Wellington Scoop

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.”

Gary Poole to be replaced after 15 years
Council decision to advertise Gary Poole’s job


  1. Trish, 6. April 2013, 14:27

    Our elected councillors do not need to have their hands “on the steering wheel”, just in charge of deciding where we are going. I don’t want to go back to the time when councillors were employing the bus drivers and deciding their overtime arrangements.

    Can someone please check whether the proposal to contract out street cleaning was in CitiOps’ annual plan signed off by the council? My bet is that it would have been carefully worded so as not to be noticed.

  2. Bryan Pepperell, 6. April 2013, 14:58

    From: Bryan Pepperell
    Sent: Wednesday, 7 November 2012 8:36 p.m.
    To: ‘Sally Dossor’
    Subject: Report 4 Amendment S& P 8 November 2012
    REPORT 4

    • Delete 2 – 11
    • New 2 and 3 as below

    2. Recommend to Council that the activities of the following Council CCO’s are brought in-house:

    a) Basin Reserve Trust
    b) Partnership Wellington Trust
    c) Positively Wellington Venues Limited
    d) Capacity Infrastructure Services Limited
    e) Wellington Cable Car Limited
    f) Wellington Museums Trust
    g) Wellington Zoo Trust
    h) Wellington Waterfront Limited

    3. Recommend to Council to instruct the Chief Executive to agree a transition process with the Board of each CCO to give effect to recommendation 2 and report back to the Strategy and Policy Committee on the transition plan for agreement by SPC by 31 March 2013.

    Cr Pepperell
    Seconded Justin Lester

    Voting for were: Stephanie Cook, Iona Pannett, Bryan Pepperell, Helene Ritchie

    Voting against were: Mayor Celia Wade-Brown
    Councillors Ahipene Mercer, Ngaire Best, Jo Coughlan, Paul Eagle, Leonie Gill, Justin Lester, Ian McKinnon, John Morrison …
    … Councillors ‘asleep at the wheel’

  3. Donald McGregor, 6. April 2013, 15:03

    Very clear and succinct article.

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

    The question is answered by asking whether or not he is the WCC CEO.

  4. Elaine Hampton, 6. April 2013, 19:57

    A clear case of our ‘public servants masquerading as our masters.’
    Councillors have to read their documents and understand the verb-age and terminology. (example – view shafts – read alleyways)
    Why would anyone leave the Wellington Waterfront Company owing the ratepayers $15 million and then advance another $5 million, making $20 million in all, and not bring them back under direct control?
    The most appalling example may be the recent flyover report.

  5. NigelTwo, 6. April 2013, 20:16

    This confirms my fears that democracy is not working anymore.
    Why bother voting when the ones you vote for are just figureheads these days. Yes Minister lives on!

  6. Maximus, 7. April 2013, 8:27

    Bryan, that notice from the Council minutes, while helpful, doesn’t really explain it to me, sorry. Maybe I’m just thick, but bringing the management of those organisations is not the same as contracting out the services of their operations level staff. And lumping Basin Trust, WWL and WZT etc together along with Capacity doesn’t seem like a good idea. Why weren’t they voted on separately?
    Can you find the minutes of the WCC meeting where it was discussed that the 140 jobs of the Citi Ops workers were to be thrown open to competition and contracts would be available to external bodies? Because I’m not sure why it seems to have been a surprise to the Mayor and others, including Morrison. Surely, SURELY, there must have been Council meetings where the discussion was – right, today we are going to debate street cleaning – do we want to continue with this in- house, or is that going to be put up for tender as a possible out-source project? If that did indeed happen, the Council must have known, and voted and agreed. And if that meeting did not occur, then who made the decision? Poole on his own? Without telling anyone? Without any notification in the paper? With no one noticing that the contracts were up for service? I don’t believe that. The Council MUST have known every inch of the way.

  7. Bryan Pepperell, 7. April 2013, 16:25

    Maximus wants further elaboration and Council minutes about outsourcing.
    In 2001 we voted to retain City Operations. That was policy but at the same time Council had given wide ranging delegations to the C.E.O who was still committed to outsourcing. Changes were incremental and presented as a fait accompli. (Trucks and equipment needed replacing, costs were very high. We no longer had service staff to keep the fleet.) Death by a thousand cuts. We were told that rubbish collectors had come up with wonderful innovations to solve collection problems but they were rewarded with being outsourced. The CEO under delegated power didn’t have to tell us anything. Political policy direction was overridden by delegated authority. The political will of Council was being ignored by the CEO. The restructure was so concerning that a new CEO was felt necessary. How could council policy not be taken into account with delegations? What was the Mayor and the chair of Strategy and Policy thinking? Last year I asked at a full council meeting who had given the directive to dismantle CityOps . That was followed by my move to bring all council services and organization back in house. Four votes in support. The political will was not there to change the direction of the Council or CEO.

  8. Maximus, 7. April 2013, 21:02

    Thank you Clr Pepperell, most informative. I’m presuming that the new chappie, Mr Lavery, will be continuing along that path of out-sourcing (seeing as he’s written the book on it!), and so, soon, there will be even less directly employed Council staff.
    Somehow, I’m reminded of the 80s push to get rid of Government departments, such as the Ministry of Works. For reasons of money saving, etc. it’s only now, as the country faces a bill of billions for shoddy workmanship on our houses, that we realize how much that really cost us…

  9. Bryan Pepperell, 8. April 2013, 3:43

    On Sarurday night, Mana Newtown screened “The Land Of Plenty.” I had to leave early, but couldn’t help thinking that doing a replay of what Labour then National did kind of missed the point. The banks just got away with those incredible interest rates and of course under capitalized farms couldn’t meet the high interest bills and farms got sold up. People stopped spending, businesses closed, New Zealand’s bank got bailed out and then sold. Profits got privatized and losses got socialized. Money left the country and two weeks after Lange /Douglas took control the money came back and the Forex dealers cleaned up and so did the banks. A very tangled web of intrigue. Council debt will cost $287m in interest payments over the LTP. Councillors agreed to spend what they didn’t have and Mayor Prendergast went on about the need to have inter generational debt and Mayor Wade-Brown (a councillor at the time) didn’t have a problem with that. Neither understood the folly of the debt driven economy or what compound numbers do to our ability to move. The bank now has us by the throat.

  10. Pollyanna, 10. April 2013, 21:50

    With regard to the quote that “councillors want a more active role for elected members in decision making about whether services are delivered in-house or contracted out” – were they advised that in December 2012 there was an advertisement for “Registration of Interest for Road Maintenance Contracts for 2013/16”. If any contracts were awarded, were the elected members of council consulted and advised before signed off? Perhaps they should in future read the public notices.

  11. Phil C, 12. April 2013, 22:25

    The ignorance of the councillors will be a welcome wedge for Kevin Lavery to drive through the council, demonstrating his belief that councillors are but a side-show to the important business of unelected officials running your city.