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.