The election is a job interview, not just a policy debate
I often think about an election campaign as a highly unusual job interview. At the end of my first term on Council it now feels more like a performance review, reflecting back on the past three years. Self-evaluations are a common part of a performance review process and I figured if you all have to do that for your jobs, I should probably do one for mine. So here goes...
Which goals did you meet?
I worked constructively with councillors and staff to make significant progress on my key campaign goals: to permit more good quality townhouses and apartments to be built in our city, and to deliver climate friendly transport options. The notified District Plan permits significantly more housing density in the central city and near key transport routes, while giving the new design guides more teeth. Good progress has been made on key transport projects including the bike network plan, Golden Mile improvements, Thorndon Quay & Hutt Road improvements, and mass rapid transit.
Name three things you have done really well. Why do you think those were successful?
1. Negotiated the recommendations of the Mayoral Taskforce on Three Waters leading to unanimous agreement, co-wrote the report and ensured the relevant recommendations were implemented. This was successful because I worked with people who held different views, listened carefully, and identified the space where everyone could live with the result. I worked with other councillors to ensure they understood and supported the recommendations.
2. Made significant changes to papers on three waters, residual waste and the District Plan by drafting complex, technical amendments - most of which passed unanimously. As above, I succeeded at this because I considered the views of people who disagreed with each other and considered the practical and legal constraints on a solution.
3. Improved the quality of advice coming to council by giving feedback to senior staff on my expectations for good quality advice and raised concerns when advice hasn’t met that standard. This has seen a steady improvement in the quality of advice we receive. This was effective because I developed good working relationships with senior staff based on mutual respect, I was clear about my expectations and the improvements I wanted to see, and gave timely, constructive feedback when advice needed to be better.
Provide an example of a tough situation you handled well
I constructively yet firmly ensured that a resolution of council was implemented after staff initially failed to do so. When councillors are trying to change the strategic direction of the Council that can be challenging for staff who have been in their roles for a long time. This happened to me regarding an amendment I got passed through committee. Nearly a year later when a related paper came back to committee it became clear the resolution had not been implemented. I raised my concerns directly with the Chief Executive’s office and worked with the responsible senior manager to find a way forward to implement the original resolution. This is always a disappointing and frustrating situation to experience as a councillor, however I found the senior leaders took this situation very seriously and once it was brought to their attention they responded quickly and well. They took the paper off the agenda, apologised to me personally, and worked over the following month to implement the resolution before the paper came back on our agenda. In the end, I was happy with the outcome.
What responsibilities have you taken on?
1. Chair of Council Controlled Organisations sub-committee – I asked each member to choose two CCOs to focus on for each meeting, which meant everyone had an overview of all the CCOs and between us we had detailed coverage of each one. I started to move WCC towards more strategic relationships with our CCOs rather than a purely accountability focus.
2. Deputy Chair of Audit and Risk sub-committee – I worked with the new independent Chair to strengthen our oversight of Council operations by developing a calendar of reporting. Brought a focus on building the capability of WCC to deliver our large work programme to the sub-committee in areas such as financial processes, health & safety, project management, and asset management. Shared the importance of this work and progress made with all councillors.
3. Deputy Chair Infrastructure – Supported the Chair in developing a work plan for the new committee. Requested a report on how council’s stormwater assets and retaining walls performed during last winter’s storms, which identified challenges in managing flooding and slips. (This work will continue as part of the Climate Adaptation work next term.)
4. Governance Reference Group member for Let’s Get Wellington Moving – Raised red flags about programme performance with senior staff and pressed for the Health Check that enabled a successful reset of the programme. This has led to significant progress in the past 18 months. Ensured effective coordination of work between LGWM and WCC in areas such as the bike network plan and the District Plan.
5. Portfolio lead for traffic resolutions – Took the lead on the new process of having minor traffic resolutions approved by the Regulatory Process Committee. Asked staff for improvements in feedback and communication with residents who submit on traffic resolutions. Kept councillors well informed of traffic resolutions in their ward and ensured any controversial traffic resolutions were referred to a committee of all councillors. This has built a culture of trust in the process which has enabled significant time saving for both councillors and staff.
What projects have you enjoyed working on the most, and why?
I really enjoyed working on the Mayoral Taskforce for Three Waters. It is a very complex area and there was so much to learn, which I enjoy. I was able to ask probing questions that led to the understanding that while funding for depreciation of water assets had been collected, it hadn’t actually been spent on replacing those assets. Members of the Taskforce had a variety of views and perspectives, it was very satisfying to understand their priorities and negotiate recommendations that everyone could agree with. It was important to me that the Taskforce report was accessible despite the complexity of the issues. I enjoyed working with technical experts to find ways to explain things in plain language. When the Taskforce report came to Council I worked with all my colleagues to write a set of amendments that everyone could support. It had all my favourite things – learning something new, asking probing questions, understanding other perspectives, finding common ground, explaining complex ideas, and all in the service of making our city better.
I’ve also enjoyed supporting other councillors get their projects over the line. Sometimes I have been able to contribute my skills at navigating Council processes, such as when helping Laurie Foon change our strategic direction on waste - which led to the proposed new sewage treatment plant at Moa Point that will mean we no longer have to bury sewage waste at the landfill, a scaled down piggy-back option for extending the Southern landfill, and a road map for waste minimisation activities such as organic kerbside collection. Other times it’s simply being a cheerleader and reliable vote such as for Rebecca Matthews on housing density in the District Plan or for Jill Day on lifting our capacity for strategic partnership with mana whenua.
Give one or two examples of how you have grown professionally over the last term. What are the things you’ve learned?
I’ve grown my knowledge about council processes like traffic resolutions or District Plan changes, as well as general governance topics such as health and safety, assurance, and project management. This helps me ask better questions and challenge staff in constructive ways that strengthen their approach or advice. I’ve had both staff and councillors comment on how much they appreciate my questions.
I’ve learned to chair meetings and public hearings, and have had consistent feedback from meeting participants that they appreciate my chairing style. As chair I try to create an atmosphere where people feel welcome to share their views. I’ve also learned that sometimes slowing down a meeting or taking an adjournment can get the best outcome.
What personal strengths help you do your job effectively?
My academic background means I’m confident reading financial reports, economic analysis, and advice on complex issues. My teaching background helps me to explain those concepts or issues to others in plain English. My experience as a budget analyst at Treasury helps me to work effectively on Council budgets. My strong sense of integrity means that I will call out behaviour that isn’t up to scratch. I also try to tackle difficult conversations rather than letting them fester.
You feel most valuable in this team when...
...working to find a way forward on challenging issues, figuring out what the legal and practical wriggle room is, and working with staff and councillors to develop amendments that most people can live with.
What goals do you wish you had accomplished since your last evaluation but didn't?
We haven’t made as much progress on climate adaptation and resilience as I wanted to. When I was elected WCC didn’t have sufficient staff capability to deliver on our Te Atakura climate goals. It has taken time to build the team, and work on reducing emissions has taken priority so far. Now internal progress has been made on a work plan for adaptation and next term will be critical for advancing this with the community. When I arrived there were a number of Council assets for which we did not have good information or understanding of their condition and risk. Again progress has been made internally to improve our asset management planning, which should be visible to the public when our next Infrastructure Plan comes out in the lead up to the next Long Term Plan.
Which tasks do you least enjoy?
Answering residents’ queries by phone or email. These are often specific, operational matters and therefore need a staff response. It can be difficult to keep track of whether people have received a response. Processes for this have improved in the past term and that progress needs to continue so that we can be confident residents are getting good and timely answers from council.
What are some things you would have done differently looking back?
I haven’t always got it right when dealing with the media. I’ve owned my mistakes, apologised to my colleagues, and learned from the experience.
I have sprung things on my colleagues during public meetings. Any time that a group of councillors were surprised like that in public it was detrimental to trust and working relationships. I now try to let everyone know in advance of the meeting if I’m doing something unexpected.
Did you receive any feedback during the review period?
I have a habit of answering any question I know the answer to, which other councillors can find annoying as they really need an official answer from staff. I’ve been working on this and I’ve definitely improved!
I’ve also had feedback from colleagues that I spend too long during debate explaining the key points of the decision we are making, which they are already familiar with. However, when I checked with other colleagues they said that they found this helpful. I’ve tried to respond to this by reducing the time I spend ‘explaining’ and only doing so for the most critical or complex issues.
What skills do you have that you believe you could use more effectively?
I’m good at explaining complex issues in plain language and answering people’s questions. I haven’t gotten out to as many engagement events as I would have liked to, mostly due to COVID and illness. I hope to do more of that if elected next term.
What 2-3 things will you focus on in the next term to help you grow and develop?
I want to work more effectively with the administrative support staff we are provided to ensure that residents are getting helpful and timely responses to their queries.
I would like to use social media more to communicate with people about the decisions we are making and the decision making process we go through. I’ve blogged about some policy issues this term, and would like to be more consistent with that type of communication in future. This is an important contribution I can make to transparency and helping the public understand our decision making process.
I would like to get more governance training, particularly around managing financial risk, asset management, health and safety as these are each an important part of our role of councillors, but areas where I have less previous experience. I was scheduled to attend an Institute of Directors course on Audit and Risk committees, however was unable to attend due to illness. I will prioritise similar training next term if elected.