Trust, confidence and suspicion: what our city councillors didn’t know

by Lindsay Shelton
“I didn’t even know it’s happening … I think the first thing is councillors don’t even know about it.”

Those were the words of Councillor John Morrison confessing on March 23 that he didn’t know about the council’s plans to spend $350,000 on new offices for the mayor.

There was a similar “didn’t know” reaction from other councillors on Thursday, when they learnt about job cuts that have been made at CitiOps, where staffing levels have fallen from 200 to 40 in recent years. Councillor Paul Eagle had called Thursday’s meeting. He wanted to stop 27 more job cuts. But he was too late.

Why too late? It seems from what councillors are saying that the regime run by outgoing chief executive Gary Poole didn’t have a good record of keeping them informed about some of his decisions.

Councillor Justin Lester said there had been a “breach of confidence” between staff and councillors, with elected members not kept in the loop.

The DomPost quotes Mayor Wade-Brown as saying “There was a decision made [in 2001] that seemed simple at the time, and now we hear that there are less than 40 people in that business unit . . . how did that happen? Why were our hands not on the steering wheel?”

Their concerns were picked up by Wellington employers.

“There are clearly systemic problems in council processes that need sorting, and fast,” said the Employers Chamber of Commerce. It demanded that “councillors must show leadership” – which seems to be what councillors were belatedly trying to do at Thursday’s meeting, held just days after the departure of Gary Poole.

After the meeting, the mayor described a “big change” for the council. She said councillors want

a more active role for elected members in decision-making about whether services are delivered in-house or contracted out… We want those service delivery decisions to be explicit and under the control of elected members … The big change today is that we want to have a bigger role in the big decisions – because we are ultimately accountable, as we should be.

But this wasn’t possible till after the departure of Gary Poole?

His successor Kevin Lavery, in the job for less than a week, will be responsible for the big change. He was quoted as saying there are “trust and confidence issues” between staff and councillors that need to be addressed. “Clearly there is a little bit of suspicion and concern, but we have to deal with it.”

The DomPost is correct when it says this morning: “His job is to make sure there are ‘no surprises’ for the mayor or the elected representatives.”

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