctantly, Ray here are some thoughts to go on with:
    As a mediator I know that the first thing that has to happen in any dispute is that the problem(s) need to be identified and agreed by participants (councillors). ‘Infighting’, which the mayor identifies as the problem, just seems to me a lazy term for “I cannot get my own way”. An independent review will not change that.
    Second, those who participate in such a mediation (here called an independent review) should agree to the mediation (At least half the Council has not even been properly informed of the purpose of the independent review). As a former politician, I know that the skill of a politician or group of politicians lies in clarity of goal and working out how best to achieve it/them, bringing the Council and the public with you. The best local politicians know their values, and serve the City and people with integrity. The worst serve themselves.

    As a Psychologist, I know that although there are ways of modifying it, it is not easy to change other people’s (‘bad’) behaviour which is what the mayor says he wants to do as that is a problem he identifies. The independent review will not achieve that. They themselves have to want to change and then change it themselves. Anyone who is a parent or partner knows that! But from the outside, unlike the mayor, I don’t see his councillors’ behaviour as the problem to be investigated. There is a Governance problem with the mayor’s ‘behaviour’ in recent last minute proposals. As this is a longstanding habit, an independent review is unlikely to have any effect on that.

    Finally in a democracy it is the public’s prerogative to review the performance of our elected leaders, not the prerogative of one person – an independent reviewer (whatever ‘independent’ means). So, to the Council I say: “Focus! Debate the issues vigorously, seek and get free, frank and professional advice, ask questions as is your job, and allow sufficient time to do that, respect each other, the public and their views, deliberate carefully, keep calm and carry on … until the next election, when we will review you all.”

  8. Toni, 25. February 2021, 16:24

    I don’t believe the behaviour of our councillors can be blamed on the problems associated with dealing with many viewpoints out in the public. All councils are regularly faced by this yet most do not have the squabbling and infighting we see in Wellington. I don’t believe we have time to wait for a governance review. It is more than likely to make little difference to the behaviour of councillors, as they are already ignoring their own comprehensive Code of Conduct. It has become too much about personal agendas and vendettas. Minister if you are ready this – we need commissioners now.

    And, perhaps if the council had been far more honest and transparent and enabled the community to collaborate at the beginning of projects, instead of at the end after many decisions had already been made, there might be less friction in the community.

  9. IBCycleWay, 25. February 2021, 16:45

    Remember when NZTA did a review of the Island Bay Cycleway process because it was such a *public relations* disaster & they interviewed about 40 public servants & only 1 member of the public (from the residents association). Are they going to interview any stakeholders during this review because I have some reckons. [via twitter]

  10. Rebecca Matthews, 25. February 2021, 16:47

    The Mayor has confirmed his own appointment of a reviewer, Peter Winder. Disappointed that he wouldn’t work with councillors on this. Terms of reference don’t say anything about leadership. Early prep work has commenced and admin to be done by Mayor’s office. “Independent”! [via twitter]

  11. Marion Leader, 25. February 2021, 17:43

    Could Rebecca commission her own report? Could its terms be agreed by the whole Labour caucus? A Notice of Motion asking for resources and financing from the Council would be a good way to start.

  12. michael, 25. February 2021, 22:35

    Mayor Foster, are you going to be up-front with us and publish the Terms of Reference so we can be assured that the review will be unprejudiced and across-the-board.

  13. Northland, 25. February 2021, 23:38

    Sounds like another way to waste money. More consultants and fewer pipes.

  14. Concerned Wellingtonian, 26. February 2021, 7:28

    michael, now that the terms etc have been published let us know what you think. They look OK to me.

  15. TrevorH, 26. February 2021, 9:19

    A “review” will be a fine thing but we all know what the problem has been since October 2019 that has deepened the dysfunction. A sizeable number of party-affiliated Councillors have been unable to reconcile themselves to Foster’s election in place of the previous party-affiliated Mayor. They have withdrawn their cooperation and appear to be doing whatever they can to ensure as little as possible is achieved.

  16. Toni, 26. February 2021, 12:49

    I can’t see a way forward from here as this spectacle has become so polarised and personal. Shame their parents don’t tell them all to grow up and behave responsibly and focus on the serious issues facing Wellington.

  17. Mike Mellor, 26. February 2021, 15:11

    TrevorH: it doesn’t seem to be widely understood that the mayor and councillors each have one vote round the council table, and that councillors are elected in their own right – there is no duty or expectation for them to support the mayor.

    The way the system works is that a mayor has to demonstrate leadership, not expect support as of right – particularly when the mayor’s platform is not consistent with the platform a councillor was elected on.

  18. Ray Chung, 26. February 2021, 20:44

    Hi Helene, thank you for this and I really appreciate your wisdom and experience. I’ve been following local body politics for a long time and this is the worst performing council I’ve ever seen. Summarising what you’ve said, if we have to wait until the next election to effect any change, we’re doomed!
    Why do you think this council is so much more dysfunctional than previous ones? Is it the immaturity of some of the councillors and the disinterest of others? The Labour and Green Party affiliations? But Iona Pannett has always been a Green councillor but she hasn’t allowed party politics to influence her ability to work with others? I’ve always considered her to be hard-working and not at all argumentative.

  19. Ross Clark, 26. February 2021, 23:22

    I wonder if the old SuperCity for Wellington idea may be dredged up at this stage … a dysfunctional WCC is not the only thing on the table.

  20. Keith Flinders, 27. February 2021, 8:06

    Ross Clark: Had the SuperCity been implemented, there would not have been any of this immature carry on we are witnessing. The SuperCity would have been headed by a Grand Duchess surrounded by a small group of like-minded councillors. The general public would have had community advisory boards whose only real power would have been to decide what chocolate biscuits to order for the afternoon teas.

    Certainly the decision-making process would have been streamlined albeit virtually autocratic, the reason most saw through that scheme when it was proposed. As I see it, the costs to ratepayers would have been greater than they are now with substantially higher staff numbers, and the processes when dealing with the bureaucracy even more tenuous. A more democratic and realistic scheme may have seen favour.