Wellington Scoop

A vote of no confidence?

Today’s announcement that Andy Foster is joining the ranks of disaffected councillors seeking the mayoralty has underlined how bad things have become at the Wellington City Council – it’s become a free-for-all to displace Celia Wade-Brown.

Of course, some candidacies are more serious than others. Jo Coughlan and Celia Wade-Brown are duking it out for the mayoral chains without the fallback option of a Ward seat, but Nicola Young, Helene Ritchie, Justin Lester and new entrant Andy Foster all appear to be putting a dollar each way. So perhaps there’s some truth to the idea that their mayoral campaigns are just a way to lift their profiles ahead of hard-fought Ward races.

Or perhaps not.

All the council challengers seem to be saying the same thing – that leadership around the council table has been lacking, and that they have no confidence that Wellington’s future challenges will be addressed with Celia at the helm. Some of the frustration undoubtedly stems from the lack of momentum on key projects, such as the Town Hall refurbishment (or complete lack thereof), while there also appears to be widespread dissatisfaction with transport projects.

The mishandling of the Island Bay Cycleway may also be a factor. Celia has been generous in the blame-spreading, but there’s no getting away from the fact that some councillors feel they’ve been unfairly tarred with that particular brush.

And in that context, the councillors who want to see an airport extension must be looking at the cycleway and wondering about leadership – if a couple of million dollars worth of local cycleway can be turned into such a fiasco, what’s the odds of a major airport extension worth a third of a billion dollars being successful with the same people in charge?

This level of antipathy for a two-term mayor appears unprecedented. We’re struggling to think of another example where fully one third of the council has effectively revolted against its leadership, after less than six years.

And even if by some miracle Celia does retain the mayoralty, it’s hard to imagine how the council can function in its next term. Looking around the council chamber, Celia will be eyeballing a large number of people whose campaigns represented a vote of no confidence in her leadership. It’s hard to see how Wellington is going to decisively move forward in the circumstances, particularly given that most of the senior portfolio leaders and the current deputy mayor are to be found in the ranks of the dissenters.

So what’s the solution?

No matter what, it’s going to be a hard-fought campaign compared to the cake-walk we thought the incumbent might enjoy just a few weeks ago. But the question about the viability of the resulting council does need to be addressed. The last thing Wellington needs is a lame-duck mayor with a council in open revolt – it’s a recipe for contention and inaction. There’s a growing consensus from the people around her that her leadership isn’t working, so perhaps the question we need to ask is – should Celia step aside and let a fresh face take charge?


  1. Pablo, 20. July 2016, 20:02

    Whoever enforces a max # of terms in the council will get my vote. Politicians should not stay longer than 2 terms. [via twitter]

  2. Jack Little, 20. July 2016, 20:39

    When candidates go too far from the centre they loose touch with ratepayers & what’s really important. With Celia & Justin on the far left and Nicola on the far right it looks really like a centre Mayor-only battle between Jo Coughlan and Nic Leggett for real focus on jobs and growth for Wellington – and that’s saying a lot when Nic’s not even from Wellington!

  3. CC, 20. July 2016, 22:24

    Celia and Justin on the far left? You’ve got to be joking Jack. Both are beholden to the neo-liberal CEO and the endless whims of the business and property speculator sectors. Obviously, the far right is represented by Jo Coughlan, except for the fact that she constantly seems to find private sector initiatives that she thinks the ratepayers should subsidise. An additional worry is that the Councillor thinks her hot-line to the Minister of Finance may provide an open-sesame to tax money as well. Nicola, despite her pedigree, seems to fail to reach the far-right descriptor and Nic’s claim to fame appears to be his ability to ramp up rates, as in Porirua, with little to show for it. Not to worry though, there are other Council seat warmers who seem to be joining the queue for a grab at the Mayoral chains. It seems the only thing missing is a capable and competent candidate who has the ability to consult with, and listen to those that pay the wages. Where is the intelligent Generation Zero candidate when one is desperately needed?

  4. Charlotte, 20. July 2016, 22:47

    Very good article thanks. Recent resignations reinforce how bad the Celia/Justin/Andy regime has been. Still not sure about Nick. I still suspect that he is just trying to get a springboard for the launch of his new Social Democrat Party. It could well be Coughlan (who assured me today she will not be seeking a place in the 2017 Parliament).

  5. Mark Cubey, 20. July 2016, 23:43

    Justin Lester is not standing for Council. [via twitter]

  6. Charlotte, 21. July 2016, 6:20

    Thanks Mark. I am a bit confused about Justin. Someone suggested to me the other day that his team were worried that he wasn’t resonating despite the money and resource being put in. They were suggesting that he might like to think about running in another ward so that he could keen name recognition up for the challenge to Peter Dunne next year. But it seems he has decided not to run in Northern.

  7. Nora, 21. July 2016, 6:29

    The lack of confidence reflects on the CEO whose contribution has not been great. He wanted to demolish the Town Hall, it would appear that councillors are not free to approach council officers for information, council meetings are fewer, and I understand a high turnover of staff.

  8. Will, 21. July 2016, 8:27

    Isn’t Nicola Young the Generation Zero candidate? Her stuff on pedestrianising Lambton Quay and challenging the disastrous groupthink on the runway extension fits the GenZero playbook perfectly. Lester, Coughlan and Leggett are the environmental dinosaurs, with runways and motorways galore.

  9. Ian Apperley, 21. July 2016, 12:00

    “Where is the intelligent Generation Zero candidate when one is desperately needed?”

    Bloody good question. I think that the Gens x, y, and z just see the Council as a dysfunctional dinosaur. Frankly, you can make a lot more change from outside the (burning) circus tent than you can inside.

  10. Laidback Chap, 21. July 2016, 15:30

    Are we all getting our knickers in a twist? The only officially nominated Mayoral Candidate is Helene Ritchie. How many of the so called candidates will show they just wanted media coverage. Also did Jack Yan announce a year ago he was going to stand? When will he remind us of that?

  11. Charlotte, 21. July 2016, 15:42

    Nora, this is what is worrying me a little about Nick Leggett coming in from P Town. He seems extremely close to the property developers and in turn they seem to be in love with the CEO. Sure, some of the dysfunction evident on the front page of the Dom Post is the fault of Celia/Justin/Andy but surely the CEO must have considerable responsibility for internal culture? So would Nick as Mayor mean a lack of any oversight of the CEO and even more property developer control of WCC than we have right now? Then there is is his wider long term political ambition and animosity to the current Labour leadership…..

  12. CC, 21. July 2016, 18:19

    Charlotte – The Deputy and mayoral aspirant is an Executive Member of the Wellington Property Council and previously worked at Director level at CB Richard Ellis and Jones Lang LaSalle. He would no doubt trump Nick Leggett in assisting the CEO when it comes to smoothing the way for developers. Also, isn’t Justin Lester responsible for the CEO’s performance reviews?

  13. Rumpole, 21. July 2016, 20:41

    They all need to appear before a jury and be sentenced accordingly. Home detention denied.

  14. The City is Ours, 21. July 2016, 21:15

    CC and Charlotte: In response to an official information act request in April, Peter Brennan. the council’s Manager Property, replied;
    A. Is the Wellington City Council a member of the New Zealand Property Council?
    B. If so, how much in membership fees are paid annually?
    Council’s corporate membership fee for 2014/15 was $3,253.00.
    C. If so, does it intend to renew its membership?

  15. CC, 21. July 2016, 22:39

    Thanks City is Ours. In some areas of public life, such affiliations would be considered unethical, especially when the Council acts in concert with Property Council members in Court proceedings brought by ratepayers (e.g. Curtis Street or various waterfront appeals).

  16. Charlotte, 21. July 2016, 22:43

    I knew about Leggett’s intimate connections with the property speculators. But Lester as well? This is all quite shocking.

    I feel for Justin. Tonight’s Morgan poll will probably be giving him cause for reflection about his chances of a pay rise by moving into Parliament. (And now by not standing in a Ward there is no fall back). But it might be encouraging Nick, Josie, Andrew Bowater etc to up activity on the breakaway Party front.

  17. Marion Leader, 22. July 2016, 16:18

    I agree with CC. And I expect that a conflict of interests would stop the Mayor & Co from belonging to any ratepayers’ associations.

  18. Nora, 25. July 2016, 2:01

    Charlotte, you may well be worried about the resignation of Pete Whiting after only 4 months with the WCC, saying council powerbrokers largely ignored his experience and ideas. In reply Council Acting Chief Executive Greg Orchard said “Mr Whiting had some arguably justifiable grievances.” But ratepayers have to worry – where is the CEO Kevin Lavery?