Collegiality in question at council

Dunedin's next mayor will have to heal the divisions of the last three years and do more to engage with the community. Photo: ODT file
Dunedin's next mayor will have to heal the divisions of the last three years and do more to engage with the community. Photo: ODT file
What goes on behind closed doors at the Dunedin City Council and should our councillors try harder to get along? As part of a series exploring key issues facing voters in the South, Chris Morris questions Dunedin’s mayoral contenders on issues of transparency and culture.

Dunedin's next mayor will have to heal the divisions of the last three years and do more to engage with the community, some mayoral candidates say.

But others - including incumbent councillors also seeking the top job - are pushing back, saying divisions are little more than the figments of inexperienced minds.

The issue emerged when bitter divisions between some of the Dunedin City Council's newest councillors and their more experienced colleagues were exposed earlier this year, during debate over a new email quarantine policy.

The policy was introduced after Cr Lee Vandervis was accused of being abusive towards staff as he demanded answers on a stalled unitary council investigation.

At the time, it was suggested the decision to defer the investigation was made at a non-public meeting between councillors and staff, despite earlier assurances such meetings were not decision-making bodies.

Council chief executive Sue Bidrose has said the discussion aimed only to ''seek councillor comfort'' with a decision she had already made.

Cr Jim O'Malley believed the outcome crossed a line, and that ''connected councillors'' had more sway over staff than other elected representatives.

Non-public meetings between the mayor, the chairmen of council committees and senior council managers - while junior councillors were excluded - also continued even after requests for them to stop, he said.

''It was an A team and a B team,'' he said.

''The role of the mayor - one of the roles of the mayor - is to make sure that doesn't happen,'' he said.

He also wanted greater effort to engage with the public, earlier in the process, on projects like the waterfront bridge.

Cr Andrew Whiley said there was a place for confidentiality, and the council ''will never be 100% transparent'', but that made the selection of councillors even more important.

He had been ''very frustrated'' by the culture around the council table over the last three years.

''Council is a team - it's a rugby team ... we've all got our position to play and we only play effectively when we play as a team,'' he said.

Cr Rachel Elder wanted a two-day retreat at the start of the next term, to encourage team-building among councillors, and said work on council resolutions should be tracked as part of council agendas.

That would improve transparency and could have helped avoid the acrimony surrounding the delayed unitary council investigation.

However, Crs Aaron Hawkins and Christine Garey both disputed suggestions of a divided council.

Cr Hawkins said it could be difficult to build ''the perfect team culture'' in a political environment, but the criticism was not ''accurate or fair''.

He was ''comfortable'' with non-public workshops, which provided councillors with the best possible information, and said any councillor was free to propose a motion and seek support at council meetings.

''I don't know why more people don't take up that opportunity, to be honest, but I don't think it's fair to try and set up this hierarchy system as an excuse for people choosing not to use the tools they have available to them to set the direction of council.''

Cr Garey also ''absolutely'' disputed suggestions of an A and B team around the council table.

More experienced councillors were preferred to chair council committees, and it was ''totally normal'' for them to meet council staff, but newer councillors could step up next term, if re-elected, she said.

She wanted to ensure ''robust debate'' did not grow to bullying, particularly when aimed at council staff.

Scout Barbour-Evans said councillors needed to ''get out of the Octagon'' and consult in the communities.

Carmen Houlahan said too many council decisions seemed to be made behind closed doors, while Richard Seager worried the new email quarantine policy was censoring correspondence with council staff.

Malcolm Moncrief-Spittle was concerned about decisions made in non-public workshops and the lack of transparency over the council's group debt position.

Bob Barlin said there was a place for confidentiality, but the ''disconnect'' between councillors and the public could be fixed by staging more public gatherings.

Mandy Mayhem-Bullock questioned the exclusion of media and the public from workshops held to discuss key issues, but Jules Radich said the council appeared ''fairly transparent''.

Cr Vandervis and Finn Campbell did not respond to a request for comment.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

Comments

Once again cr vandervis does comment on an issue raised, along with voting no to the vast majority of council ideas and yes some are crazy but no to everything never comments to questions by the odt how does anyone believe he has any value on the dcc

Unreal how this guy somehow thinks that everyone is against him and he is correct no matter what!
The public spetical if he got elected mayor would be ia joke. A mayor that no one susports, Vandervis jumping up and down throwing his toys out more and more by the day......

Meaning of the word ´collegiality’ Companionship and cooperation between colleagues who share responsibility.’ from online dictionary
So ODT’s Council reporter, Morris, is suggesting that this is a desirable relationship for a group of political independents? All votes at the DCC are individual conscience votes -:legal requirement- and group think is neither desirable nor permissible, no matter what fancy name it is given. A city council is NOT like a football team with everyone needing to get on board. It is more like a jury with all members contributing with individual responsibility and STRUGGLING, sometimes against one another, to make the best decisions.

Vandervis votes against everything. How dose that pan out for the future if he is elected mayor?

By that definition, it is absolutely a necessity for councillors, as political independents, to be collegial. It doesn't mean they have to agree, or refrain from heated debate, or conform to a single view. It does mean that they have to be respectful of each other and constructive and cooperate in working towards the common purpose of the city's betterment, because they share responsibility for it. Companionship is perhaps less relevant in this context, although they spend a lot of time in each other's company - I guess it depends how far down the literal definition line you want to go to prove your point. If you do want to though, nowhere does that definition include any reference to group think.

Constant disagreement with no useful or practical alternatives presented is not constructive or respectful. Maintaining a persecution complex is also not constructive and certainly does nothing to contribute to the city's betterment. It's just ego.

 

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