Lianne Dalziel careful to not define her legacy

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Sep 24, 2022 |

It’s not hard to see why outgoing Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has been careful not to define her legacy, in a recent glowing newspaper article.

Over her nine years as mayor, she wanted to please, it seemed everyone, except ratepayers.

The article also comes at a time when it’s been revealed staff at the council are deeply unhappy. Are they ever happy?

When I was hosting a radio show, Dalziel was expected to front on a weekly basis, and answer questions about the council on issues important to ratepayers.

Some segments were illuminating, while others were downright boring.

Often the mayor would start an answer with “I haven’t read that so I don’t know I’m sorry.”

Her inability to answer basic questions, fearful of those she might offend, became the subject of frustration among listeners.

During an interview, I asked her whether fishermen should be banned from using the Christchurch Pier.

This was due to unhappy residents, who felt the pier, at one point, was overrun by fishermen who made the visit to the end of the pier an unpleasant one.

Instead of providing a simple answer, she went to great lengths to explain how she’d never seen any fisherman using the pier, despite being an avid photographer of the attraction.

I remember having to meet her then chief of staff Cate Brett.

Brett, a former journalist herself, said she felt the question was unfair, as it was designed for “radio.”

Here was a former journalist, describing a simple question as too “radio” for the mayor’s liking – righto.

I recall another meeting was set up with my then “boss”, Lianne, and her press secretary because Lianne felt my questions were too hard.

My then boss, with no journalism background, reveled in the chance to head an “important meeting” while we all sat there emotionally pandering to someone who said she didn’t want to be mayor.

In the end, it was decided that not just topics, but question lines would be provided to the mayor’s office the night before any interview.

At the time that didn’t bother me, as I preferred answers with content that would help the audience and her regular press secretary was excellent and provided decent content.

My then boss decided it was better for the station to be seen to have the mayor on the show, putting aside my journalism integrity to appease council relations.

In a roundabout way, it was explained council was a commercial client.

What followed was several years of public relations content, much to the displeasure of the audience.

The mayor was at her best when she was unscripted and unfiltered.

Her office didn’t do her favours by mollycoddling her to the point where it seemed like a parody.

On several occasions, I’d text the mayor after an interview to congratulate her on her genuine responses.

Sometimes she came alive with passion and was brilliant.

Lianne had a busy schedule and performed her best when she was holding council meetings.

A stickler for process meant council business was always performed diligently from what I saw on the council youtube videos.

Although she would sometimes hide behind “process” to avoid answering questions.

There were times when she was happy to throw the then CEO or staff under the bus when it suited her.

Before her election victory in 2013, she promised transparency, and kept her word, by opening the council books.

Looking back now though, this was used as an excuse to blame the previous council for any mishaps.

It worked for several years but wore off as the city recovered.

Perhaps Lianne is careful not to proclaim any legacy because much of the central city remains empty and the council has recorded its lowest residents’ satisfaction levels – ever, this year.

It’s hard to believe that 11 years have passed since the quake and yet many parts of the CBD still resembles a wasteland, filled with temporary Wilson car parks or buildings still to be pulled down.

During her time in local office, rates have, of course, sky-rocketed, chlorine has been added to the city’s drinking water, roads on the east remain buggered, that’s if you talk to people on the east.

Special interest groups have taken over the council’s mandates, and the culture inside the council is at an all-time low.

What is the mayor’s legacy? In a moment of great self awareness, Lianne Dalziel told the Christchurch Press “nothing.”

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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