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Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:01 am

Coolest capital gets creative council titles

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Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle (left) and Mayor Justin Lester are ready to move the city forward [Rhiannon McConnell/Fairfax NZ]

The coolest little capital in the world now has cool names for its councillors – there’s a city scientist and a Wellington ambassador.

The two new portfolios are among new Mayor Justin Lester’s major revamp of councillor responsibilities.

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Wellington’s new ambassador Simon Woolf [supplied]

The city scientist is new councillor Peter Gilberd, who has a PhD in physics, and second-term councillor Simon Woolf is the ambassador.

The other major change is a super-committee under the chair of Iona Pannett, combining four former policy-based committees.

“The new portfolio structure reflects the values and strengths of Wellington: a creative, connected and innovative city,” says Lester.

“I looked at the skill, capabilities of each individual, what their experience was and also based on merit, who was up for the job and who I thought would do a good job,” says Lester.

Councillor Peter Gilberd, who has a PhD in physics, takes on a new city scientist portfolio aimed at emphasising the importance of science and innovation to both the city’s resilience and economic development, says Lester.

Gilberd has always worked in the science sector and believes there are ideas that will lead to improvement for the environment, social and economic sectors.

“There is a lot of brain power out there and we need to use it in the best way we can to improve people’s lives,” says Gilberd.

Woolf’s role as the Wellington Ambassador will enhance tourism offerings and better connect with international communities and visitors, says Lester.

Woolf says it’s a relatively new approach for a local government politician to be in a position like this but believes he’s up for it.

“Really it’s about enhancing relationships with people which I tend to do pretty well anyhow.

“For the last 30 years I’ve liaised quite closely with particularly our diplomatic corps and other sectors of business and arts and sporting community,” says Woolf, who is well known for his Woolf Photography business.

Lester announced the new committee structure in his first week in the job.

The various policy committees have been scrapped in favour of a single city strategy committee made up of all councillors.

The committee signals a major change to council’s operations with a new committee structure that will see all councillors involved in the decision-making process.

“This will mean the whole team will have input into the direction our council takes, and everyone’s skills and experience will be put to best use,” says Lester.

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Chair of the City Strategy committee, Iona Pannett [supplied]

Chair Pannett is in her fourth term as a councillor and says working under the previous council model means she has a good understanding of how things work.

“My job is to make sure those meetings are efficiently and fairly run and also that new councillors, given that we’ve got five of them, feel comfortable and supported as they get up to speed,” says Pannett.

Her focus is about making sure they get through their business efficiently, adhering to democratic principles, so they can get on with doing the things they want to and need to do.

Transparency and closed-door decision-making was a criticism of the previous council.

Lester has scrapped the Economic Development Fund so all applications over $100,000 will come to the City Strategy committee says Pannett.

“Obviously there are some commercial sensitivities, you don’t let your competitors know what you’re doing but obviously there does need to be robust reporting,” says Pannett.

Earlier this week Lester announced Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle as chairman of a new housing task force, to tackle the city’s housing issues.

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