Wellington Scoop

What makes a good councillor?

by Troy Mihaka
What makes a good city councillor? What qualities should we seek in our public officials and how do we decide for whom to vote, so we can be sure hat Wellington is in safe hands. Before we all forget about the City Council until the next election.

For a start, I think it is more important to look at what the City Council actually do. They govern our city, overseeing decisions on how our rates money is spent and how our city runs. These are the people who have been chosen to represent your voice and make sure that your best interests are being upheld.

During this campaign period I have been making the statement: “If the City Council don’t start saying more ‘Yes!’ then how can progress happen?”

As we move closer to the elections, the Council seem to have started saying “yes” frequently. A number of projects have been receiving approval. Although I do wonder whether micro-chipping all domestic cats is at the same level of necessity as the traffic improvements needed around the Basin Reserve, or extra funding for our homeless shelters.

While it might not be as newsworthy as large-scale vanity projects (such as the film museum), getting the basics right is an important function of any City Council. In fact, it is their core function. To ensure city funds (your rates money) is being used in ways to actually keep the city running day to day. While tourist attractions and large vanity projects can encourage economic growth and bring visitors to our city, there needs to be a balance.

When the community speaks, the City Council should listen. In the past term we have had two major infrastructure projects on which the community have been very vocal. The Basin Flyover project is a good example of the community exercising their voice. Unfortunately, that same voice was ignored when it came to the construction of the cycleway in Island Bay Parade.

Cycleways are not a new invention, having been implemented in a number of cities around the world. Yet our Council turned this simple concept into a hodgepodge of bureaucracy. Perhaps next on the agenda, the City Council will reinvent the wheel?

Democracy means compromise. We need a City Council to speak with the voice of our community and to find the best solutions for everyone. This means taking the good comments and the bad, and finding an equal ground. We have had a number of projects come before the council in the past few years only to be shot back as the result of minor petitions from the community. I’m not saying I think this is a bad thing, but it does start to get a little frustrating when (for example) a plan to build a new hotel is declined because it might obscure the views from Wadestown.

People need to have their opinions heard, and should always be able to voice them, but the ultimate goal needs to be kept in mind. Democracy is about compromise. If we want our city to grow, we have to work together to find the solutions and not let our goals falter at the first hurdle.

There is such a thing as too many cooks. We see it often in politics. When a large team of leaders comes together in a committee they do what comes naturally, they all try to lead. It can be quite a task to put aside the ego, but as Sam Rayburn once said, “you cannot be a leader and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too.”

Being a member of the City Council is not as easy as the majority of councillors make it seem (to their credit), and there can be a lot of personal politics at play in the council chamber. This term we have seen a dark side to local politics as the “toxic culture” of the council has become exposed. I do not believe that only the councillors are to blame, but as community leaders our elected officials should be able to rise above such petty politicking.

Lack of cohesion amongst our City Council has become a major hurdle. Watching any of the City Council meetings on the WgtnCC YouTube channel can provide examples of how frequently personal disagreements will hold up meetings and Council business. These people are here to help our city in the direction which best suits our citizens, not just to collect a wage. If the councillors cannot put aside personal disagreements, then maybe it is time for them to move on.

Balance is the key to success. I would love to see more tourist attractions and large iconic features in our city. Working in Tourism I would love to push for new iconic architecture and monuments. But getting the basics right is where we need to start.

A new movie museum is a nice idea, but how long will it take me to drive there through city traffic? Building a new runway at the airport is one thing, but where will we accommodate the extra visitors without creating new hotels, and will the extra visitors be able to stay in Wellington when even our homeless shelters are full?

If the City Council don’t start saying more “Yes!” than how can progress happen? Yes to balance and community involvement. Yes to getting the basics right. Yes to finding the right solutions for our city. Progress means the big flashy projects still happen, but also that we know our priorities are in the right place.

Independent City Council candidate Troy Mihaka is a small business owner (tourism) and hospitality worker resident in Mount Victoria. At 31 years of age he is standing in Wellington City’s Lambton Ward, and aims to represent the city’s small businesses and young professionals.



  1. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 19. August 2016, 10:12

    I was with you Troy until this bit: “A new movie museum is a nice idea, but how long will it take me to drive there through city traffic?” You don’t! it’ll be a stone’s throw from the main bus route spine and just across the road from Te Papa and the waterfront promenade and cycling route.
    The bit about tourist numbers and lack of accommodation was also a bit odd, but my inference was that the city needs to streamline the process of approving new hotel developments. If numbers rise, hotels will be developed and jobs will be created. If people enjoy their visit they’ll tell others and tourist numbers will rise further. That’s how a city grows – tourism will and should play a big part in Wellington’s future (as long as tourist operators all pay a living wage to their staff). Transport infrastructure and services also need to expand in parallel.

    The remainder of the article was sound and thoughtful. Best wishes for a successful campaign.

    Chris Calvi-Freeman
    Independent candidate for Wellington City Council, Eastern Ward

  2. Laidbackchap, 19. August 2016, 10:18

    A good city councillor listens and acts on what the community says. It should be a collaborative approach between council officers, councillors & community. This never happens, consultation is a tick box exercise with predetermined outcomes before consultation even happens.

  3. Trevor, 19. August 2016, 11:53

    A good councillor remembers that the Council exists in the first instance to provide efficient core services and infrastructure for the city. They are also at all times aware that rates are taken from residents of widely differing financial means under the ultimate threat of legal compulsion and are not monopoly money to spend on memorialising themselves with wasteful, feel-good follies.

  4. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 19. August 2016, 11:55

    To be fair, Laidbackchap, this is exactly what “Get Wellington Moving” aims to do, with its back-to-basics approach. The problem is, half the respondents appear to have said: “We want more roads, more parking, less disruption from buses, less road-take for cycle lanes…” while the other half have said “no more roads, restrict cars in the central city, spend the money on more public transport and cycling…” Are we any further ahead after this consultation? Can we unblock the Basin for through traffic AND have better cycleways and public transport? I believe we can. But whatever gets proposed, someone is gonna be unhappy!.
    CCF (Can’t Consult Forever)

  5. Laidbackchap, 19. August 2016, 12:39

    I find it hard to believe it would be exactly 50%. With any online consultation, they need to block people from sending more than one submission or option. This doesn’t currently happen and anyone with a self interest or lobby groups can rig the results.

  6. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 19. August 2016, 16:33

    No, I said “about half”. The important point is that consultation should never be misconstrued as a referendum. Unfortunately, consultation undertaken late in the piece is often seen as just that. Consultation should take place to gauge the public’s view of a situation or opportunity and provide guidance to those developing a solution. Good consultation takes place early enough that it can genuinely do this. Unfortunately, with transport and urban planning issues (subjects I’m versed in), the community often fails in engage as people can’t always get a handle on the possible solutions until they are drawn up in sufficient detail. Some people even say “come back when you got something to consult us on”. That’s understandable, as people may be ambivalent about a general proposal (eg a cycle route) but concerned only about the fine details which may be what affect them individually.

    Best practice is to consult a second time when there are one or two preferred options, but as I said above, it shouldn’t then be seen as a simple referendum, as the majority view may prove unworkable, unsafe, unaffordable, or unfair to an affected minority. That’s where, hopefully, the judgement of the various professionals and the elected councillors or MPs come into play. Of course consultation is expensive, but not so much as getting it wrong!

    CCF (Can Consult Fairly)

  7. Concerned Wellingtonian, 20. August 2016, 9:36

    A good city councillor should not come from a narrow background of experience as an MP. In the debate on going into public-excluded about the movie museum I was astonished to hear Mark Peck comparing the Council to the Cabinet and saying that the Cabinet met in secrecy and the Council should do the same then release the papers afterwards. No wonder things have been screwed up!

  8. Durden, 20. August 2016, 15:32

    CCF says “Best practice is to consult a second time when there are one or two preferred options, but … it shouldn’t then be seen as a simple referendum, as the majority view may prove unworkable, unsafe, unaffordable, or unfair to an affected minority. That’s where, hopefully, the judgement of professionals and elected councillors or MPs come into play”

    At the second stage, if a majority says one thing, and the council does not agree and wants to make a “judgement”, then something is wrong. It most likely got the options wrong, or/and has a predetermined outcome in mind, or has been captured by niche interests and would like to support them.

    One more thing, there is always the third option–“do nothing” if a majority does not like either option. It means go back to the drawing board. Any council worth its salt will put that option on the table–not an either or.

  9. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 20. August 2016, 18:11

    You’re quite right Durden. Even as I wrote that piece I thought it might get that reaction. But life is often not straightforward. As a project is developed, further information may come to hand which changes the relative merits of the options. Let’s say for example the first consultation suggested a way forward, and this was developed as option A, but a further option, B, was also developed by the project team, and was then considered by the team to be superior to A. A and B are both put to the second consultation (not putting A up would be ill-advised when as it had been previously indicated as the possible solution) and a small majority preferred A in the second consultation but the technical evidence, cost or whatever other consideration clearly indicated that option B was superior (for example because it avoided a big disbenefit to a small group that had been identified in option A as it was developed in detail) the decision makers, in this case the council, should be forgiven for tipping the balance of preferences and going with B. Sounds a bit convoluted but I hope you get my drift. Hopefully the decision makers would explain in detail their reasons for not going with the majority wish.

    I completely agree with you regarding the do-nothing option. Sunk costs including design and consultation should never be an excuse for proceeding with a bad project.

    CCF (Can’t Champion Failures)

  10. Trevor, 20. August 2016, 21:59

    CCF gets it wrong here. The council does not act rationally, never has, never will. It is driven by the narrow agendas of the particular constituencies behind its dominant members. They could be the Property Council, the lycra louts or wealthy anti-cat campaigners for example. The public interest and carefully weighing costs and benefits doesn’t enter into it.

  11. The CityisOurs, 20. August 2016, 22:54

    Good councillors remember their oath every time they are asked to make a decision:
    “I…..declare that I will faithfully and impartially and according to the best of my skill and judgment, execute and perform, in the best interests of Wellington City, the powers, authorities, and duties vested in, or imposed upon me as a member/chair person/mayor of the Wellington City Council …”

  12. Durden, 21. August 2016, 9:34

    CCF — An open and honest council would admit that Option A is not a goer rather than running a pretence of choice while really providing a Claytons choice. A lazy or a sneaky council would use your “consultation” strategy as their “go to” approach every time, providing the option it wants to pursue and another obviously dodgy one–to get its own end. And that would usually be a council of the type described by Trevor. And WCC in terms of cats or cycleways.

    If electing you was based in this conversation you would not be getting my support.

  13. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 21. August 2016, 10:27

    Hi Durden I’m disappointed to read that. I think we’re arguing semantics here, not substance. I have simply tried to illustrate that the consultation process is unlikely to ever be completely straightforward, especially for complex projects. New information comes to light throughout the design process and the consultation helps inform the whole process, which can be quite protracted as it moves from problem identification through optioneering, narrowing down options and detailed design. A good consultation process, if it includes options, should try to explain the pros and cons of each option, but in doing so the consultees can easily interpret these descriptions as being biased. Even the most honest, unbiased council can tie itself into knots trying to do what’s right by the wishes of the community (which will seldom be singular) and by the various constraints of time, space, technology, legality and money.

    I don’t condone cynical or pre-determined consultation and decision-making, and I’ve always sought to do the right thing by the community for whom I work, but you can seldom please everyone all the time. You may be misinterpreting my attempts to help, which is a shame. CCF