New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom writes:
And so we now turn to Wellington, where Andy Foster, a centre-right career local government politician, was elected mayor of a council with an established Labour-Green voting bloc.
I’d describe Foster as more centre than center-right.
Rumour has it that, within days of his win being confirmed, the Labour-Green bloc walked into Foster’s office, laid out their demands, including the appointment of a deputy mayor, and effectively signalled their intentions to dominate the next three years in office with their party political manifesto.
The Local Government Act requires elected members to keep an open mind right up to the point of making a decision, based on the proven theory that the highest-quality decisions are achieved by considering all available information right up to the last minute.
Those who make decisions early tend to disregard information that doesn’t align with their thinking and often miss a trick. But the bloc within council that confronted Foster wasn’t there to be open-minded, they were there to project political power and drive their agenda, regardless of the information from management about the actual issues they might face, or the views of their peers or the wider community.
Holdom highlights a good point.
I certainly think there are many areas in which Foster can be a more effective Mayor. There are very different skill sets to being a Mayor and a Cr.
But it has to be recognised that there is a bloc of Councillors who are devastated that Justin Lester was defeated by Foster, and their priority is to get Eagle or Lester (or another Labour person) elected Mayor in 2022.
This means they don’t want WCC to generate good stories. That will help Foster. They want there to be an unrelenting series of bad headlines about the Mayor, so they can take it back next year.
This is what happens when party politics enters local government. Blocs of Councillors act more as an opposition party than part of the Government.
The structural fix for this would be the London model where the Mayor has huge executive powers and basically appoints all they key people, and the Councillors act more as a Parliament scrutinising and checking.
But the model at the moment is the worst of both worlds, now we have entrenched party politics in the major cities. Councillors are both Governors but also opponents of the main Governor. It doesn’t work.
So sure you can blame Foster for some of what has happened, but you shouldn’t overlook there is a bloc whose job is to try and make negative headlines for him so he loses the Mayoralty.