Foster’s leadership questioned on Wellington Library saga

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“Creepy”, “opaque” and “lack of leadership at town hall”. Wellington Mayor Andy Foster is not winning any popularity contests with some of his city councilors as they grow increasingly frustrated with his management style.

But others argue that he is the best person for the job, while he himself has criticized him as “pure politicalism”.

The mayor threw a cat among the pigeons last week with an 11th hour proposal that paves the way for the sale of part of the capital’s besieged central library.

Councilors voted 9-6 in favor of considering a public-private ownership model at the long-term plan committee meeting.

But those who are against want the Auditor General to investigate what they call a “chaotic” process.

Thirty-six hours before the council met to make major 10-year decisions on the city’s future, Andy Foster sent an email including the library’s proposal.

Mayor Andy Foster has ruffled feathers with his latest proposal for the Wellington Library.
Photo: RNZ / Charlotte Cook

Councilor Fleur Fitzsimons, who holds the library portfolio, was shocked by the late addition.

“It needs the proper analysis, review and financial modeling, and the board hasn’t done any of that.”

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In July of last year, the council made the decision to keep the library in council property, she said.

“There is a real disconnect between what the council decided and what the mayor brought at the last minute to a lower committee of the last council.”

Fitzsimons said this forced her to write to the Auditor General to request an investigation into the process.

Wellington City Councilor Fleur Fitzsimons

Councilor Fleur Fitzsimons
Photo: Provided

Ms Foster prevents advisers from having confidence in the information they receive, she said.

“The mayor’s approach was flippant, it was a flip-flop from his previous stance with council ownership, and it really does not respect the basic principles of good governance and transparency.”

It was disappointing and problematic, Fitzsimons said.

Councilor Tamatha Paul, who voted against the proposal, supports an investigation.

She said the mayor lacks leadership, when he should build consensus and goodwill with councilors.

Instead, advisers received little information about last-minute additions to the plan, she said.

“That’s what caused the massive fiasco that day. This is not traditionally how a mayor is supposed to act.

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“It really shows his leadership style, which isn’t necessarily a team approach, it’s more of a lone wolf approach.”

Councilor Jill Day, who also opposed the proposal, said the last-minute changes made a mockery of the work councilors had put on the long-term plan.

“I would say there is a high level of frustration among the advisers. These last minute changes are really undermining that process.”

Day said the language used in the proposal was vague and she believes some advisers did not fully understand what that meant.

Wellington City Councilor Sean Rush

Cllr Sean Rush
Photo: WELLINGTON CITY COUNCIL

But some councilors stick to their decision and the mayor.

“Without question Andy Foster is the best person around this table to lead the board, no questions asked,” said councilor Sean Rush.

Rush said the topic had been turned into a storm, while the proposal didn’t necessarily mean the library will be sold.

“It’s a pointless narrative that otherwise ruins what I thought was a great day where we had a lot of good discussions.

“We have developed a long-term plan, which is bankable.”

Councilor Diane Calvert, who voted for the proposal, said a pragmatic approach was needed.

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“I have the utmost confidence in the mayor. I just wish a number of my colleagues would support the mayor and the city to enable us to deliver a financially affordable budget,” Calvert said.

Foster said Councilor Fitzsimons’ request for an investigation of the proposal is a “delaying tactic designed to muddy the waters.”

He said the alternative options would be to blow up the budget, delay the library for years, or cut money on pipes and transportation.

Foster said the reaction from some advisers was disappointing and frustrating.

“Everything could always be done differently with a council that is willing to work collaboratively, that is trustworthy and can work creatively to deliver the solutions the city needs, instead of playing politics.

This afternoon, the mayor and councilor Fitzsimons openly clashed in emails to reporters – the mayor accused the councilor of seeking to cover up a social housing deficit and of delaying strengthening the library.

Councilor Fitzsimons dismissed these statements as false.

The proposal will be the subject of a consultation as part of the long-term plan and will be voted on again at a later date.

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