Here's how the current Wellington City Council voted on some key issues
The Dominion Post recently published a pretty good analysis of Wellington City councillors' performance over the last 3 years that largely aligns with my Fab 5 blog highlighting the 5 progressive councillors I think we need to re-elect.
I do have a few minor quibbles with the Dom Post's piece though. Apart from Shelly Bay the voting they analysed is too consistent and doesn't reveal the key differences between councillors. Even Shelly Bay is complex and doesn't follow traditional left/right voting patterns. Also, the particular votes chosen are not always from the most interesting stage in the discussion e.g. the big votes on the Bike Network were during the Long Term Plan process where various councillors did vote against more funding at different points. I'm also really surprised the Spatial Plan/District Plan didn't get a mention. That's the headline issue of the last triennium for me and reveals some fundamental differences between councillors that voters should consider.
Unfortunately, attempts to get WCC to build a database of voting records for the current triennium failed with the council claiming (a year after they first received the request) that they "didn't have time". The council have been doing some related work in the background so I'm hopeful that we can still get a voting database up and running at the start of the new triennium. It really would be a very useful tool and create much greater transparency over council decision-making.
In the meantime, how can we get a sense of how councillors have been voting over the last 3 years without a huge amount of manual collation and analysis of voting that is scattered across hundreds of different pdf files? I decided to focus on two really significant meetings from the past 3 years that had a good volume and variety of votes within the meeting and also some really high-stakes votes for the city. That way we should be able to get a good feel for who's been voting for what to help inform where we want to put our own votes during local body elections in October.
The two meetings I chose are the final approval of the 2021-31 Long Term Plan at the Pūroro Maherehere
Annual Plan/Long Term Plan Committee on 27 May 2021 and the final approval of the Proposed District Plan for Public Notification at the Pūroro Āmua Planning & Environment Committee on 23 June 2022. Both meetings have enough juicy voting to sort the conservatives from the progressives, the NIMBYs from the YIMBYs and the climate heroes from the climate zeroes. In this spreadsheet I've collated every vote from those two meetings that wasn't purely procedural or unanimous so that you can do your own analysis and come to your own conclusions if you wish (I've ignored the unanimous votes because they don't really reveal the differences between councillors). Make sure you read the notes first though! In both cases I've only recorded the voting on the substantive motion (after amendments) and not the voting on the amendments. This is only after checking that the voting on the substantive motion was in line with any amendments made, which it almost always was.
The Fab 5 progressive councillors : Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Laurie Foon, Tamatha Paul & Jenny Condie
Long Term Plan
The final approval of the Long Term Plan in May 2021 came at the end of a long process that had been variously described as a shambles and a dog's breakfast. As a result councillors were still being asked to vote on a whole range of changes during the meeting. Bad for them but good for us. The votes covered a wide variety of areas including:
There are ten current councillors probably running again (only one or two are yet to confirm) plus the Mayor, so let's focus on how they voted. Looking at the voting you can probably see why I identified Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Laurie Foon, Tamatha Paul and Jenny Condie as the progressive Fab 5. They voted almost totally in unison and almost totally in support of the initiatives listed above.
At the other end of the spectrum Nicola Young voted against everything except increasing arts funding (because she personally likes the arts) leaving even the Grinch stunned at her misanthropic miserliness. Diane Calvert also voted against a lot, including cycleways, the Pōneke Promise, funding for youth hubs/better youth engagement, increased arts funding and town centre upgrades for Berhampore and Island Bay. Not quite Nicola Young standards of austerity but still grim (imagine voting against reducing sexual violence and alcohol harm). Mayor Andy Foster supported most things but voted against increasing spending on cycleways and youth hubs/better youth engagement.
Sean Rush was absent but probably would have voted against at least some of this stuff. In his case it doesn't matter - he should be considered unelectable after he straight up lied about creating an anonymous Twitter account to troll his colleagues and post some pretty questionable content (including climate change denial and transphobia), only telling the truth after it had already been established beyond any reasonable doubt that it was him.
Key vote: Cycleways
Sarah Free and Iona Pannett also voted in support of all of the above but it has to be noted that at an earlier point in the process they both voted against increasing funding for cycleways (Option 4), meaning that the council's preferred option during consultation was to spend significantly less money (Option 3). Cycleways was the only item that the council consulted on where the public's preference (to spend more) was not the council's, and where councillors actually voted against council officers' recommendation in this meeting via an amendment. Cycleways are definitely a hot topic in Wellington and create a clear distinction between progressive and conservative so this is the key vote in the meeting for me:
Agree to adopt Option 4 rather than Option 3 for the delivery of future cycling infrastructure
For: Jenny Condie, Jill Day, Fleur Fitzsimons, Laurie Foon, Sarah Free, Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Iona Pannett, Tamatha Paul
Against: Andy Foster, Diane Calvert, Malcolm Sparrow, Simon Woolf, Nicola Young
Absent: Sean Rush
Majority vote: 9:5
Approving the District Plan for public notification on 23 June 2022 also came at the end of a long process of public consultation called Planning for Growth, which resulted in a new Spatial Plan and draft District Plan for Wellington. Hopes were high that the new Spatial Plan and District Plan would enable a lot more homes to be built in Wellington so that's why this meeting caused controversy by walking back much of that progress in what The Dominion Post described as "a devastating u-turn". The voting here is really on a single issue, housing, and easier to get a handle on as it was a core eight votes who did the damage. Six of those votes are thought to be running again in October; Mayor Foster and councillors Diane Calvert, Sarah Free, Iona Pannett, Sean Rush and Nicola Young. The progressive Fab 5 of Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Laurie Foon, Tamatha Paul and Jenny Condie all voted against watering down what had previously been agreed.
Key vote: Walking catchments
This vote reduced walking catchments (the boundaries within which six-storey buildings can be built) from 15 minutes’ walking distance around the central city and metropolitan areas to just 10 minutes, meaning there will be less land available for enabling more homes via greater density. The reduction means Wellington has taken a more conservative approach than other councils, where 15 minutes is standard. If you have hopes of ever buying a home in Wellington, or you want your children or grandchildren to be able to, these eight councillors have now made it harder. The one vote that 'flipped' from when a 15 min walking catchment from the central city was introduced into the Spatial Plan in June 2021 was Sarah Free.
Agree that the walking catchments recommended by officers, in respect of the spatial plan, to be reinstated as follows:
For: Andy Foster, Diane Calvert, Sarah Free, Liz Kelly, Iona Pannett, Sean Rush, Simon Woolf, Nicola Young
Against: Jenny Condie, Jill Day, Fleur Fitzsimons, Laurie Foon, Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Tamatha Paul
Majority vote: 8:7
So hopefully that gives you an even greater sense of which current councillors you might want to vote for in October than the Dominion Post piece, where a lot of the voting they highlighted was actually pretty consistent from one councillor to the next.
What I plan to do in Part II of this blog is use the votes highlighted in these two meetings as the basis of a survey of new council candidates once nominations close on 12 August and then publish the results. Tools such as Policy Local are helpful but asking candidates for their policy positions allows them to play safe and take a middle-of-the-road approach that hides their true beliefs. However, asking them how they would have voted on actual motions that the current council voted on leaves no place to hide and is also a pretty handy test of their ability to read and understand council papers, just as they will be expected to do if they are elected. Watch this space!