It takes new thinking, time and strength of purpose to change a “Steamroller’s” direction

MICKEYS STEAMROLLERLast night, I went along to the Island Bay Residents Association’s meeting to listen about the outcome of the Island Bay cycleway’s recent safety audits and NZTA reviews. The new City Planner discussed the findings and next steps for the Council. This will purportedly involve much better engagement and listening to the community. The outcome intended is to formulate a holistic plan for the streetscape (Island Bay Parade) to support all modes of transport as well as residents and business needs.

Ron from Cycle Aware Wellington was there supporting better community engagement along with only two Mayoral candidates that came along –Nicola Young and Justin Lester and all  “walking the talk” and supporting genuine collaboration.

I’m looking forward to this new way of thinking (around community engagement and collaboration) getting real traction especially in the Council’s transport and urban development areas where it has been woefully lacking. Think Medium Density Housing, Hutt Rd Cycleway and Jack Ilott Green in recent times.

However the community should not get complacent. There remains within the Council some long standing individuals that do not agree with this approach and seem unwilling to adapt their approach and ideology. We need to see real evidence of a real change in culture across both Councillors and Council staff. It will be interesting to hear the comments expressed by the Chair, Mayor and Councillors at the next Transport and Urban Development Committee meeting on 30 June 2016.

WCC is a ‘steamroller’ so change will require new thinking, take time  and we will need to maintain the pressure for the required change in direction.

High Performance Expectations of Council

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is currently promoting the upcoming nationwide local body elections. Their website  links to a good summary view of the role of an elected member (Mayor and Councillor). It describes the role of a Councillor as falling into two main categories; being a member of the governing body of the council; and being an elected representative of the community.

Last year LGNZ conducted a nationwide survey on the public and business views of local government. The results indicated “The public want stronger performance, particularly in governance, managing finances, making good spending decisions and delivering value for money”. Local public commentary on social and other media forms also suggest that Wellington residents and ratepayers are currently far from happy with Council’s performance.

I decided to stand for Wellington City Council this year, because I believe our elected members need to demonstrate a higher level of governance ability and more effective community representation.  My local community and I have personally experienced lately the impact of inconsistent performance in community engagement and Council decision making around issues such as cycleways and medium density housing. From what I see in other areas, our experiences are not unique and indicates a Council culture, that discourages transparency and accountability and one that has become more ingrained over the years.

So it seems my expectations on the role of Councillor align to the “official” definition and public expectation of the role. But what is an acceptable standard? Is my standard higher, the same or less than my neighbour? What common assessment do we have to measure performance of our elected Mayor and Councillors? I looked for insight to what an acceptable standard should be.  There was little or no guidance by the central government lead agency that monitors Councils – Department of Internal Affairs.  Wellington City Council publishes a quarterly performance report but its focus is on financial compliance with no visibility over intended strategic progress.

However there is hope on the horizon for a nationwide qualitative assessment. I read with interest that LGNZ is launching an excellence programme which provides an assessment tool across four common areas (Governance, leadership & strategy; Financial decision making and transparency; Service delivery and asset management; Communicating and engaging). LGNZ says “The Local Government Excellence Programme will drive a culture of excellence and continuous improvement in council and sector performance”.Report card

LGNZ is calling for its Council members to sign up to its excellence programme by the end of this month (June). Let’s hope Wellington City Council do so, as it will be a long journey and a different mind-set and culture required.  I for one will support and champion this initiative along with a regular ‘pulse’ check – a clear and transparent report card on the Council’s real organisational performance.