One councillor was told not to come while others, with portfolios covering economic development, only received last-minute invitations to a Wellington forum promoted as so good, “they may not return”.
Meanwhile, media who reported on the Wellington Next: Economy event – which they were invited to tune in to – “gatecrashed” the event, according to Councillor Diane Calvert, who arranged Friday’s forum.
The event at the Wharewaka on Wellington’s waterfront was pitched as a chance to discuss how the city responded to “economic and environmental realities of a pandemic challenged world” with a panel of “Wellington champions”.
Mayor Andy Foster and Calvert were described as the “vision setters” and the invitation promised a “two hour interactive blast into the future from which we may not return, it’s that good”.
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Councillor Jenny Condie confirmed that Laurie Foon – with the associate economic development portfolio and a fashion business owner – was unable to attend so suggested Condie went in her place.
Condie confirmed Foon got an email from Foster’s office saying she could not attend.
Foon could not be reached for comment but it is understood she only received the invitation last week and was unable to attend.
Calvert, who has the economic development portfolio, on Sunday said the forum was aimed “at business leaders not politicians” but, as the city’s “economic action plan” started to take shape, more politicians and iwi would be talked to.
Nicola Young, one of two councillors invited on Wednesday, confirmed she already had plans for Friday so wasn’t able to make it.
“It was unusually late to send out an invitation,” said Young, who holds the associate economic development and urban development portfolios.
Jill Day, said many councillors including herself found out about the forum by coincidence, before getting an email notifying them about it on Wednesday but not inviting them.
The email said numbers were limited due Covid-19 restrictions.
“If you are going to have an economic development strategy, all councillors need to know about it,” Day said.
Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons – one of those notified of but not invited to the event – said discussions such as those in the forum were important given the challenges the city faced.
“There is a bright future for Wellington with business and local and central government working together. We have to get this right, our future depends on it.”
Stuff attended the forum and wrote a story saying that former refugee and Fulbright winner Guled Mire said the city was missing out on the untapped economic potential of its migrant communities.
Condie posted the story on Twitter saying the forum was “gatecrashed by one local media outlet”.
Anna Fifield, the editor of The Dominion Post, said she was invited on November 4 to participate in the forum, but declined, saying the newspaper would be covering it as news.
Fifield refuted Calvert’s suggestion a Stuff reporter had “gatecrashed” the event, saying that the reporter received an email detailing how to listen in and that other media were present.
“I am mystified as to why the council would want to keep the public and the press out of a forum designed to facilitate a constructive discussion on addressing our city’s challenges,” she said.
She also defended the outlet’s story, saying that it was a straightforward account about suggestions to make Wellington a better place to live – including for marginalised communities like the one Mire represented.
Foster has been approached for comment.