Celia Wade-Brown: a different, collaborative leadership style

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by Sue Kedgley
Who would want to be mayor of Wellington? Clearly, not many people. At the moment no one else has put their hand up to stand against incumbent mayor Celia Wade-Brown, despite the efforts of a group of Wellingtonians – apparently spearheaded by Rex Nichols and Chris Parkin – to find a high profile candidate to contest the mayoralty.

When Wade-Brown first decided to stand for the mayoralty, she readily concedes she was only half-expecting to win and her narrow victory took most Wellingtonians (and the media) by surprise. At times, her mayoral term has been contentious. She has faced considerable criticism including from some who say she’s not decisive enough, and that her Council has not achieved a lot.

Yet as she seeks re-election later this year, Wade-Brown defends her record vigorously, arguing that the financial climate and budgetary constraints have necessitated a period of consolidation in the Council, focussed on low-key ‘nuts and bolts’ issues such as fixing infrastructure and earthquake prone buildings, rather than high-flying projects. In her view, she offers Wellington ‘a different, collaborative leadership style that brings in everybody’s ideas, rather than a top-down, one-voice-for-the-region approach.’ At the local body elections in October, Wellingtonians will decide whether she is offering the kind of leadership they want.

Kedgley : Kerry Prendergast had the support of the business community. Have you been able to generate support amongst the business community?

Wade-Brown : I’ve had strong support from some businesses such as Matakino Technology who invited me to launch their new offices recently, and are having a lot of success globally. They love the kind of Wellington that I –and my supporters– love—a compact city, with more walking and cycling and less reliance on one person, one car…

I meet regularly with the Chamber of Commerce and I have a good relationship with them. I have to say they represent a constituency that says the most important thing is to get more roads to the airport and extend the airport runway, and I’m not sure that’s the view of businesses as a whole in Wellington. I also have regular meetings with different businesses…from Weta Digital; all the companies that support film ; the social entrepreneurial businesses. There’s a lot of growth in those areas of business. And one thing I would strongly have in common with all businesses is the need to promote Wellington as [being] not only a central government town.

Some Councillors such as John Morrison seem implacably opposed to you. Do you think you’ve been effective in getting support across party lines?

All our elected Councillors believe they’re doing the best for Wellington, so what I’ve tried to do is to find their strengths and work with that. I wouldn’t put John Morrison near the transport portfolio. But just because we disagree in that area doesn’t mean he doesn’t do a lot for the sporting community and he’s been one of the real movers and shakers in getting Australian football to play their Anzac game here, for example. So my strategy is to find areas of their strengths and give them responsibility in those areas.

Do you expect to be contesting the mayoralty against Fran Wilde at the next election, and if not her, then who?

It’s been really interesting that no one else has yet committed to standing for the Mayoralty. It’s a democracy so I really hope we have a range of views and visions articulated during the election. But I must say that our smart capital vision that talks about people, jobs, a healthy environment and a smart digital approach is getting strong support. It’s got unanimous support across the Council, so maybe people do feel we are on the right track.

Do you find it surprising that seven months out from the next election, no other contender has yet thrown their hat into the ring – despite the efforts of Rex Nichols, Chris Parkin and others who have apparently formed a group to search for a candidate to stand against you?

Until the end of last year there were a number of people who would have assumed there would be a super-city in place before the next elections, and that would have put some people off because it would be a huge thing to have to campaign right across the region for the mayoralty. But with the last minute changes to the Local Government Act (that allow referendums to be initiated by local communities) it’s clear that the smallest part of the region could force a referendum by a 10% petition in their area. I think that change has thrown some of the right into a degree of disarray.

This is the first part of an interview which was carried out last month for Scoop’s monthly Werewolf by former Green Party MP Sue Kedgley. You can read the complete interview here.


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