A couple of months ago, the Wellington City Council released its 2022 edition of the Resident Monitoring Survey. This document is 36 pages and it’s an easy read. 800 people took part in this ~20 minutes survey, undertaken each year by WCC. I encourage you to read it but be warned: it is a sobering read.
Almost every indicator is down, except for the ones about satisfaction with facilities (like pools or parks). But the most shocking, unacceptable, disturbing figure is the “Satisfaction with WCC decision-making process”. According to City Council officers, this indicator equates to how well Wellingtonians think the City Council is performing.
In 2020, this satisfaction rating was 30%. In 2021, it fell to 16%. In 2022, the satisfaction Wellingtonians have with their City Council is 12%
One person out of ten.
This report was presented by officers to the Mayor and the Councillors on the 28th of June. The video of the meeting is available online and lasts one hour and a half. The section about satisfaction starts at the 46th minute.
In this presentation, the officers never mention, ever, the actual figure of 12%, as if it was too shameful, too dirty to dare say it. They list what Wellingtonians said were the three main reasons for this, let’s try, “low” level of satisfaction:
- Not listening to the public (someone, somewhere suggested it some time ago);
- Political issues (the in-fighting);
- Lack of transparency in decision-making.
Then an officer offers his own analysis. Yes, the rating is not great, but it is also relatively stable. I’ll be guessing here you always have to see the positive in things. He keeps on explaining that …
“(…) this last triennium has seen a lot of decisions being made, affect a lot of people, involve a lot of significant debates, and no matter the outcome, you always gonna upset some people”.
Never mind the fact that “some” Wellingtonians here means 9 out of 10, already the three reasons clearly articulated by Wellingtonians are gone. And with that starts the handwashing.
In the following 45 minutes of the meeting, not a single officer, not a single elected member says, with their own voice, the number “12%”. Not one takes the shadow of responsibility for that abysmal figure. In front of the “I’ve got nothing to do with it” pack, Barbara McKerrow, CEO of the City Council, gives her own explanation: “This survey is all about perception” and the figures are all about the “context”. She refers to the report showing other Councils across New Zealand performing equally badly as if it was a good enough explanation or excuse for her own Council’s performance. To her, the distrust is unfunded and is a poor perception of her perfectly fine performing Council.
Only (and it costs me to admit it) Cr Calvert approaches the topic. When she asks what could be done differently to improve this rating, the officers, in all their wisdom, suggest leaving it to the next triennium.
These 45 minutes are a case study of detachment. The three reasons mentioned by Wellingtonians are long gone, they didn’t leave the slide where they briefly appeared, and no one in that room or online thought it would be a good idea to talk about them, show some ownership, or suggest a way forward.
Yet, for this Council or the new one to come, addressing this methodical destruction of trust should come before everything else, before any other topic. How can any council govern when the trust with voters is so damaged? From sitting Councillors and the Mayor, I had hoped for some accountability, some apology too, and propositions to move and restore confidence in the Council. From candidates, I expect them to seize this fundamental issue and demonstrate how their policies will rebuild faith in our local Council.
Out of fairness, I want to copy here how two Councillors, Cr Calvert and Cr Fitzimons, commented later on the 12%. While I read an acknowledgement, I can’t find any personal accountability for this result, or what they think their words and their actions have contributed to it.
“The result of the Residents’ Monitoring survey shows that decision-making in Wellington needs to dramatically change. Unfortunately too often Council consultation is a joke where decisions are in reality already made and can’t feasibly change anyway. I also think the Council needs to stop seeing itself as a corporate brand and residents as customers. Every resident has an interest in fixing our city and making it safer. The Council does need to work on rebuilding pride in Wellington though.[via twitter]“Fleur Fitzimons
“Ian is accurate in his observations. Unfortunately, the same also happened last year. I don’t dispute the findings and I don’t accept the excuses made to justify not only the results but the transactional list of things the council is doing about it.
The big decisions the Council has made over the past few years- Long Term Plan, Spatial Plan, District Plan and Lets Get welly Moving have not addressed the needs of most Wellingtonian. We are seeing the result of this.
There are two parts to this issue. First, both elected members and Council management need to take responsibility for this declining result which now shows that 9/10 Wellingtonians are not satisfied with the decisions made. Secondly, we need to agree on what actions we are going to take to start to win back trust and confidence.
There are a number of elements to turning this around and it starts with how we make decisions, which I suggest should be improved by:
1. Council papers must be neutral, balanced and provide comprehensive options and advice to support good decision making
2 Put the needs of Wellington at the heart of decision making
3 Listen respectfully and with an open mind to all points of view
4.Seek robust consensus across political views with the aim for more ‘win/win’ not ‘win/lose’
5 Let your values and any ideology shape your thought process but make the decision in the best interest of the city.
The Council also needs to be much more diligent and focused on what its priorities are and where it places its resources. The city has only approx 77k rating units. At Council, it’s been very easy to spend other people’s money with no regard to their views.
We can’t be a pawn for the Beehive and we need to focus first and foremost on what Councils are charged with (and what Wellingtonians expect) – community facilities and services, good infrastructure and an efficient regulatory and planning service to support new housing, infrastructure, a sustainable environment, business, and strong communities i.e back to basics.
As we lead into the Council elections and following them, I am enthused by a good number of able Wellingtonians who are now choosing to stand for Council and be part of bringing the change required – working together, competently, for Wellington.
Readers may have other ideas and I’m very happy to hear them”Dianne Calvert