Wellington Scoop

Issues of democracy and governance

by Helene Ritchie
If there is one matter that the Wellington City Council and the public are united on today, it is a desire for the mayor and councillors to be find a way to focus without distraction on the major issues confronting the city and the council.

In no way is this article an attack on any one of them, including the mayor. It is written out of serious concern for the council and the city, and it raises democratic, governance and constitutional issues.

Mayor Andy Foster has announced a review of the Council. He has personally appointed Peter Winder, who last year reviewed Tauranga City Council, to conduct this ‘independent’ review. The mayor excluded his Council from any formal vote (there has been none), discussion or decision.

It is helpful to compare the Tauranga Council process with Wellington. At the least, there is significant governance irregularity in the mayor’s personal appointment of an ‘independent’ reviewer, and his personal setting of the agenda for the review. He has no formal Council approval to do this. It would appear that he does not have legal authority to act alone in the way he has.

The WCC review therefore lacks the imprimatur of the governing body, the Council. The mayor cannot use Council resources to advance his own agenda. But he has. It is neither good governance nor wise to act or lead in this way. Council decisions are never made by one person. The Council is a ‘Board’ of elected persons with accountability to the electors in a democracy.

Therein lies the core governance problem that is facing the Council – a mayor who seems not to be able to understand that democratic governance is about working collectively in a politically diverse environment and leading it.

Last year, in August, Peter Winder was appointed by the Tauranga Council to lead a three person team to investigate and support it when the Department of Internal Affairs required that it address member relationship issues to restore trust and confidence. From then on, Tauranga Council adopted proper governance process to approve the terms of reference, the budget and the appointing of the review team led by Peter Winder.

In other words, their review belonged to that Council. Wellington’s review belongs to Andy Foster as an individual. That is not only seriously problematic. It is wrong.

Ultimately, the recommendation of Winder’s damning report was to have a Crown manager appointed to Tauranga City Council. That recommendation was approved by the Council but then the mayor resigned and called for commissioners to be appointed by the Minister. Commissioners were subsequently appointed.

But before people jump to some similar conclusion and outcome in Wellington, it is valuable to look at and compare the Tauranga process with what was announced by the mayor yesterday in Wellington.

Andy Foster alone has appointed a person to review his personal agenda – his ‘scope’. But there has been:

· No CEO report

· No formal resolution or vote by Council to conduct this review. (He said “I am not asking for a formal vote”).

· No discussion or resolution by the Council to appoint a reviewer

· No Council appointment of a specific person to review

· No approved budget

· No discussion of what the review will focus on

· No Council resolution approving the terms of reference, scope and what the review will focus on

· No report back date discussed, announced or approved.

Comparison with what happened in Tauranga shows the fundamentals of democratic governance.

At the Tauranga City Council:

· The Chief Executive commissioned the review (not the mayor)

· The Council discussed and approved the terms of reference (not the mayor alone)

· The Council confirmed the appointment of the chair Peter Winder (not the mayor alone)

· The Council approved the $350,000 budget for the review (unlike in Wellington where the Council has not approved any budget for this review)

· The Council sought a 4-6 week report back. (The mayor’s announcement has given no end date or timeline).

The Scope and terms of reference of Andy Foster’s review are so wide ranging that the consultant will have to work out what he thinks is in the Council’s mind of what needs to be reviewed.

The mayor has announced an agenda personal to him and alone appointed ‘independent’ reviewer, accountable to him to

• Examine relevant information pertaining to council decision-making

• Examine material that provides insights into the nature of the issues that the Council is facing – including media and social media coverage, recordings of council meetings and the records of council decision-making

• Undertake face to face meetings with all elected members and key people (internal and external)

• Observe the governance practice of the elected Council

• Observe the principles of natural justice with respect to any report it produces

• Report as the reviewer considers necessary to identify or describe the governance problems faced by the council and the factors or behaviours that contribute to them

• Provide a recommended action plan to allow the Council to take proactive steps to ensure it meets expectations to be a high performing council as soon as practicable

His review is essentially an open ended ratepayer funded fishing trip with no clear intention, no end date, and no specificity or clarity in the terms of reference. It will be up to the consultant to read the council’s mind.

The Council and its resources and funds exist to serve the people of Wellington and cannot be used by the mayor for his personal concerns and agenda, whatever they might be.

That is not acceptable at all.

Helene Ritchie is a former deputy mayor and former long standing Wellington City Councillor.


  1. David Mackenzie, 26. February 2021, 10:27

    Helene Ritchie, thank you for laying out what is wrong with Mr Foster’s process. Even if not couched as a criticism of him, it inevitably paints as a man of poor judgement and no concept of political leadership or responsibility to democratic processes.

  2. K, 26. February 2021, 13:38

    Excellent summary of the unacceptable situation that the Mayor has created. How will this review as currently constructed be paid for if council has not approved funding? Does the Mayor have discretionary spending in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars that is not accountable to anyone’s oversight or approval?

  3. Codger, 26. February 2021, 13:50

    I trust that Helene Ritchie will be one of the “key people (internal and external)” whom Mr Winder is required to meet on a “face to face” basis. Perhaps elected members can ask Mr Winder to do this and keep a record of their request. They should also, surely, nominate other such key people and record if they are successful. Former Council lawyer and employee Sally Dossor should be one of their recommendations. Since Mr Winder is required to have these meetings with all elected members, I ask that a full record can be kept by them of their meetings so as to serve as a check on the fullness and accuracy of Mr Winder’s report. Councillors, please stop moaning and get on with what you have been given.

  4. Brian Dawson, 26. February 2021, 15:12

    It should go without saying that while the mayor may not have to involve the other councillors in initiating a review, when the stated goal is to promote collegiality and better working relationships it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know he should. [via twitter]

  5. Georgina Campbell, 26. February 2021, 15:19

    Independent review into governance at Wellington City Council could cost up to almost $75,000. Asked about the cost earlier this week Mayor Andy Foster said: ‘It’s more a question of what is the cost of not doing it and not getting it right.’ [via twitter]

  6. Helene Ritchie, 26. February 2021, 15:35

    There is no knowing what it will cost, as there has been no City Council budget approved for this, there is no end date and no way of sizing it or limiting it. The approved budget in Tauranga was $350,000 for a team of 3 and Council specified report back in 4-6 weeks. Who knows what this will cost us, for how long and for what result?

  7. Christopher Bishop, 26. February 2021, 15:43

    For the princely sum of precisely zero dollars, my independent review: sort it out and act like adults. [via twitter]

  8. Toni, 26. February 2021, 15:58

    All very well for the Mayor to say ‘It’s more a question of what is the cost of not doing it and not getting it right.’ As far as I am concerned the never-ending unprofessional conduct of our elected representatives is the reason for this review. So why should ratepayers be forced into agreeing to our rates being spent on this. How many public services are going to be dropped to pay for it all?

  9. Dileepa Fonseka, 26. February 2021, 16:14

    Can’t you just cut and paste the Let’s Get Wellington Moving review bits into the new council review?
    “strategic leadership vacuum”…”current brand value in the market has meant that attracting and retaining talent is challenging”….”at risk of failing to deliver”. …etc etc.

  10. Ray Chung, 26. February 2021, 16:52

    The problem here Helene, is that if Andy took this to the council to make decisions on, it would never get anywhere as the same councillors who have been impeding progress would continue to obstruct any progress. I see that Jill Day, supported by Malcolm Sparrow, Fleur Fitzsimons, Rebecca Matthews, and Iona Pannett has called for LGNZ to undertake or commission the review. If the council could work together for the betterment of Wellingtonians. we wouldn’t be in this debacle. Perhaps Andy might offer to pay for this review out of his own pocket rather than charge ratepayers for it?

  11. Northland, 26. February 2021, 23:03

    It’s public amenity we want, not endless reviews. Like a functioning Civic Square, a functioning Central Library, functional public transport from the Railway Station to the Airport and pipes that don’t leak!

  12. Conor Hill, 27. February 2021, 9:18

    “Foster refused numerous interview requests, with a representative from his office advising on Friday morning he would be making no further comment on any aspect related to the review.” – Leadership.

  13. Claire, 27. February 2021, 10:13

    The problem is illustrated in the Dom Post this morning . Councillors were asked where they stand on the review. Seven of them had banded together to present the same answer. This is a faction, do they not think for themselves; they need to be individuals, and not hide behind Ideology or a ringleader. A group like this is impossible to lead.

  14. TrevorH, 27. February 2021, 11:02

    @ Conor Hill: The Dominion Post seemed to have already made up their minds when the paper called for the appointment of a Crown observer in an anonymous opinion piece published on Thursday. They also said,” Wellington’s problem is a political one. Foster, whose mayoralty was hampered from the start thanks to association with his single-issue backer Peter Jackson, has not learned the art of persuasion. He has not learned how to lead.” That single issue of course was Foster’s opposition to the Shelly Bay development which enjoyed wide support. As I have noted elsewhere, several Councillors subsequently reneged on their election commitment to oppose the development and voted for the sale of Council land, potentially exposing ratepayers to considerable infrastructure costs and provoking the current occupation of the site. Is this really what it is all about, the fallout from Shelly Bay?

  15. Toni, 27. February 2021, 11:42

    @ Claire: I was really disappointed in the group response in the DomPost. If those councillors cannot support the Mayor they should have the courage to say so as individuals, and not hide behind a meaningless response, which makes it hard to believe their claim they are committed to Wellington and will work constructively with the Mayor and colleagues. Wellingtonians deserve a lot better.

  16. Media watcher, 27. February 2021, 12:41

    It seems that the DomPost reporters and anonymous editorial writers like to read Wellington.Scoop and use it as a resource, which is good, but without acknowledgement. Why do they do that? Wellington.Scoop goes to great lengths to cite by hyperlink published material from the DomPost.
    Surely the DomPost knows what is plagiarism (or nearly plagiarism) and what is their original and should cite accordingly? Isn’t that what journalism ethics require?

  17. nemo, 27. February 2021, 15:11

    Here is an alternative viewpoint. Perhaps the issue is not, in fact, with Mayor Andy Foster, but instead perhaps it is with the councillors. We (the people) elect what we think are responsible people on to Council – but many of the councillors are finely principled, but profoundly uneducated in matters of running a multi-million dollar organisation. They’re not unified. They’re all firing off in different directions – they haven’t learnt the art of compromise. They are running around in circles like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. I blame the councillors for the problems, not the Mayor.

    So, are we (the people) to blame for electing this mayor? May I remind you of the list of possible candidates who stood for the top job?

    Diane Calvert, Jenny Condie, Andrew Cox, Andy Foster, Norbert Hausberg, Conor Hill, Justin Lester, Don Newt McDonald, Ajay Rathod. Of that list, only one has any council experience. I think it is fair to say that we made the right decision – and also the only decision we could make.

  18. Claire, 27. February 2021, 16:38

    Nemo you are correct – surely Wellington can serve up great candidates for Mayor and councillors. Auckland has Phil Goff, Christchurch has Leanne Dalzell. Who have we got in parliament? But of course skill, expertise in leadership communications, business and governance is essential. Applying to run might be a good idea. Like a job interview with a really good CV. Local Govt needs the best people.
    Yes Toni it’s a disgrace to put out a group answer as some of the councillors have done.

  19. Dollar Bucks, 27. February 2021, 16:50

    If these councillors are going to communicate as a group and vote as a group why not do away with all but one of them and save on the remuneration?

  20. Local, 27. February 2021, 17:07

    I am a bit sickened by the recent adulation reported by the DomPost and the mayor regarding his appointed reviewer Peter Winder as if this in some way enhances the call for a review. The simple fact is that the reviewer has been fortunate to have been appointed to senior roles in local government in his career, and is now a consultant with a consulting business. However, it seems he has never held elected office as a councillor, on a democratic Board, accountable to the public. This is a very different governance role from those he has held. He may find unlike Auckland and surrounding Councils where he has worked in the past, that Wellington City Council, always a highly political entity in the heart of a highly political City, is a beast like no other he has experienced.

  21. Conor, 27. February 2021, 18:10

    Claire – the group included both Sean Rush and Tamatha Paul, independents with almost diametrically opposed views. Nicola Young who sits closeish ideologically to the mayor was scathing of his performance.
    TrevorH – Foster has refused to comment on many stories. The DomPost is clearly sick of it, and fair enough too. A mayor has to be accountable.
    Nemo – despite his flaws, the previous mayor did a significantly better job of bringing together a similarly diverse bunch (too well I’d say). So the issue might be with the current mayor’s leadership and relationship-building ability.

  22. Claire, 27. February 2021, 18:45

    Conor the greens and labour are quite different also. The bloc formation is saying we are sticking to what we want to do, and not cooperating. It’s undermining and toxic. Why can’t they make individual statements. How do you form a functional team when they can’t speak for themselves. Nicola made a statement against Andy – she has individual integrity.

  23. Toni, 27. February 2021, 20:36

    Claire, I agree. The councillors are supposed to be representing the people in their individual wards, not forming a gang to bully everyone else, and acting out when they don’t get their own way.

  24. Hel, 27. February 2021, 21:24

    Credit to Councillor Young for showing a bit of integrity. The band of councillors who answered with a joint statement I can only assume feel this shows some form of unity, but the likes of Matthews, O’Neil etc who have criticised the Mayor’s leadership just look confused and weak.

  25. Ray Chung, 27. February 2021, 21:41

    Hi Claire, I’ve just been reading the DomPost and that was my first impression when I read the article saying what they thought of the review. It was no surprise seeing Day, Fitzsimons, Foon, Matthews, O’Neill and Paul having a combined response but it surprised me that Pannett and Rush joined this group as I thought these two were independent thinkers? The joint response read like a load of codswallop that said nothing.
    Nemo, I agree with you that looking at all the mayoral candidates at the last election, my thinking was to have someone with experience in local politics but now I consider that it’s equally if not more important to have someone with demonstrable business experience in private industry and not ex-civil servants. Tamatha Paul has said she’s considering running for mayor so can you even imagine that? The oint statement feels like it was written by one person and the rest of them just followed!

  26. Codger, 28. February 2021, 8:08

    There is lots of adverse comment about the gang of Councillors who could not think for themselves when given a free opportunity to give their views to the DomPost. I have already asked that they keep a full record of what they say to Mr Winder and now ask that they publish what they say.
    They have been given the opportunity. Now they should think for themselves for once.

  27. Ray Chung, 28. February 2021, 13:50

    Hi Codger, fat chance of that! Have you read their combined response in the DomPost? As an example in the first question: “Do you have confidence in mayor Andy Foster’s ability to lead the council?” Answer: “It is entirely up to the people of Wellington!” For crying out loud, this question required a yes or no answer but they preferred to waffle! Last question: “What are you personally going to do to help get the council back on track?” Answer: “We will work constructively with the mayor and our councillor colleagues. The WCC is on track to deliver all that is required of it. We are all committed to delivering for Wellington – the stakes are too high not to.” Now is this codswallop or what? They’ve never worked constructively so what will make them start now? The only track they’re on is a railway track heading to a train wreck!

  28. TrevorH, 28. February 2021, 15:19

    It’s clear that Local Government is not fit for purpose. Councils fail to attract the necessary skills to oversee the sound management of the infrastructure of a modern city, and to regulate effectively its development. Core functions such as managing the 3 waters and consenting should be taken over by Central Government. Long Live the Ministry of Works!

  29. Mike Mellor, 28. February 2021, 16:55

    It’s fascinating that when councillors don’t think or act as one, or don’t get in behind the mayor (noting that the system is designed so that he/she has just one vote, and has to exercise leadership to get a majority round the council table), or aren’t seen to compromise, they get criticised for not working as a team; but when a significant number of them, from all parts of the political spectrum, do compromise sufficiently to agree on a joint statement, they get criticised for not responding as individuals! They clearly can’t win…

    And there seems to be a bit of confusion about mayoral candidates, and about the role of councillors. At the last election, there were three (not just one) candidates with local government experience, including the incumbent mayor and a long-serving councillor, so the current mayor was certainly not “the only decision we could make”; and councillors aren’t there to run a multi-million dollar organisation – that’s the role of council management.

    The nearest (but inexact) analogy is that the councillors are the equivalent of a company’s board (with the mayor as chair), responsible for governance rather than management. (This is of course complicated by councillors being directly responsible to their ward electorates – and not to the mayor, please note.)

  30. Claire, 28. February 2021, 18:17

    I don’t expect the councillors to act as one at any time. That is the problem – a faction has been formed. Perhaps first-term councillors may feel more comfortable in a group with a spokesperson. I think people understand councillors represent their ward but in fact they have followed their own ideology too often. I expect individuals with integrity who can add to a larger direction set by the Mayor, not a faction that is undermining. If there was no problem there would be no review. I welcome it.

  31. Ray Chung, 1. March 2021, 14:04

    Mike, I understand what you’re saying and in my opinion, it’s not so much that they don’t get behind the mayor or agree but they’re destructive, not constructive. Opposing any proposals that the mayor has when they can’t come up with any better proposals is pointless. I’m not sure that they represent their wards either but I’m only speaking as a resident of Onslow-Western, not the other wards. I do agree with your analogy about being directors of a company but there’s a lot of inexperience with many of our councillors and that doesn’t help when debating issues so I feel that this is a big part of the problem. I agree with Claire that they follow their ideology too much and don’t act to the benefit of ratepayers.

  32. Helene Ritchie, 1. March 2021, 16:02

    There has been much comment here on the statement put out by eight councillors in response to three questions by the Dompost – Do you support the mayor? the review? Will you take part? I thought that their statement was quite an important demonstration of a constructive majority of (8) councillors working together in a democracy for the common good. It seemed to me that it did not demonstrate ‘infighting’ as the mayor has claimed and others continue to, or as the Dompost claims,’squabbles’, or ‘numerous attacks on Foster’s leadership abilities’ There was only one councillor who emphatically did not support the mayor. The 8 said it was up to up us the public to decide -and so it is.

    The statement of the 8 councillors has never been published in full here, yet some contributors have criticised the councillors for it. If I knew how to hyperlink, I would add it! Perhaps someone, or one of the councillors involved can hyperlink, or find it and publish it here?

  33. Peter Kerr, 1. March 2021, 17:25

    Ray, I’m sorry but a councillor in no way owes an allegiance to a mayor. The mayor is simply the chair of the Council and as such has one vote like the others. The mayor needs, when required, to attempt a solution, if possible.
    Let’s not forget the political allegiance of the Mayor, when he stood for New Zealand First at the last election. There’s more than a few voters who became exasperated at the tortuous maneuvering and obstruction when that party could exercise it.
    Independent thinking doesn’t mean an individual exercise of one’s views. In the current case there is sufficient unity among like minded councillors to oppose the direction and performance of the Mayor. So be it.
    For thirty-five odd years the democratic operation of local government has been steadily strangled. Starting with Lange’s (another hopeless manager, in this case, of parliamentary representatives) reforms, aided by Douglas and Bassett, then the neo-liberal National efforts to complete the job, we have reached the stage where the Executive calls the tune.
    The exercise of your local government vote is barely worth the effort now.
    More power to the hands of those who will oppose the Executive and its over-bearing influence on its affiliates within the Council. Writing off new councillors because they lack “experience” is discriminatory to age, condescending, and lazy thinking. “Experience” has brought us nothing but woe and wasted opportunity for local government in Wellington. The years of angry disenchanted comments, about the decisions of this Council, to these columns bears that out.

  34. Horsey boy, 1. March 2021, 17:27

    Helene I guess it comes across as them trying to put on a show of unity now that there is a review. Kind of saying hey look we all get along together. It also comes across as proof there is a bloc. What was wrong with coming out with individual statements? After all they keep telling us how they should be able to say/tweet whatever they want.

  35. Jane, 1. March 2021, 17:40

    @Helene I think this is the link you’re looking for?

  36. Helene Ritchie, 1. March 2021, 18:10

    Thanks Jane yes. The responses of all the councillors are in the link. I don’t think this is a bloc of 8. It is just councillors trying to find common ground where possible, and saying quite correctly that it is the public’s right to say whether we have faith in the mayor, and in our triennial vote (Unlike the Regional Council where the chair is voted in by by councillors).

    Jill Day, Takapū/Northern Ward, councillor since 2016; Fleur Fitzsimons, Paekawakawa/Southern Ward, councillor since 2017; Laurie Foon,
    Paekawakawa/Southern Ward, councillor since 2019; Iona Pannett, Pukehīnau/Lambton Ward, councillor since 2007; Rebecca Matthews,
    Wharangi/Onslow-Western Ward, councillor since 2019; Teri O’Neill, Motukairangi/Eastern Ward, councillor since 2019; Tamatha Paul,
    Pukehīnau/Lambton Ward, councillor since 2019; Sean Rush, Motukairangi/Eastern Ward, councillor since 2019. These councillors chose to submit a combined response. “Councillors appreciate this opportunity to clarify recent events and demonstrate to Wellingtonians that whilst we share many differences we collaborate well and function as our democracy demands of us,” they said.

    Q: What do you think is the main cause of the council’s current difficulties? A: The council just approved a record investment in water infrastructure and a solution to sludge treatment, which will ultimately let us reduce our waste; last year we approved a nation-leading Pandemic Recovery Plan and we are starting to deliver affordable rental homes; we have approved many other matters unanimously. Disagreements are not “difficulties”, they are healthy and an important part of living in a democracy. Q: What are you personally going to do to help the council get back on track? A: We will work constructively with the mayor and our councillor colleagues. The WCC is on track to deliver all that is required of it. We are all committed to delivering for Wellington – the stakes are too high not to.

  37. Dave B, 2. March 2021, 2:06

    If anyone asked me what I thought was the main cause of the council’s current difficulties, I would say something about stubbornly forging on with projects which are unnecessary, unpopular with the public, and an inappropriate use of ratepayers’ money. The Convention Centre tops the list. The proposed redevelopment of Frank Kitts Park for a Chinese garden also rankles, as does the on-going build-out of other public space on the waterfront. Then there’s the deliberate burying of a report which found that the library could be fixed for a reasonable sum. Also the Shelley Bay fiasco. It seems there is a tendency among certain councillors and council staff to do their own thing rather than listen to ratepayers, and division within the council is healthy if it means that other councillors are calling this out.
    I leave neglected-infrastructure off the above list because the seeds of that were sown by many previous councils, leaving this council to cop all the effluent.

  38. Local, 2. March 2021, 9:29

    I like that Dave B is focussing on the issues facing Wellington, rather than the internecine stuff that the mayor has asked an ‘independent’ reviewer to look at. Wouldn’t it be great if we could see a team of council candidates across all political parties, with these issues on their ticket (and some more), and putting Wellington first before vanity projects … That would be better than just cardboard faces.

    I am worried about the highly complex and risky Library project that councillors have opted for when there is (and has been for years) an alternative which could get the job done quickly, efficiently and less expensively.

  39. Pauline, 2. March 2021, 9:59

    Well said Dave B re Convention Centre, Frank Kitts Park, Library, Shelly Bay and pity the Council officers and Councillors don’t listen to the public with regard to consultation.

  40. Ray Chung, 2. March 2021, 15:25

    Hi Peter, I concur that councillors’ allegiance isn’t to the mayor but it is to their constituents, the ratepayers. I do consider that experience in business is a necessity to be able to perform well in council. I’m not being discriminatory to anyone because of their age but their lack of experience both in business and competence. I’m basing this opinion on their comments and behaviour to date. I’m not attacking the validity of any of the projects but that we should be looking at ways of saving money, not continuing to spend it. The ages of these councillors aren’t a consideration.
    Regarding your comments about Andy’s political affiliation, I didn’t consider this as I firmly believe that central politics has no place in local politics. I do believe that Andy aspires for greater heights in politics so perhaps he thought that NZ First fitted with his beliefs or it could be that there was little chance of him running as a candidate in Wellington under the banner of any of the major parties as they would already have had their candidates lined up. So perhaps he was just capitalising on an opportunity but I’m just speculating.

  41. Conor, 2. March 2021, 16:06

    Everyone on here pleading for a unified council might want to remember that the Convention Centre had unanimous support. Be careful what you wish for!

  42. Riding crop, 2. March 2021, 18:18

    Conor – true about the convention centre but I guess you could argue that the Koolaid was drunk pre-covid.