Wellington Scoop

Who chooses independence?

Before Andy Foster yesterday chose the reviewer to carry out an independent review of governance at the Wellington City Council, former deputy mayor Jill Day had challenged him on the process.

She said the review should not be run by someone chosen by the mayor. She suggested Local Government New Zealand should commission or conduct the review.

“I have heard your public comments that you do not intend to involve all councillors in the decision about who conducts, and what is involved in, the governance review,” Day’s email said. “I think that it is unlikely that this approach will lead to the kind of improvement that the city needs to see in our governance. LGNZ [has] the national picture and years of experience in local governance matters. I think they would ensure a robust and genuinely independent review,” she said.

But her suggestion didn’t get a response. A few hours later, the mayor announced that he had made the choice.

This morning the DomPost editor Anna Fifield tweeted

The Wellington City Council is in crisis. We, the Wellington newspaper, tried repeatedly to talk to Mayor Andy Foster yesterday. He ignored us.

And yesterday, she tweeted:

The Mayor of Wellington has shown he doesn’t have the political skills to fix the infighting at the Wellington City Council. It’s time for a truly independent Crown observer to step in and provide some adult supervision.

A DomPost editorial yesterday warned:

Wellington’s problem is a political one. Foster … has not learned the art of persuasion. He has not learned how to lead. We want our councillors to be able to have a robust and civil debate so that they can come up with solutions for our city, where the problems are numerous … Debate is not the same thing as division. Although Wellington City Council has not suffered a breakdown in its ability to govern, as happened to its counterpart in Tauranga, or in Kaipara a decade ago, it is clear that Foster does not have the political skill to lead the council out of this quagmire.

Concerns from the wider region have also been reported by the DomPost:

Upper Hutt mayor Wayne Guppy said the independent review was “a good first step” to resolving the issue. “We need a strong Wellington City [Council] … If one of us is dysfunctional then people look [at us] and shake their heads.” As elected representatives, councillors had a responsibility to ratepayers to keep their best interests front of mind when making decisions and if the divisions persisted there would likely be discussions about amalgamating councils.

Porirua mayor Anita Baker​ agreed Foster needed to address the dysfunction within the council. “This isn’t a go at Andy or the councillors … I think that we’re all trying to support them. A mayor needs to trust its council. A council needs to trust its mayor.”

Kāpiti Mayor K Gurunathan​ said and unity in governance would be essential for Wellington to manage a “huge infrastructure problem” … “I’m not being critical, I’m appealing to them [councillors]. Your problems are my problems. Your problems are the problems of every mayor in the region,” he said.

Lower Hutt mayor Campbell Barry​ said it was no secret that Wellington City Council (WCC) had been encountering “challenges”. “It’s important for the entire region that those matters are addressed.” Exactly how the problems were dealt with was for WCC to decide, Barry said, but he’d “welcome anything that will improve the current situation”.


  1. Horseradish, 26. February 2021, 10:43

    There’s a core group who will question everything the mayor says, challenge every decision he makes, vote the opposite way and stymie him at every turn. The Council should be like a jury, you should enter with an open mind and without prejudice, sadly I don’t think we have that currently.

  2. K, 26. February 2021, 13:33

    @horseradish: Councillors are free to vote on any issue any way they want – that’s how it is supposed to work. It’s not a dictatorship where everyone has to obey the mayor’s wishes. It is up to the mayor to promote policies and actions that are supported by the majority of councillors, not his own personal preferences. If he can’t get more than 50% of councillors to vote in favour of something, he should be making changes to get that support, not trying to get around the rules to enact his own wishes.

  3. Horseradish, 26. February 2021, 14:48

    K, I agree that councillors should vote how they want but I believe what we’re seeing is bloc voting to try and embarrass the Mayor rather than pragmatic decision making. How can one be so vehemently opposed to “privatisation” of the library but gung-ho toward privatisation of council land at Shelly Bay which Wellingtonians do not want. The Mayor did get his ideas across the line at the LTP meeting and this group of councillors proceeded to throw their toys out the cot rather than accept democracy, much the same way they did after he won a democratic election in the first place. It would appear councillors are not free to vote any way they want given the pile on Sarah Free has been subjected too following this meeting. It would appear she’s destined for Green Party reprogramming.

  4. Ray Chung, 26. February 2021, 20:06

    K, right from the outset straight after the election, this group of councillors told Andy that they would veto anything he does unless he agrees with what their little group wants. They made it clear that unless he chose one of them to be deputy mayor, they had the numbers to ensure that he would be a “lame duck” mayor. This put Andy into an invidious position so he did designate Sarah Free as his deputy but despite this, the environment hasn’t improved. It’s going to be a long time until the election next year.

  5. Conor, 26. February 2021, 21:24

    Also looks like Clr Calvert has been arranging meetings on Foster’s behalf under false premises: “Condie said she received a text from Calvert on Tuesday night asking if she was free to catch up the next morning, and was ‘certainly surprised’ to see a larger group at Foster’s office.”

  6. michael, 27. February 2021, 1:00

    Guess the broken pipes will have to wait until they all stop fighting.

  7. TrevorH, 27. February 2021, 7:31

    @ Horseradish: the fact that several Councillors changed their vote on Shelly Bay and reneged on their public pledges to oppose the sale made when they were candidates is now beginning to make sense in the light of the continuing revelations of the unpleasant dynamics within the Council. Foster and his leading backer in the elections, Sir Peter Jackson, were of course strongly opposed to the development as proposed.

  8. Geoff, 27. February 2021, 10:21

    I personally have given up on DomPost (Stuff). Their bias has become intolerable.

  9. TrevorH, 27. February 2021, 11:49

    @Geoff: you are not alone. It’s a disgrace for a capital city.

  10. Cola bottle baby, 27. February 2021, 14:16

    Got that right Geoff. It’s turned into a UK style, biased tabloid.

  11. M, 1. March 2021, 0:12

    I do not take the DomPost as naive so can only put it down to bias. Bullying is the term for a group of people who are driven by undermining a human being. The only way is their way.
    We are still waiting to understand why selling the council’s Shelly Bay land to a property developer is good for manu whenua and if this included the manu whenua who did not want to sell. Did iwi have first right of refusal for this land or did it go straight to the developer?

  12. Mike Mellor, 1. March 2021, 10:14

    Ray C, Horseradish: “they had the numbers” – like it or not, that’s the way democracy works. Sure the mayor won a democratic election, but so did all the councillors, and each of these people have just one vote round the council table. The system is designed so that mayors do not have an automatic right of support from councillors – they have to exercise leadership and earn those votes. Democracy in action!

    Cola b b: it appears that you are not that familiar with UK tabloids. They and the DomPost are chalk and cheese!

  13. The Horse has bolted, 1. March 2021, 12:41

    Mike- Andy had the numbers during the LTP vote but it seems these councillors didn’t appreciate that that’s how democracy works.

  14. Ray Chung, 1. March 2021, 14:10

    Hi Mike, yes, I agree with you that this is democracy in action and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My criticism is of the way these councillors are now acting and I wonder if the people who voted for them expected this behaviour, ideology and obstructive stance. Do you think they’re doing a good job Mike?