A negative press, councillors too often absent from meetings and general scepticism about the breadth of the survey have been highlighted by Wanganui district councillors when questioned about their latest community views Survey.
The yearly survey is a requirement of the Annual Plan process and when it came to the performance of mayor and councillors, 55 per cent of the respondents rated their performance as good or very good, a two-point drop from last year's survey.
But the number of locals who rated the performance of our elected officials as "poor" more than doubled; lifting from 6 per cent in 2011 to 15 per cent.
The survey was conducted by Versus Research, the same company which has done the survey since 2009.
Their phone survey of 400 people was done between April 24 and May 10.
Mayor Annette Main said it was clear that there was discomfort around attendance levels and the perceived time and resource cost of issues such as the council prayer.
Ms Main said she was surprised that the Wanganui East sampling rated the mayor and council performance as poor but she was hopeful the next community meeting in the suburb would draw that out.
Councillor Jack Bullock said when the survey was taken when council was dealing with some "hefty" issues "but people only see what is put in the media and mostly it is negative or has a negative spin on the situation".
He said a clash of personalities was what democracy was about but "when we all put the personality aside and put our heads together, we actually work really well and produce results".
"I think we need to be more proactive in getting communications out there," he said.
Mr Bullock was another flummoxed by the dissatisfaction in Wanganui East residents.
"Recently I chaired the final meeting regarding the issue of boy racers in Wanganui East and that was a successful meeting with a workable solution arrived at.
"I think this council is proactive in [the] suburb," Mr Bullock said.
Councillor Michael Laws pinpointed Chronicle coverage of council affairs and the fact individual councillor influence had diminished since 2010 as key areas of community discontent.
He said community satisfaction was very high under the former council with more teamwork with councillors given defined leadership roles.
He said councillors needed to be made part of a "leadership 13" rather than a leadership of two or three.
He said disagreement at council table "is not a bad thing and even dissension has an important role in making better collective decisions".
He said public perception could improve if council pegged back rates and communicated more effectively.
"The media, especially the Chronicle, are part of the problem. They dwell too much on the negative and division when reporting council matters," Mr Laws said.
The survey was meaningless when broken into suburbs and that it needed at least 200 responses each suburb to make it meaningful statistically, he said.
Councillor Rob Vinsen said he was sceptical of the validity of the surveys because of the sample size and said the level of dissatisfaction probably reflected the topical issues at the time the survey was taken.
He said he was not surprised at the result as the survey was done at the time of the prayer issue.
"Some councillors performed poorly in this matter, and my only surprise is that only 13 per cent considered our performance as poor.
"Generally, councillors work very well together but we do have two who simply do not contribute," Mr Vinsen said.
Deputy Mayor Rangi Wills said the survey was only a snapshot of the population "and a supposed educated guess is made to estimate how it would reflect the whole community's views".
"If it re-interviews the same people over the same period of years then it has a greater relevance than snapshot surveys," Mr Wills said.
Councillor Ray Stevens said he did not give the survey much credence at all.
"I reckon the community measure is best shown every three years when there's an election. That's when the electors will tell you if you're doing your job or not," Mr Stevens said.
Councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan said it only took a couple of controversial stories to sway public perception "and this council and community aren't short on the odd bit of controversy".
"I'm sure issues around things like the council prayer, debt and personal attacks between elected members, affect public perception," Mrs Baker-Hogan said.
She was unsure of why Wanganui East residents gave a low rating for council performance but said the council needed to try and get to the bottom of it.
"We are aware of issues around boy racers and other anti-social behaviour and I would like to see a stronger community-led but council-supported Wanganui East group," Mrs Baker-Hogan said.
Councillor Hamish McDouall said he was disappointed with a slip in the council's performance rating but said respondents indicated that the prayer issue and non-attendance by some councillors were two major factors.
He said elected representatives always had a wide range of views and he did not think that necessarily meant a clash of personalities.
"But when petty things waste ratepayers' money, or councillors use the media to score cheap points at the expense of others, then a poor perception is the result," Mr McDouall said.
He said improvement could come from more "gravitas around the table" and less criticism of others in the media.
He lives in Wanganui East and said the poor rating could be driven by a lot of working families in their first homes in that suburb who were especially affected by rates rises.
Councillor Allan Anderson was another who was sceptical about the survey results but said a couple of matters caused some people to be less than impressed.
Mr Anderson said the prayer issue was perceived as more than just a diversion and said going by all public opinion available "there was a 15 to 1 support for its retention, yet the mayor chose to ensure its removal from the Order Paper".
He said council buckled under the threat of litigation and legal costs from one councillor whose attendance and participation at council was "abysmal".
And he said people did not like councillors receiving their salary (around $26,000) and not turning up.
Mr Anderson said personality clashes on this council were a not a great deal different to previous councils, but he said the topics of dispute were occurring at the expense of more important and core council business.
He was disappointed with the reaction from Wanganui East residents because they were "almost spoilt for consultation and attention".
Mr Anderson said the council was representative of the and councillors mostly made positive contributions, although he said he sometimes felt press coverage was "somewhat rather light on some very good debates".
Councillor Randhir Dahya said he was "naturally disappointed" with some of the results in the survey but laid the blame firmly at the feet of the media.
He said the survey was taken at the time the rates were being discussed and believed that would have coloured some responses.
"The clash in personalities at the council table doesn't help but there again the press have focused on those issues," he said.
And he said the press owed the community better explanations of council decisions.
"The boy racer issue in Wanganui East again was highlighted by the press but the community expected council to do something about it," Mr Dahya said.
The Chronicle was unable to get the questions to Nicki Higgie but they were sent to all other district councillors.
Replies from Sue Westwood and Clive Solomon had not been received before this story went to press.