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Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
The Dunedin City Council has had a big three years, grappling with the demands of a growing city − higher rates, rising debt and the demands to do more with less. 

Tim Miller
Tim Miller

Chris Morris
Chris Morris
And, as Dunedin’s city councillors have debated the issues, Otago Daily Times council reporters Chris Morris and Tim Miller have been watching from the media bench. 

Now, in a personal evaluation, they rate each councillor's performance out of 10, drawing on countless hours spent at council meetings and interviewing those in the hot seat. 

They haven’t judged the councillors' personal political views − that’s for you to do − but the assessments, and final scores, have been prepared independently by each reporter and with an agreement not to make changes once finished.

In a follow-up piece, Tim Miller will look at each councillor’s voting record.

Dave Cull 



The steady hand on the tiller despite an increasingly hectic public schedule, divided between Dunedin, Local Government New Zealand and China. Has built a majority to help implement a progressive agenda - cycleways and other initiatives designed to make the city more liveable, sustainable and environmentally responsible. Acts as a lightning rod for the most vociferous council critics, who see him as a symbol of council excess and missteps, but has always fronted media even in the most difficult circumstances. Has also been accused of allowing an “A team” to dominate proceedings, and after three terms the cracks are showing - increasingly irritable, especially when trying to wrangle Cr Vandervis, and shocked many when he asked one angry ratepayer if he was “deaf or just stupid”. Now seeking to jump to the SDHB.


His biggest critics like to refer to Cull’s council - which probably pleases the outgoing mayor. Built a majority around the progressive direction he wanted the council to take - which made life easier for him.
His final term in office has been marked by a big increase in spending on infrastructure, climate change initiatives, a push for more pedestrian-friendly streets and an investment in the look and feel of the city and of course cycle lanes. His role as president of Local Government New Zealand meant he spent a lot of time in Wellington and critics say relied too much on a few particular councillors. Still attended about 90% of full council meetings, but did miss a few committees. His detractors say he's leaving a council swimming in debt and too concerned with cycle lanes and climate change.


Lee Vandervis



The lone wolf who continues to relish his own dissenting howls. Has spent another term in the minority while railing against perceptions of wasteful spending, rising debt, inadequate infrastructure, climbing staff numbers, misguided environmental initiatives, unused cycleways and lost car parking . . . to name a few. Is undoubtedly smart, a powerful debater and committed to the role as he sees it, and has a legitimate role to play in grilling - and even criticising - the council when warranted. However, too often resorts to wonky facts or personal attacks, and his biggest problem remains his style - his angry outbursts, opposition to almost everything, inability to work with colleagues and a Trump-like preference for social media rants rather than accountability. The result is predictable. Nothing but noise, again.


14 to 1. A constant call at the end of a council vote in the past three years. Whether it was major changes to George St, an increase of the council’s debt limit or a council submission on a government policy, more often than not Cr Vandervis voted against it. On paper he didn't achieve much this term - almost every motion he put forward was voted down - but his actions on council are exactly what his supporters want. A ferocious questioner of staff and the chief executive, but would often overstep the mark and have to be reined in by the mayor or other councillors. Pushed to increase the funding for Mosgiel’s new pool by $4.4 million in the 10-year plan.
Every elected body needs someone questioning its motivations and decisions, but it is hard to make substantial change without any “friends” around the table. One of his successes - an investigation into a unitary council - was left to wither and die, but he gained sympathy when standing orders were used to silence him when councillors voted to scrap it.

Conrad Stedman



Another likeable but underwhelming councillor who also struggled to deliver this term. An advocate for his community, as well as for investment in new artificial playing surfaces at Logan Park, but his push to get parking changes and partial pedestrianisation at St Clair on the agenda was among his only initiatives. Also somewhat bizarrely voted against declaring a climate emergency - arguing it was a misuse of the term “emergency” - but was prepared to take on Cr Vandervis over allegations of abusive behaviour towards staff. Announced he would stand down in October after just one term.


After one relatively quiet term Cr Stedman has decided to call it quits. More of a listener than speaker, but spoke up when he felt the need. A car-free Esplanade in St Clair was his one big idea. Voted to retain trading on Easter Sunday and voted against declaring a climate change emergency. Otherwise voted with the majority most of the time.

Doug Hall


The mystery man at the council table. After riding a wave of council antipathy into office, the two-term councillor has too often sat mute throughout entire meetings. Stirs occasionally to growl some no-nonsense advice, often drawing on his farming and contractor background, or to vote against climate initiatives. Even now, still doesn't seem to grasp the realities of the role.
Has succeeded in business, can be articulate in person and surely has the ability to make a more significant contribution, so the question has to be asked: Why is he bothering?


It is hard to discern the contribution Cr Hall makes because he stays silent most of the time.
When he does speak - usually on issues he's experienced with like farming and contracting - he provides sensible advice and asks pertinent questions. Seems to be much more comfortable working behind the scenes and often talks one-on-one with staff or members of the public during breaks or once a meeting has finished. Difficult to know what impact he has if it can't be seen publicly.

Aaron Hawkins



Arguably the most effective councillor this term. Hard-working, articulate and also an outstanding debater who knows his issues and standing orders inside out. Chairman of the community and culture committee, the Dunedin refugee steering group and the mayor’s taskforce for housing, among other roles, while also pushing to improve public transport and for action on climate change. His age, environmentalism and Green Party credentials still act as a red rag for some, and his de-facto alliance with Cr Benson-Pope seems to have created an Axis of Antipathy towards Cr Vandervis, which can get ugly at times. Also guilty of a smug streak or snide comment at times, but otherwise a polished performer.


One of the most successful councillors this term. His knowledge of council processes and ability to work with those around him have meant the two-term councillor has been able to push policies and projects like those on climate change,  public transport and arts and culture.
Headed the mayor's taskforce for housing and the community and culture committee as well as the Dunedin Refugee Steering Group and the council’s grants committee. An effective speaker - with an almost photographic memory - his questions of staff were almost always relevant and shaped the many successful amendments and motions he put forward. Can rub some of his colleagues up the wrong way, particularly when his oratory skills are pointed in their direction. On occasion was willing to step outside the majority and vote against those he usually supported - like when he voted against the move to stop debate on the council scrapping the report on a unitary council. Only councillor to attend every full council and committee meeting.

Damien Newell



Another new councillor who struggled to make his mark. Has hinted at a more commanding presence at times - speaking with the assurance of a seasoned broadcaster - but failed to do so often enough. Joined the debate over the Cadbury factory closure, the merits of a central city hospital site, changes to Easter trading rules and the need to invest in the city, and also spoke out strongly against bullying by his council colleagues - which, he said, was not limited to Cr Vandervis. Otherwise, not always clear what he's trying to achieve.


A quiet first term for the broadcaster. Spoke out against bullying, telling his council colleague they all needed to take a hard look at themselves. Passionate about social issues and made impassioned pleas for the council and others to act on climate change. One of his pet projects - a report on a proposal for a sports walk of fame - never came back to the council. Was one of three councillors chosen for the new climate change steering group. Had a hard time making an impact individually and rarely asked questions of staff.

Rachel Elder



A likeable councillor with never a bad word to say, who has been vocal about the city's growth and future prospects. Often also appears completely confused by basic council process, even after three years at the table, and has struggled to add anything of real substance. Has been an advocate for Dunedin's recreational opportunities and the need to invest in better facilities, as well as in economic growth, and took a stand on bullying within the council. Needs to find her voice, more often and with more conviction, to combat perceptions she just isn't up to the job.


Relentlessly positive and never said a bad word about anyone. Vocal about her love of Dunedin. Proudly promoted organisations and businesses doing well. One of the more prolific speakers, but her questions and speeches were often misdirected and lacked detail. At times seemed unaware of council processes. Got an audit of the city’s walking and cycling tracks - one of her passions - added to the annual plan. Spoke out against excessive salaries and bullying within the council. Voted with the majority more often than not so struggled to make an individual impact. Towards the end of the term started to find a voice. Outside of the council chambers was one of the more visible councillors attending numerous community events.

Jim O’Malley



The brain at the table who does sometimes come across as almost too smart for his own good, or at least for council debates. Hit the headlines big-time when his “Save the Factory” Cadbury campaign morphed into a crowd-funded buy-out of Ocho, but the coverage - like the company's results - has soured since. Has added intellectual grunt and business experience to council debates, while casting a critical eye over spending, as well as speaking out strongly against bullying between council colleagues, parking and climate change issues. Found himself on the outer with colleagues at times, including one spectacular verbal pummelling after he cast shade on Mayor Dave Cull's dual roles. Struggles to shake a perception he's not quite the finished article, but will improve with more time in the saddle.


An intellectual heavyweight who made a splash when he tried to save the Cadbury factory. Has brought some big ideas to the council table - including a commuter train from Mosgiel - but has so far failed to build a core group around him. His business and academic background means he understands even the most detailed reports and is able to ask direct questions. Can sometimes get too carried away explaining his reasoning. As the DCC representative on the regional transport committee, was constantly pushing for more action on the city’s transport network. Found himself left out of the “A-team” towards the end of the term despite having very similar views. Took a pummeling from his colleagues after he put forward a motion directed at Dave Cull’s dual role as president of Local Government New Zealand. Best performing new councillor.

Kate Wilson



Hard-working, compassionate councillor who has gone the extra mile - quite literally - while travelling from Middlemarch to serve the city, including as chairwoman of the council's infrastructure and hearings committees. Has fronted a range of contentious issues and blunders, including botched cycleways, but remains a staunch supporter of such projects, as well as electric vehicles and other environmental initiatives. Retains an unfortunate ability to overcomplicate things, leaving her audience bewildered, and her move to shut down debate over a delayed unitary council report was nothing short of a democratic disgrace. Now standing for the ORC.


A hard worker who does her homework and asks tough questions. Can sometimes confuse herself about what she is trying to get across. One of the more vocal supporters of the direction in the past three years, but not afraid to speak up - particularly on rural issues - when she feels the council is missing the mark. Chairwoman of the infrastructure services and networks committee during a period of increased investment.

Marie Laufiso



The conscience at the council table, while fighting for interests and communities close to her heart - from workers’ rights, increased social spending and a living wage, to greater recognition of the place of local runanga and mana whenua in DCC thinking. Struck the right note with a moving waiata, calling for peace, after the Christchurch shootings, and delivered more than one stark reminder about the country's long struggle with violence, racism and the legacy of colonialism. A valuable perspective, but too often goes missing in other debates.
Needs to contribute more for communities and on issues outside her core constituencies.


A voice for the less fortunate and often marginalised communities in the city. Several times has said she would support a 10% rates rise to support the city’s vulnerable residents. Struggled to fully understand council processes at times and did not always have a full grasp of the details in staff reports, but improved towards the end of the term. Passionate in her support for place-based group funding, a living wage, refugees and the city’s Tangata whenua and minority communities. Said she couldn't vote to increase funding for the new pool in Mosgiel when South Dunedin had been waiting 30 years for its own library.

Christine Garey



Solid, middle-of-the-road councillor making the step up after three terms on the Otago Peninsula Community Board. Staunch supporter of cycleways and environmental measures, citing the need to protect the planet for future generations, including her own daughter. In favour of continued investment in the city, including to boost its economy, tourism sector and international connections. Was also prepared to take a stand against bullying when it counted, but can be thin-skinned about critical media coverage. Her contributions to debates are improving but occasionally bordered on the banal - Joe the Plumber anecdotes when more depth and conviction is required. Needs a slightly more common touch.


An active proponent of a more inclusive council and a strong advocate for younger residents, particularly on issues such as climate change. Easily took to the role of acting mayor for ceremonial purposes and was a confident speaker. Her experience as the chairwoman of the Otago Peninsula Community Board helped her fit in straight away, but sometimes struggled to get her individual views across as part of the majority. Read reports and asked questions. Often wanted staff to clarify information for the public and media rather than actually questioning the report itself.

David Benson-Pope



The seasoned campaigner has been one of the best performers at the council table this term. As chairman of the planning and environment committee, has led the charge on a wide range of issues, including support for waterfront development, the long-awaited central city upgrade, pedestrianisation, the protection of heritage buildings and the need for a central city site for Dunedin’s new hospital. Knows standing orders inside out, deploying them as weapons when needed, and seems to have taken Cr Hawkins - in particular - under his experienced wing. Appears to relish an enforcer role, taking on a sometimes-rampant Cr Vandervis with barely-contained glee, but risks straying into bullying territory himself at times.


An Institutional knowledge of how council works meant the political veteran was able to successfully stamp his mark on the last three years. As chairman of the planning and environment committee, was influential in the council's direction on climate change and urban rejuvenation. Has taken the lead on numerous policies and proposals including the central city upgrade, pedestrianisation, the George St upgrade, heritage and public transport. A constant thorn in the side of Cr Vandervis - who he often traded points of order with - but could also come across as superior at times. Not always universally liked by others around the table who say he plays the man rather than the ball. His detractors say he has too much sway.

Mike Lord



If there’s a joke to be cracked at the council table, look no further than the two-term councillor and Taieri farmer. Offers a plain-spoken perspective as chairman of the council's finance committee, often while defending council spending. Spoke out against other initiatives, such as a rates subsidy for bus fares, arguing it would be unfair for rural residents, and rode to the rescue with his Rotary friends to rebuild a non-compliant treehouse in Mosgiel when the council was faced with national scorn. His vocal scepticism of the human contribution to climate change, and his opposition to carbon-neutral goals, also seems set to put him on the wrong side of history.


Mr Sensible. As the chairman of the finance committee, defended the council’s spending as well as the performance of the council-controlled organisations. Brought a rural perspective to the council which could otherwise be overlooked. Voted against climate change initiatives and even raised doubt about the validity of the climate science, which put him at odds with the direction the council has taken. Spoke against the council taking a larger role in public transport, saying it was unfair to rural residents, but supported the upgrade of George St.

Andrew Whiley



A flag-waving champion of offshore drilling by the oil and gas industry in southern waters, but has struggled to find anything else of note to really make his mark. And, by supporting drilling, has left himself open to the scorn of greener councillors and members of the public. Deserves credit for sticking to his guns despite that, but his opposition to environmental initiatives, including the city’s carbon neutral goals, seems destined to leave him on the wrong side of history. Has chaired Easter trading hearings and bylaws subcommittee, and been vocal on the need to invest in the city and its economy. But hard to escape the impression he’s reaching, and often over-reaching, in a bid to add something.


A middle-of-the-road three years for the golf professinal. Voted with the majority most of the time, except on climate change policies, which he voted against time and again. Read reports and at times asked tough questions, but sometimes went off topic and was told to stop. As chairman of the bylaw subcommittee he led the discussion on some of the more contentious debates in the last three years, including the Easter trading bylaw and parking changes. Returned to his role as spokesman for Pro Gas Otago and remained a vocal voice for the business community. As part of what he describes as the right-wing minority, his impact on the direction of council was minimal.

Chris Staynes



Solid, dependable, completely and utterly boring - which is probably just the way he likes it. Loyal three-term deputy to Mr Cull and a numbers man focused on growth as chairman of the council’s economic development committee. The milestones this term have been mixed - the loss of the Cadbury factory, criticism of city marketing and Enterprise Dunedin, and the failure to fully capitalise on GigCity. But positives too, including the rebirth of Hillside and the bubbling energy of the city's start-up space. Hard to know exactly how much impact the council’s initiatives are having, compared to factors outside its control, but the numbers don’t lie - more people, and more jobs, are making the city better.


The mayor's reliable right-hand man for the past nine years. Was asked to shoulder more mayoral tasks because of Dave Cull's duel role as president of LGNZ. Another steady hand who voted with the majority almost all of the time. Doesn’t always speak but when he does his words are measured and full of common sense. As the chairman of the economic development committee has overseen an economic upsurge and population boost, though it is hard to quantify how much of that is due to the council. Seems to relish being a team player.






Safe hands needed, not abusive outbursts!
If you know who is elected for the difficult times ahead he will only make life harder for everyone.

Who are these two reporters?, never heard from them before. Where do their allegiances lie?.... With the green party it seems the way they were fawning over the green candidate.

Very good and very helpful thanks Chris and Tim

Not what I saw observing Council meetings over the last three years. Text is fair enough in places. Number ratings utterly meaningless.

Vandervis can not fathom a parking meter let alone the duties of a respectable mayor.






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